Culture is often overlooked when starting a business. You have to find customers, deal with growth, and tackle logistics, so culture isn't always at the top of the list. In fact, most company cultures form unintentionally out of personality and habits because, even though you know it's important, culture isn't paying to keep the lights on when you're just starting out.
But that's a mistake. Sure, you can grow your company without a strong culture. Uber did. But it's paying the price now, and new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is having to course-correct at a time when he should be able to focus on upward mobility.
Companies that last are the ones that build strong cultures from day one. Culture plays a key role in growth and agility in a constantly evolving marketplace. It can unify employees around a common goal, help you stay on course during tough times, and allow you to pivot quickly in new directions when needed -- plus, it's crucial to employee retention.
Build Off Existing Cultures That Work
As you might guess, building something that's this essential to your company's future isn't exactly easy, and it definitely doesn't happen overnight. One way to start is by understanding who you are as a company and what you value; then find examples of other companies that share your values, so you can get a feel for policies and attitudes that might work for you, too.
A good example of culture driving success is Bandwidth, a communications platform as a service company. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, it went public late last year and has since seen its stock steadily rise over 60 percent.
Like any company, Bandwidth is built around its founder, David Morken, who bootstrapped it over the first 10 years to a company of more 350 employees and a valuation over $630 million.
Every culture reflects its founder in some way. Morken values being active and unplugging for specific periods of time. The latter is somewhat rare, especially for a tech CEO, but his "vacation embargo" policy is one of the most progressive culture ideas in the country.
Align Your Culture With Your Values
Vacation time is mandatory at Bandwidth. You have to take it. The idea is simple: Bandwidth wants to keep its employees fresh and enable them to tackle challenges with new perspectives. That's hard to do when you're being pulled in a hundred different directions by notifications that always seem to demand your attention right this second.
One of the greatest challenges for organizations right now is focus. It's great you can now work from home or your favorite cafe or anywhere else, but that connectedness doesn't come without a price: We are constantly connected.
That's not a bad thing inherently, but it can be if you're expected to respond to an urgent email on a Saturday morning during your kid's soccer game or while you're on vacation. This constant, always-on state of connectivity leads to burnout. Consequently, it makes employees less motivated, less productive, and less excited to evangelize their own company.
No one wants to live like that. Morken, a father of six, said he values family time, so when he's on vacation, he can't be reached. Instead, he delegates responsibility and trusts his team. And every team member is afforded this same courtesy.
That's incredibly uncommon, especially for company founders, but the policy is strictly enforced because everyone in the company values it and would want the same in return. It's indicative of a culture of respect and trust, and it builds a bond throughout the organization.
Something to Remember ...
Unless you play an active role in building a culture that reinforces your values, then you're going to end up falling backward into reactive habits and processes that are going to be really hard to change down the road.
Your company is a reflection of you, so make sure your culture affords your employees the same things you'd want. The fastest way to lose trust and lower morale among your team members is to say one thing and then do another. Avoid that fallout by creating a culture that aligns with your values. The less you have to worry about fixing a broken culture, poor retention, and negative overall morale, the more you can concentrate on growing and thriving as a business now and in the future.