Values, communication, and people shape workplace culture. 

Every startup we’ve worked with has a unique culture. But what happens to this when the team starts to grow?

From our experience, many founders genuinely don’t expect anything to change and why should it? They continue to lead from the top but before they know it more people appear, dynamics change and the norm tends to be to instinctively introduce more structure and process.

Managing growth in a startup doesn’t always come naturally to founders/CEOs and, unless they’re a seasoned entrepreneur, many learn the hard way.

When we’re getting to know the startup businesses we support, we ask founders to first explain their culture and then define their values. The responses we get are varied: innovation, creativity, integrity, passion, relaxed dress code, like-minded people, buzzy atmosphere, direct hiring, giving people the opportunity to grow, knowledge-sharing, beer o’clock Friday (or every day if you’re in a WeWork office)!

“There is no such thing as a good or bad culture. It’s either a strong or weak culture.”

Brian Chesky, Co-Founder Airbnb

Chew it Over

Whatever your culture may be, it’s important to define how it relates to the business and people management strategy.

  • Have a clear purpose. Define and communicate your business strategy: product, service, technology and people so that everyone continues to work to the same goals. This sounds obvious but it is probably the most common issue we come across.
  • Question your policies; don’t have policies for the sake of it, particularly when it comes to HR and people management.

Chat it Out

Engage with people and people will engage with your business.

  • Stay connected with your employees. Make an effort to learn people’s name and get to know them. Don’t just gravitate to those you recruited.
  • Have a consistent line of communication – weekly or fortnightly meetings are a great way to keep people at all levels excited about potential growth. This is particularly important for co-founders working alongside each other.
  • Keep an open ear – always listen to your employees. Communication channels such as Slack are a great way to stay in the loop.
  • Keep it real. If you have a 2, 3 or 5-year exit plan, share this with your people. Everyone should be working towards the same goals and have a clear understanding of investor expectations and the reality of running a start-up.

Make it Happen

  •  As you recruit, build your team for the future. Allowing people to wear more than just one hat will help fill talent gaps where you don’t currently need a full-time resource. Embrace diversity by attracting people who see and can share different perspectives and encourage open-minded learning.
  • One of the advantages of a start-up culture is speed and acting quickly. Growth doesn’t have to lead to bureaucratic decision-making or drawn-out project plans and your people need to know how to avoid this. Don’t let it be said, “We used to get things done quicker when there was only 4 or 5 of us”.
  • As you build your leadership team, you’ll need to learn to let go and accept your role will change. Trust your senior people and their teams will make sensible decisions.
  • Keep encouraging employee-driven innovation by actively involving people in new product ideas, features, services or improvement of business processes.
  • Promote people with the right attitude from within to keep the start-up vibe going strong, but avoid falling into the trap of ‘cultural fit’ where everyone has to be alike.
  • Do team activities outside of work which build and challenge team spirit in a different and (hopefully) more enjoyable way. Check out alternative places like Swingers Crazy Golf for a fun, memorable day out.

Culture is key to creating a positive experience for employees – get it right and your team will be better motivated, more productive and more willing to collaborate with other team members. I can’t overstate the importance of devoting time to protecting the best qualities of start-up culture.

Pay attention to your culture alongside the growth of your business and it will pay off in the long run, as you’ll see a more valuable contribution from your people.

Remember why you started your business.

Defining your brand story is a powerful way to shape how your employees see the company and their place within it.