A culture is a set of values, beliefs, and expectations shared by a group of people. This definition is as true for a startup culture as it is for the world’s greatest civilizations.
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Humans are social animals, for whom a sense of belonging is essential for well-being. Corporate culture is simply the recognition of this human need, and how it can be positively applied to a workforce. Employees who share the same corporate vision and mission are more likely to give their best to a company, have higher morale, greater job satisfaction, and are less likely to leave the company for other opportunities.
A healthy startup culture is especially important, as a strong, cohesive workforce is well-prepared to handle the uncertainties of corporate growth. This very growth, however, can change startup culture beyond recognition, leaving employees struggling to keep up and wondering whether their beliefs still align with corporate culture. Too much cultural change, too fast, can result in essential talent leaving the company to find employment that better matches their cultural expectations.
Startups need to consider the form they want their culture to take, and have strategies in place to improve team culture during any transitional period. The following tips help grow and maintain a strong, thriving startup culture.
Keeping Goals Aligned with Cultural Expectations
At the onset of any period of rapid change, identify the goals driving such change and how you will achieve them. Consider the effect such changes will have on your startup culture. Will staff have to work longer hours? Will production methods need to change? Will the change see an influx of new employees or a shakeup of current workplace hierarchies?
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Any change can catch employees off-guard if it clashes with their perceptions of corporate culture. Aligning changes with your startup’s culture by creating clear goals and priorities helps employees cope with the change.
Culture is All-Encompassing
Startup culture is more than just your mission statement. At it’s best, culture influences all aspects of the company, imbuing a sense of shared values in staff. Those values should be identifiable in all employee-related processes, from hiring to resignation, retirement, or dismissal.
Culture creates an environment in which employees know what to expect. If you value innovation, employees should have regular opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas. If the culture believes in merit-based rewards, staff should have opportunity to train towards promotions and additional job opportunities.
Transparency and Startup Culture
A strong sense of culture is often the difference between an organized, effective team and chaos. When cultural expectations differ, your workforce’s ability to function as a team suffers.
So how to improve team culture? Communication is key. From the point of hiring, be sure each individual understands the company’s values, goals, and strategies. During periods of growth, regularly talk with the team about company values, how changes affect those values, and any pain point changes cause. Be open to staff ideas: your employees represent the point of contact between your startup culture and customers or clients; they’ll often have suggestions and recommendations you’d otherwise overlook.
Communicate in the manner your team uses best, be it meetings, training activities, email, or texts. Communication ensures no-one is left uninformed during periods of corporate change, and helps resolve disagreements and misunderstanding in their earliest stages.
Feedback on corporate changes can take the shape of an open-door policy, scheduled office hours when employees know you’re available, or round-table discussions. Remember some employees may be concerned about supervisory blowback caused by their suggestions. Anonymous surveys help you gauge how the workforce views both change and workplace culture.
Be Transparent–Up to a Point
Growth periods for startups are volatile times, and setbacks are common. How you communicate setbacks to staff will have a significant effect on corporate culture. Do you tell employees when funding falls through or partners pull out of agreements?
Transparency is a balancing act. You can improve team culture by keeping staff in the loop on important issues, but too much information can leave employees edgy and stressed out–there’s a thin line between transparency and oversharing.
Having said that, if you want a culture where transparency comes from the bottom, start with transparency from the top. If it affects your employees directly, they should know about it.
Incentives and Startup Culture
A startup culture takes time to develop. Until the culture you want is imbued in the company, you may need to use incentives.
Improving team culture with incentives works–if you use the right motivators. Some companies offer financial bonuses, days off, or stock options, all of which are costly options for a startup. Nor are such incentives especially effective: a Willis Towers Watson study reports only twenty percent of employers believe merit pay increases employee performance.
Fortunately, such incentives pale compared to one that’s free to use: recognition. Recognizing accomplishments and hard work is a surprisingly effective way to incentivize your team. Public praise, recognition at staff meetings, even quick talks in the hallway to tell team members they’re valued can make a big difference in building startup cultures.
A healthy company culture increases morale and productivity. In a competitive job market, the right culture can also attract and retain new talent. Don’t overlook startup culture as you build your company–it can make the difference between success and failure.
BONUS PODCAST: HR Happy Hour – Creating a Culture of Performance Based on Feedback