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Startup Culture

Six tips to retain start-up culture while growing

Six tips to retain start-up culture while growing
Image credit: Andrew Rich Photography
You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Funded or bootstrapped, start-up entrepreneurs who have been able to survive the basic proof of concept stage to their passion, start focusing on ‘viable scale-up’ through aspects, such as building scalable processes, technologies and organization structures. Till they overhear a coffee conversation with some voices and murmurs, such as, “The company is no more the same. I am not sure if I want to continue here anymore!” And if this is from one of your top talents, it suddenly highlights critical intangibles like the firm’s culture warranting attention. Here are the tips for a growing firm to ensure that the start-up culture is not lost.

Have an Enduring Vision to Work Towards

If the goal/major aspiration is only tangibilised as a hop, skip and a jump goal, such as the technology/work flows working on the net and aggressive eyeballs/clicks, get second rounds of funding /IPO and exit, it is only a matter of time when the culture would soon evaporate. The aim is to build and bind the team into a more enduring vision, towards which the teams aspire to excel and are willing to give their best.

For example, Amazon’s vision statement is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. If the leadership team demonstrates zeal and continually works to take on “walks the talk” examples/projects, it is for the complete team to see the transformation at business and the swelling direct/ potential customer attention, inspiring them to give their best shot.

Choose an Entrepreneurial Spirited Team

For ensuring that a start-up culture is maintained it is essential that the team you select is passionate about “doing something in life” over “what are the entitlements”. While you may not want your team to work on love and fresh air, hiring passionate guys with talent versus mercenary talent can be a deciding factor in the rapid growth/success rate of the firm.

During the early start-up phase you might be able to attract two-seven individuals who are immensely passionate. The reality remains that the high growth start-up will grow rapidly and keep typically acquiring 30-100 per cent newer set of people every year and the original people DNA will only become 1-5 per cent of the near new organisation in three-five years!

The trick lies in continued hiring of at least > 20 per cent of the DNA with “entrepreneurial mindset”, compared to largely hiring “been their done that – MNC managerial talent”. This is over and above continually espousing the vision and values in which the firm believes through key leaders and other formal managers identified as “cultural anchors”.

Encourage Innovation & Participation

One of the key things that keep the employees passionate is their ability to contribute to build the organisational future. By designing mechanisms that allow employees to experiment with innovation, you give the power to transform the business into the hands of employees and tap their potential way beyond the obvious.

Firms like Google, are some of the firms that encourage innovation by allowing structured 20 per cent of the time to work on innovation. Likewise providing guidelines of “fail cheap, fail fast” and “celebrating failures” are other interesting methods that are gaining a lot of interest. Although the start up to growth can work on celebrating failures more easily, introducing this after a hiatus of several years of success and achieving large size, you may land up introducing this as a “lip service” due to the underlying culture of ‘fear of sneers’ and ‘budgetary controls’ towards the right targets.

Other outsourced/crowd sourced models of innovation, derisks the firm from financial shocks/failure risks, but do not necessarily encourage a vibrant innovative culture in-house. It is important to create a balanced mix of crowd sourcing and in sourced innovation.

Have Vibrant Ambience

Speak to the larger base of the youthful employees, and what brings them to the offices everyday and peps up their mood to engage productively in team work and give their best shot includes lovely offices decors, engaging with the design of the décor, such as painting walls and playing games. Some of the great examples include offices of Facebook and Google.

Try To Know If It Starts Going Wrong!

Establishing ways and means for two-way communication can substantially de-risk the chances of the organization derailment. Senior leaders mingling with the team informally and listening intently on how happy the employees are with the culture and is it driving positive vibrancy or lethargy, provide powerful insights on “all is well” or otherwise. Top talent leaving the organization or performance tanking for multiple quarters as metrics are not necessarily the metrics to wait for…it is too late! A case in point is Hubspot that grew 800 per cent in three years from 2008 and uses talks with senior leaders.

Have Informal Hierarchy

While scaling up, you need to be careful that the business does not get fossilised in the transformation, and you land-up with a bureaucratic ‘babu’ culture. While it may be true that you still have the same 24X7 hours for each leader, creating windows for employees to walking in to any leaders room with or without appointment/ scheduling meets with a transparent open calendar allow a healthy relationship to be maintained.

Edition: December 2016

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