When first starting out, most entrepreneurs are so obsessed with perfecting their product or service, they don't have much time to think about company culture. Big mistake. Many founders don't realize the importance of a shared vision or values until much further down the line -- sometimes when it is too late.
As an entrepreneur, it is important to instill values and ideals earlier in the game, so as your business grows, these ingrained standards stay with the company.
Here is how to begin to develop a positive culture right off the bat.
The leader's role in growing culture.
Founders make decisions based on their values but these ideals may not always be apparent. Once you've established core values, you need to communicate what's most important to you and keep everyone on the same page. Talk about the culture consistently so people know you are committed to living those ideals.
As your company grows, don't make the mistake of assuming your culture will naturally spread with it. Eventually, your culture will need to shift from something you actively teach and enforce to something your whole team takes part in.
Here are a few tips on creating a collaborative atmosphere:
Be vulnerable. Don't act like you have all the answers.
Determine your values as a group. Talk to your first few hires and give them input on your values as a company. These people are going to make a huge impact in shaping the future direction of your company.
Identify culture champions. These are team members who embody the company's values and are enthusiastic about spreading your mission. Empower them to keep the culture alive from within your company.
Institutionalize the culture. Put systems in place to make sure your culture is scalable and can grow with the employee count. In your hiring process, strive to give multiple people an opportunity to provide input on whether or not a candidate is the right fit.
Keep traditions. Don't take away things that matter most to employees, including rewards, professional development and quirky social events.
While many founders try to create a positive culture, things don't always go as planned.
Protecting the culture.
Startups are full of ups and downs, and occasionally, you may be tempted to hire an individual because of his or her potential to positively disrupt your culture. A word of warning: Never hire someone with the hope that he or she will be able to "fix" your culture. If you don't have the strength to get your company back on track as a team, the disruption will only make things worse.
On the flip side, sometimes, your culture can be threatened by one of your own. Here are some red flags and what you can do:
- Someone who has negative influence. Communicate that the company won't tolerate people who don't support its values.
- Someone the company has outgrown. Admit you don't have the tools to get them to the next level, so it's time to move on.
- The bad manager. First, determine if poor management is the result of a lack of training or communication. If it's not, trust your team enough to say goodbye to the problem person.
- The good producer with a terrible attitude. Contribution alone is a bad reason to keep someone on. There are people who can do the job and contribute to the culture.
While no one enjoys letting employees go, leaders must consider the health of their company above all else. As the founder, it's your job to communicate and live the company's vision and ensure everyone is positively contributing to it. If you are committed to your company's values, your team will be, too.