Starting a business sends you in a million different directions, with just as many responsibilities. One of the biggest mistakes founders make is not realizing how important their startup culture is, and putting it on the back burner. A toxic environment can stifle employees and make them unproductive, but a positive and uplifting environment can keep your workers happy, engaged, and ready to do all they can to make sure your company succeeds.
Creating a Startup Culture That Lasts
One of the biggest challenges when thinking through a startup culture is trying to figure out what will last. We’ve reached out to the experts and come up with seven great ways to cultivate a compelling, accessible, and cool startup culture that will last for the length of your business.
1. Involve Your Employees
One of the first things to understand about company culture is that it isn’t something you can build alone. It takes the cooperation of all your employees to keep the workplace positive and productive. How, then, can you set them up for success? It starts with involvement.
Workplace strategist, coach, and speaker Lisa Barrington writes:
“Get the employees involved in everything possible from setting up job aids for their jobs to putting the word out related to hiring to designing the physical work environment. The more input they have, the more empowered they’ll feel. This will build buy-in to the overall mission, pride in the service or product, and engagement (which is proven to lead to higher productivity, lower turnover, and reduced costs). This will also reduce stress as people have lower levels of stress if they feel they have some control over their situation!”
Your employees are a great resource. The input they provide in every aspect of the company can be invaluable and the more they feel engaged with the work they’re doing, the more effort they’ll be inspired to put into every aspect of the collaborative experience. Get your employees feedback about what parts of your company’s culture they enjoy, and how they’d like to improve it in the future. Let them help you build a business culture everyone can be proud of.
2. Be a Leader and a Collaborator
Involving your employees in your startup means working as a team, but teams often need a leader to help point them in the right direction and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Shelley D. Smith, owner of the culture focused business consulting company Premier Rapport, has this to say about company culture and leading your employees effectively:
“Regardless of the size of your business, culture matters. The work environment is key to your success. The culture drives the money end of your small business. After all, culture is people. The key is involving your team at all levels, at all times. The more they feel value, seen and heard the better off you culture will become. When your culture is strong you can build an effective and efficient team that yield great returns for your business. Involvement can start with:
1. Small conversations, 1 on 1, intentionally set agendas or small talk
2. Group meetings with clear agendas, what’s working, what isn’t, what else can we do, what else can we try, how can we pull that idea together, who will be involved and in what roles
3. Tasks force groups on specific projects or opportunities that need addressing
4. Ensure every action taken is in alignment with your mission, vision and values (congruency in your entire team)”
Smith’s key to cultivating involvement is communication. Talk to your employees. Be friendly and personable to show them you’re all on the same team. Then be clear about what needs to get done. Make sure you’re open to their feedback about how to proceed, but also make sure objectives are eventually set so everyone has an objective to work towards. A collaborative environment where everyone shares the same goals and feels like they can get each other’s help and advice to work things through makes for a better company culture.
Check out our 7 Entrepreneur Tips to Be a Better Boss for more on how to be an effective manager.
3. Be Ready to Evolve
Part of why communication and collaboration are so important for maintaining quality in workplace culture is because a good culture is not something you’re ever finished building. Dynamics are constantly changing, and anyone leading a startup will have the opportunity to experiment and see how the different policies and directions they give their company affect its culture.
As Lana Moore, founder and CMTO of MarTechExec, explains:
“You can’t expect a whiteboard and an open floor plan to solve all your productivity problems. My best tip for cultivating a positive and productive environment is to treat it like you would any other business challenge. Have a strategy in place and a way to evaluate how well it’s working.
For example, at one point our editorial team was being overseen by a manager. But we learned pretty quickly that it actually made communication and collaboration harder. We evaluated why it wasn’t working, and then we made a change.
We flatted the hierarchy of the team and gave each person ownership of certain editorial tasks. And guess what? They thrived. They felt more empowered to take initiative. They were more open to asking each other for help. There wasn’t that intimidation factor of having a manager that you have to please or else they’ll tattle to the boss.”
The moral of this story is not that you should never assign a manager to your editing team, Moore says, “It really varies based on the dynamic of each team and the company’s culture.” The important part is that you pay attention to what works for your team and evolve according. Plan out strategies to improve your company’s culture and then be open-minded towards what you find does or doesn’t work. You succeed when your employees succeed. For more details check out our article on helping others succeed first.
4. Hire For Chemistry
Building excellent culture within your business can begin as early as the hiring process. Terry Dockery, Pounder and Business Transformation Coach at The Business Psychology Company, suggests:
“Recruit “A” Players (top 10% performers in their roles) with the right values and priorities, especially caring about others. Sustained business success is about building relationships with coworkers and customers (assuming you have a product/service that people need), and this can’t happen unless the people in your organization are caring/good at building relationships.”
When hiring for your startup, you should obviously look for the most qualified candidates with the best applicable experience. However, you also have the opportunity to judge how well your applicant’s personalities and attitudes will mesh with your workplace culture. Look for people who will be able to build good working relationships with other employees as well as embody the values you want your startup to embody when dealing with clients and customers.
5. Team Building Activities
Even though you should have culture in mind when you’re hiring new employees, that doesn’t mean culture can’t be taught. Many businesses have regular training sessions to make sure everyone remembers what’s important and keeps maintaining a positive culture in mind.
Lectures and lessons aren’t the only ways to build your team’s culture. In fact, employees can become nonplussed or even resentful if they feel as they’re constantly being preached too. More fun team building activities and work events have their charms. Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk, advises:
“You want to have as many informal team-building activities as you can.. There are really two reasons for doing this. First, you will foster interdepartmental collaboration. If the sales guy likes hanging out with the warehouse team, this is a partnership that can pay dividends at the office. Second, if the activities are informal, your team members will be more comfortable and come to associate their team members with comfort. Therefore, they will often be more likely to speak their minds and reach out with questions. This sort of culture really helps foster growth… plus it’s a lot of fun to come to work!”
Positive social activities and the opportunity to interact with co-workers informally builds familiarity and, with it, community within employees. This not only helps the company’s culture take on a friendlier and lighter tone, it also increases the opportunity for effective communication, since people tend to be better at communicating with people they’re more comfortable with.
6. Keep Work-Life Balance in Mind
Eric Anthony, Founder of StreamingObserver.com writes:
“Cool Culture = Good Work-life balance. One of the best ways to make sure your employees are achieving a good work-life balance is to allow them to work from home. A good amount of our employees work remotely and everyone appreciates what it does for their work-life balance. More and more, people are job searching for opportunities that will let them work remotely. If you offer a remote position, you’ll be sure to get a good response because of the work-life balance it allows.”
Off-site work is a better fit for some businesses than others, but recognizing that culture flourishes when you recognize that your employees have a life outside of work is vital. They’ll be happier and more productive if you work with them to put together a schedule that benefits both of you, and are accommodating when last-minute emergencies come up in their personal lives. Give them the opportunity to recharge so they can take your small business’s hurdles head on.
7. Show Employee Appreciation
Small businesses make for more closely-knit and intimate workplaces, and it’s only logical that their cultures will reflect that. Our last suggestion comes from Bob Clary, Director of Marketing at DevelopIntelligence, who says:
“One of the advantages a small business has over its larger counterparts is the ability of each member to have a significant impact. So, it would make sense to leverage this advantage and help your employees feel empowered. Celebrate successes, and recognize those moments when an employee has done something that had a positive impact on the bottom line.”
Don’t just let your employees know where and how they can improve, congratulate them on jobs well done. Reward success and get the whole workplace involved with treats, gifts, and fun activities as well as commendations.
There’re a lot of ways to show employee appreciation, so communicate with your coworkers to see what they’d like best and don’t be afraid to experiment a little. Like the cliche says, it’s the thought that counts. For more thoughts on employee appreciation, read our 25 Employee Appreciation Ideas from the Experts.
The Smart Hack
There’s no one single correct answer for how to create a startup culture, or how to make it your version of cool. Every business and team of people are different, and that’s where the solution lies. To make a great company culture pay attention to your employees and their chemistry, respect them and take their perspectives into account, and be ready to make changes in order to create a more positive and productive environment wherever you see the chance to improve.
It also helps to let your employees know you appreciate them by praising and rewarding them for a job well done and making sure you workers have a chance to have fun now and then. This will help show them you’re all on the same side, and small businesses where everybody feels like an important part of a united team are well on their way to having a great company culture.