building startup culture

Culture is the heart of every company, no matter the industry, and is something that can be grown with deliberate care, or emerge organically. If you work in a startup you have a massive opportunity to carefully determine what kind of culture you want and how you will grow it. You can use it to support all aspects of the day-to-day runnings of your business – from recruiting, to your employer brand, to how you approach challenges and achieve your goals.

They say that culture eats strategy for breakfast, but there’s no reason to let your culture happen by accident. Here are a few tips on how to better recognize your company culture and carefully craft the one you need to be successful.

How to Define Your Company Culture?

Culture is unique to each organization, and there’s no right or wrong culture to have, but you’ll need to take the time to define it. This definition will consist of your core values (how your team works and why), your hierarchy and decision making model, and the mindset people have about their work (are you social and fun, money-driven, work hard/play hard, etc.). Culture is a hard thing to define, but if you take the time to write down and describe what you want it to be you’ll have a much easier time shaping it.

Own and Share Your Vision

Take it back to the beginning and think about WHY you started your company. This “why” is what motivated you to start a business and it’s should be what motivates people to join you. Generally speaking, your company’s why will be rooted in a problem you are trying to solve. This will serve as a guide and motivator for each and every decision that is made. If you don’t have a company why, you risk having a split culture where people create their own purpose, which won’t always be aligned with company goals.

Hire People Who Can Nurture and Grow Your Culture

In the early days of a startup, such as when you are recruiting your first hire, each new employee will have a massive impact on your culture. When recruiting people you shouldn’t just be looking at the skills they can bring, but the values and attitude they will provide. For instance, if you want to build a culture that is open and collaborative you need to make sure you hire people who are strong at involving teams in decisions, rather than doing everything on their own.

When someone joins your team be sure to take the time to share your vision of the culture with them. Ask them what they think of it and what they can do it help it grow. This will create a shared sense of ownership and make the company culture something that everyone is responsible for, not just you.

Align Your Company and Employer Brand with the Culture

When selling goods and services you’ll have a specific set of marketing messages, the same goes for when you are pitching the company to potential employees. In both cases you’ll want to make sure they are well aligned with the company culture you have/want. If your marketing emphasizes quality check to make sure your culture values that as well. This helps to ensure that employees are actively contributing to the exact thing you are selling customers.

Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure your employer brand is well defined and presented. Candidates should have a clear understanding of what it is like to work for you before they ever join your company. A strong, clear employer brand will save you time in the recruiting process and ensure you are hiring the right people.

Reward the Right Behaviours

As your startup grows people will be scrambling to get things done in any way possible. While this can help ensure products ship and revenue comes in, it can also result in behaviours that aren’t consistent with the culture you want. Keep the culture in check by creating rewards that are aligned with the culture you want.

For example, if you are trying to cultivate the collaborative culture we mentioned previously you may want to avoid individual bonuses or recognition. Instead you can create a reward system that recognizes sharing and teamwork. By rewarding this type of behaviour early on you’ll create a precedent for how people should act, which will then become rooted in the culture.

Getting Started

If you want to create a winning culture, but don’t know how, take a first step by sitting down (perhaps with your team) for thirty minutes to define 1) the culture you want and 2) how you plan to get there. Once you’ve created a strategy for your culture create a few steps and milestones that you’ll check back in on and review. Then simply keep a close eye on your culture and make small changes as needed.

Culture can sound like a complicated, challenging thing, but if you give it the attention it deserves it will be easier than you think and will help you to create a startup everyone wants to work for.