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Startup Culture 2.0: Why Kegs No Longer Cut It

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Today’s startups have a problem, and no amount of free booze will solve it. Don’t get me wrong, I love beer -- but it’s part of the problem.

Frederic J. Brown/Stringer | Getty Images

Related: 5 Hidden Dangers of a Stereotypical Startup Culture

Startup Culture 1.0 was a response to a traditional workplace that stifled creativity and expression. Young professionals saw no value in wearing suits and working in cubicles. Organizations saw an opportunity to evolve, giving employees the freedom to work in a way that felt more like play. And, theoretically at least, they became more innovative, productive and attractive to top talent in the process.

Hoodies replaced sportcoats. Scrum pits replaced cubes. Dogs roamed the halls. Ping-pong tables supplanted conference tables. And company kitchens filled up with healthy, local, organic, free-range snacks and kegs from local microbrews.

There were no more off-sites in stuffy hotels; team building happened over whitewater rafting; volunteer teams travelled to Central America; and Frisbee in the park became a staple of work-optional Friday afternoons -- all of which was delightful -- until it went too far (see the recent Zenefits scandal).

Worse, it became the new status quo.

We now take for granted that we can wear jeans to the office and work from home when we need to. We no longer notice the keg in the corner of the kitchen -- because frankly, no one drinks from it. Few people bring their dogs to work because, in reality, that's kind of a hassle. And, while on-site yoga sounds good in theory, who wants to go all zen with their colleagues and then turn around and talk development capacity and budgets?

When every company offers something, it’s no longer a perk.

Indeed, when you strip away the cool “stuff,” we’re left with a culture that isn’t terribly different from the old-school system that it replaced. Sure, you no longer call your boss “Sir” or “Ma’am” when discussing your assignments -- but you still get assignments. You may “download” on your projects in the “nerd lounge” with a latte from the new espresso machine, but you’re still told what to do and, largely, how, when, where, and with whom to do it.

This is the issue with Startup Culture 1.0. The clothes, the offices, the rules may have changed, but the way work gets done did not. The next evolution of startup culture -- let’s call it Startup Culture 2.0 -- will implement a whole new set of perks that are significantly harder to provide, but are much more valuable when done right.

Startup Culture 2.0 will be a fundamental shift in how we think about people. Instead of changing the lines we draw around them, we’ll remove the lines altogether.

Related: Creating The Right Culture For Startup Success

Startup Culture 2.0 puts the “people are our best asset” cliché into action. Instead of focusing on the accouterments that attract top talent, and then telling that top talent exactly what to do, an evolved organization hands over the keys to the castle. In practice, this translates to a new way of making decisions, big and small:

  • Everyone is a decision maker. Decisions – and sh*t – no longer flow solely downhill.
  • Your decision model seeks advice from everyone who may be impacted. You seek advice up and down the chain to inform and validate each decision.
  • Decisions are a team effort, and so are repercussions, for better or worse.
  • People are fallible, and it’s all part of the learning process

This doesn’t sound as sexy as lunchtime bike rides and LEED-certified offices, but the impact will be much more meaningful. When you fundamentally trust that your employees are good, that they want your company to be successful, that they work hard and want to contribute, the results are almost instantaneous. More joy. More innovation. More community. Better work.

Related: 5 Ways Startups Build Priceless Cultures Without Spending a Cent

I love beer. But I’ll take a highly engaged, highly trusted workforce over the keg in the kitchen any day.

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