Organizational Culture: 9 Tips for Entrepreneurs

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Today’s Question: When entrepreneurs are launching their startups, they have to think about the kind of company culture they want to build. What tips do you have to help these new business leaders create the right cultures at their startups?

Doug1. Think in Terms of ‘We,’ Not ‘Me’

It’s not about bring-your-dog-to-work day. It’s not about great benefits. It’s not about your manager, the training you’ve received, or even your work/life balance. These are what we call the “me” factors. And while the what’s-in-it-for-me bucket isimportant and necessary, it’s simply not enough to create a top workplace.

Healthy organizations know it’s the “we” that matters most. We’re talking about alignment, execution, and connection. In other words, the “we” is about cultivating an environment in which employees know where the organization is headed and how it will get there. We’re talking about a strong belief that everyone is in it together.

Combined, these are the “we” factors, and they’re at the heart of organizational health.

Doug Claffey, WorkplaceDynamics

Leeyen2. Make an Effort to Attract Diverse Talent

Diversity leads to an expanded culture and new ideas. A homogenous bunch isn’t as innovative and isn’t as inclusive. Inclusivity is essential for effective brainstorming and new perspectives. Make your environment comfortable and appealing to people of color, women, and others outside the twenty-something singles that many startups seek to attract.

Leeyen Rogers, JotForm

Stephan3. Be Open to Change

Despite your best intentions to solidify and steadfastly adhere to a company culture, you should prepare for the fact that you probably won’t get it right the first time. Define the culture, certainly – but be transparent early and often about the fact that your company culture is dynamic and evolutionary. Leaders must be able to drive cultural shifts to fit changing times or changing marketplaces without employees feeling that they’ve fallen victim to a bait-and-switch. Stay in regular communication with your team about the challenges the business faces and the incremental adjustments that may be needed to best meet them.

In my early years, I tried to work out all the answers behind closed doors, shielding the broader team until I felt I had the answers that everyone would be happy with – only to be caught off guard by blank stares and disengagement.

Allowing your employees to help shape your culture over time is a winning formula. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If your employees understand the situation and feel they they are part of the conversation, they are far more likely to show empathy with leadership and contribute positively. They will feel invested and function with a sense of ownership. This has been our practice for many years now, and our team has never been better.

Stephan Roussan, ICVM Group

Mike4. Write a Manifesto

Write a one-page, bulleted manifesto. Start with 3-5 core principles you want to convey to everyone, both inside and outside of the organization. These should be general ideas about what people will take away from interacting with your business. Ours, for example, were: service, quality, challenge (as in the status quo), individuality, and fun.

All written and photo content, in-person interactions, and pretty much every touchpoint with a customer or prospective/current employee, should leave people feeling at least one (ideally two or three) of these principles.

Refer back to the manifesto often. Use it as a measuring stick when you hire. We check off each principle directly on the resume when interviewing prospective hires.

Michael Koranda, Pacific Issue

Aleania5. Challenge Your Employees

People need excitement. You have heard the old saying, “Variety is the spice of life.” It is true of so many aspects of life. Many high-quality employees leave the best companies when they feel there is no room for growth.

The growth these employees are speaking of isn’t always promotions and new positions. It often means room to grow in their current position. They want the opportunity to be challenged, to explore, and to innovate. The best companies give employees the freedom to create and grow the company.

Aleania Orczewska, Carte Blanche

Andrew6. Hire Smart

Over the past eight years, I’ve had startups ranging from a travel company for expats and college kids in Santiago, Chile, to my current project, One thing I realized is how easy it is to visualize a Google-type atmosphere and then fall flat on your face when all of your employees (whether it’s two or 2000) are not happy.

An employee is an essential asset for a startup, especially a low-budget one. With my first startup, I hired two college students because I thought they would connect with potential clients better than someone older with experience (we were targeting exchange students for ski trips). I was wrong. They were terrible, and I was essentially paying them the little money that I had to not really do much at all. That money could have gone towards a hundred other things, and I didn’t realize how difficult hardworking people are to find.

So, in short, my advice is to hire smart. Get people who will not only work hard to better your startup, but also help create a positive atmosphere. The opposite can ruin a startup.

Andrew Parker, GiveBuy

Mike7. Be Transparent

Honesty is the best policy, and being transparent with your employees will build trust and help keep the communication lines open
between workers. One way to do this is to broadcast company milestones and key metrics on laptops and T.V. monitors within the office, so everyone feels aligned and involved.

Mike Smalls, Hoopla

Simon8. Make Time for Social Fun

In order to have a positive company culture, you need to make time for social engagements among your staff. One of the greatest ways to make your staff feel valued is to take the time to learn about them. Social outings – lunches, weekend retreats, or happy hours – allow your staff to feel more connected to the company and each other, fostering better teamwork and a more productive work environment.

Simon Slade, SaleHoo

Jennifer9. Give Your Employees the Chance to Work as a Team

Give your team the ability to create something as a group. Create opportunities for everyone on staff to cross-pollinate a little and share their wisdom and creativity on a wider level.

Whatever your needs, if you want your people to act like a team, you need to give them teamwork opportunities where they can stretch their wings a bit and create something or solve a problem as a collective.

Jennifer Martin, Zest Business Consulting

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