By Nav Athwal, founder and CEO of RealtyShares.
Never underestimate the power of company culture. Most know a positive foundation can fuel creativity and productivity for years, but many fail to see this vision through. As a founder and CEO, I've made developing a well-defined culture a priority. I've seen the results of startups that devote time and energy to this cause.
By making sure that certain elemental ingredients were in place, we've been able to build an environment that promotes hard work, commitment and success, all while ensuring our employees remain the focal point.
Measuring Culture's Impact
In the early days of your company, you're likely focused on putting key systems in place or connecting with investors to get your business to the next stage of growth. Because of this, you may view cultivating your startup's culture as a low priority at this stage. But that's a mistake.
Your team is the most valuable resource you have, and retaining talent can be critical to your long-term success. When your company culture is weak or nonexistent, there's little motivation for your employees to remain on board, and a high turnover rate can be counterproductive to your growth objectives if you're spending precious time looking for newcomers to fill the ranks.
Culture also influences how team members approach their respective roles. When an employee views themselves as simply another cog, that's likely to come across in their interactions with customers. In turn, if customers don't feel valued, your bottom line may suffer.
When you're battling fierce competition from other startups for market share, there simply isn't room for a dissatisfied customer or a disengaged employee. Developing a viable culture is an ongoing process that begins on day one.
Having been through the early stages of building a company, I believe that your success ultimately hinges on the following precepts:
Clearly define your company's values and goals.
All too often, founders have a vision that's blurred around the edges. Examining your core beliefs and values is a vital step that can't be overlooked. For example, what do you want your company to be known for? What best practices would you like employees to follow? What kind of communication are you hoping to encourage?
The answers to these questions can steer you toward a more definitive idea of the type of culture you'd like to create.
Start from the top.
As a CEO, you're the most visible person in your organization, and it's your responsibility to set the tone where company culture is concerned. It's not enough to demonstrate a strong work ethic and assume that the rest of your team will follow.
Remaining conscious of the core beliefs that are driving momentum -- and how you and other members of the leadership team exemplify those beliefs -- can keep your culture from drifting off course.
Make hiring the right talent a priority.
Founders need to be surrounded by people who are motivated, creative, innovative and have the desire to play an active part in scaling the company. It's about more than just IQ -- there's also the emotional quotient (EQ) to consider.
Rather than hiring based on whether someone's personality or skill set makes them a good fit for your startup's culture, focus on how they can enhance and improve it instead.
Company culture can hit a snag if there's a disconnect between the members of your team. When a divide exists between upper management and junior employees, for example, it can lead to communication breakdowns or a general sense of dissatisfaction.
Take the time to bring people together who may not normally work side by side. Host show-and-tells or schedule regular one-on-ones to reduce the possibility of team members feeling alienated or in the dark about what's happening.
Leave room for refinement.
One common misconception about company culture is that once it's developed, it's set in stone. The reality is that culture is (and should be) constantly evolving. Without allowing for a certain amount of elasticity, you risk defining yourself too narrowly.
Eliminating these invisible barriers and viewing culture as a fluid entity is the better course for maintaining your startup's health. Understanding why culture matters -- and how to foster it within your startup -- is a must for any founder who's focused on creating a sustainable venture.
Nav Athwal is the founder and CEO of RealtyShares, an online curated marketplace for real estate investing.