Blog: Why we need to define culture from day one

Employee Relations

Why we need to define culture from day one

Company culture is a soul-stirring exercise that many entrepreneurs dither to decide because it’s considered either too premature, too intangible or just plain arduous.
Why we need to define culture from day one

As we celebrate the world of start-ups that succeed, the stories of those that didn’t remain unsung. Within them are lessons of what not to do and how much of it stemmed from the fact that they didn’t quite figure themselves out, and are reminded of the ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself.”

Company culture is a soul-stirring exercise that many entrepreneurs dither to decide because it’s considered either too premature, too intangible or just plain arduous. Couched in easy-to-drop statements like “we’ve got the Netflix culture” or “we’re the Uber of that segment”, the temptation to “replicate” something already out there is real. All of this amid the noise of dwarfed low-growth vintage companies that call themselves start-ups just to appear cool. The other challenge with getting a freeze on the definition is the fear if the company would get closeted or type-cast and find it challenging as it grows. Like everything else commitment is a bit of an ask in a company’s early stage which is possibly the biggest reason why the definition evades many.

On the other hand, it’s not so tough after all, setting the “culture” for an  organization is just as easy as looking  in the mirror; sometimes stemming from something as simple as following . 

  • What can we be the best in the world at?
  • Which things can we be passionate about?
  • What is the key economic indicator we should concentrate on?

It is important to ask oneself these three important questions that Jim Collins defines as the “hedgehog concept”. These can act as the simplest compass to navigate the “culture definition procrastination” trap.

Haven't we all heard the phrase : “To win the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace” and defining culture marks first in that  agenda.  When a congenital marketer like me thinks about culture, it is natural to lean towards thinking in terms of the “P’s”

Here’s my list of the 7 Ps that are integral when defining culture day one!

  1. Proficiency takes a cue from what Jim Collins says, “Every venture at its core is the product of something that someone is really good at aka proficiency. A culture that articulates the commitment to that proficiency is a good and the right place to start. Regardless of whether the venture solves world hunger or gets the world to party, the proficiency with which it provides for that market is a worthy glue.
  2. Purpose that gets often mistaken to be a selfless pursuit is that larger agenda that the venture serves. The fact that there is more to it than what meets the eye in the day-to-day is another great way to bind a team. For instance, a data intelligence company like ours is not just about number crunching, but about the results that can get harvested from that, and these results can mean greater profitability for businesses rattled by the pandemic, greater value for customers wanting to stretch every dollar and all of this with sustainability as a consequence by reducing waste across the supply chain. Purpose also pings on a super-critical attribute that can get easily compromised in the frenzy of the growth pursuit. Ethics and integrity narratives are often intertwined with “purpose” and that in itself becomes the cornerstone of a clearly defined culture.
  3. Passion is the centerpiece of every business, and it becomes the fuel when defining the  culture. It helps in setting the mood and the  energy that is expected within the team which will play a pivotal role in setting the tone for everything that lies ahead.
  4. Priority setting decides energy investing. When baked into the culture fabric of the company, this can mean the way decisions get made. It helps clear the clutter of things that matter and beat the cliches, this helps in strategy formulation at every level.
  5. Persistence as an essential element of culture persistence can be a critical determinant of longevity. Building “persistence” narratives into the culture definition of the company builds a drive that gets teams to be relentless.
  6. Pragmatism sets the stage for decisioning, investing and actioning. It works as a guiding light in every new chapter of venture development. As an important culture quotient, it helps make the choices that decide the outputs of the present and the outcomes of the future.
  7. Promise of a better today and a brighter tomorrow becomes the cornerstone for every culture definition. It helps the team see the destination for now but appreciate the value of the journey more.

Culture definition needs to be inspiring, and with its said and unsaid articulations be a source of pride and commitment. It cannot afford ambivalence and demand clarity, it needs leaders and cheerleaders for reminders and iterations. It demands rituals and practices for affirmation and more than anything else it needs to be absorbed and imbibed by every member of the team and that starts from day one. Always remembering Drucker’s “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and don’t we all know that it indeed is the first and most important meal of the day.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Culture, #GuestArticle

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