There are plenty of factors that determine whether or not your startup will succeed. Most are fairly obvious, such as product viability, unique value proposition and funding, among others. Less obvious to some is how the culture of your business impacts the business itself.
Culture is something that shapes the very performance of your employees and the decisions across every division of your company. Developing a great culture does wonders for your startup. Each day is a little more pleasant, directly impacting morale and resulting in more productivity and less employee attrition. Your clients and customers will feel the impact of a strong culture as well, due to its positive impact on their relationships with your team.
According to research gathered by Growth Everywhere, companies with happy employees:
Along the same lines, a negative culture can poison the work environment, destroy morale, force out employees and generally lead your business toward collapse.
However, few leaders have a keen enough understanding of culture to try to define it, and rightly so. Culture isn't something you can define. You can certainly have a hand in shaping it, but trying to create a clear outline or definition of your overall culture is a square-peg, round-hole situation.
Because culture varies so widely from company to company, many CEOs allow it to develop on its own. There's a certain risk to leaving culture somewhat to chance, but remember you can still influence its course.
Shaping your startup culture
The cornerstone of great company culture is knowing what type of company you want to be. Once you know the end game, you can look at ways to influence the growth of your team and your business toward that goal.
Should your focus be on driving hard work? Do you need a dress code? Open office environment or no? By laying the foundation and defining the environment you want, you can begin to let your desired culture grow and take shape.
For a startup, rapid growth can muck up the development of corporate culture. Lots of hiring without proper attention and cultivation, can create a hodge-podge of different and often conflicting cultural mindsets due to a constant influx of newbies.
If you don't regular lend a shaping hand to tend to it, whatever you think has grown will likely be undone as new hires begin doing things their own way, diluting the current practices and slowing progress toward your goal.
Think back to the outcry and protests when new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ended telecommuting at the Silicon Valley company. At the center of that decision was concern that telecommuting was too widespread, so she moved quickly to put a stop to a cultural practice she felt was working against building a cohesive culture and driving strong results.
Regularly shape your culture so you don't have to try to wrestle control back later.
Communicate your vision to the team
There's a difference between communicating your culture and forcing it. Once you know what kind of culture you want, then communicate that vision to your team and coach them in that direction. Let your values and your mission statement be a guiding light.
Set the stage by communicating your vision, then give your team expectations and tools that align with the culture you want.
Lead by example
When Molly Graham joined Facebook in 2008 the company was still pretty rough around the edges. The team of 400 employees was so busy developing the social network that a clear culture hadn't been defined. Graham was hired to fix that and she started by asking 2 questions:
Those two questions helped form the foundation of Facebook's culture discussions in later years, thanks to one universal answer - that there was a "hacker" identity marking Facebook as a tech powerhouse that was constantly experimenting in bringing people closer together.
Why culture really matters for startups
A developed culture - one your team is involved with and accepts - is a unifying and empowering vision. It gives everyone something to work toward. It clearly defines the big goal and provides details on rewards that come from driving culture forward.
Those rewards speak to newer generations who have grown to become the largest generational cohort in the U.S. workforce. They don't share the same ideas and values of generations past, where job security was the big reward.
Millennials, by contrast, have grown up in a world of technology and financial prosperity. A career now means more than a stable place to work. They want culture. They want job flexibility, professional development, and employee appreciation. They want to perform and be recognized for it. They also want to do good for others.
When you provide these things as part of your overall corporate culture and set that standard your employees will give back in remarkable ways.
The result of all this is "the best serving the best" or as Ritz-Carlton's culture states, "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."
What are your thoughts on letting corporate culture shape on its own? Share your insights in the comments below: