Building A Startup Culture To Die For: Where People Have Fun And Still Get Work Done
Getting good people at your startup is super hard, getting them to deliver and stick to the company is even harder and a strong culture goes a long way in making this possible
The typical talent cycle looks like this: recruit, onboard, deliver impact, retain. Then repeat this over and over again to create a strong team.
Sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it? It’s worse in early-stage startups where you can’t pay market salaries and usually, the volume of work is also a lot.
Building a strong culture goes a long way in attracting and retaining good people and creates an atmosphere where everyone is driving the startup forward.
Let’s talk about the fundamental elements of the good culture we are building, followed by key actions to take for creating a similar atmosphere at your startup.
What is a Strong Culture?
Culture is a somewhat abused word in the startup world. It doesn’t just mean that your team has laughed at work and they frequent the neighbourhood pub for drinking sessions. Culture is made of two things: Work culture & the feeling of being a Cult.
This is What a Strong Work Culture Looks Like:
People Feel They Belong: They aren’t just doing a job. They are working towards a common goal and vision, together with the founders
They are Taking Complete Ownership of Their Share of the Work: They take initiative and don’t rest till they get things done
There’s a Visible Zeal for the Growth of the Company and for Personal Growth as well. There is constant chatter about how can we get better.
Feeling part of a Cult Means
People Have a Sense of Pride: Pride in working here and there’s a lot of mutual admiration and affection among co-workers
They Have Shared Values: Beliefs which align them, creating a highly cohesive unit
There’s Open Communication: People don’t hold back their thoughts, whether it be ideas or criticism
How to Build a Strong Culture?
Founders don’t have to hold house parties and pizza treats to build culture. These certainly add to the fun but strong cultures are built at work, day in day out. Not over drinking sessions. Here are the fundamentals of creating a strong culture:
Start with strong values: Chart out the list of values that are most important for your company. These are not just things to put up on the wall. Values serve as the litmus test for all the decisions you and your people take at work.
The most well-defined values are the ones that are extracted from who you are as a company, instead of the founder putting down a list and everyone following it.
Reinforce by hiring: Recruit people who are passionate either about your vision or just about doing good work. Moreover only recruit people who fit into the values you have laid out. This ensures you are getting the right kind of people for your startup
Trust People and Create Flexibility: Respect people’s personal time and they will respect their work. Don’t keep rigid timings or office attendance rules. Make your leave policy flexible.
You might think this hinders efficiency, but have some faith in people’s desire to do good work. They will carry out their responsibilities if they have the right environment to thrive in
Create a Working Structure to Support the Flexibility: Traditional companies have fixed working hours and leave policies because these are age-old tried and tested methods. For unorthodox practices, you need matching methods
If your environment is flexible, you need to build frameworks and processes so that people can track their work and not slack off. For instance, we have a practice of posting daily tasks at the start of the day and completion status at end of day
Be Obsessed About People’s Individual Growth: Most startup workforces are made of young professionals, typically less than 3 years experienced. At this stage, they are hungry for growth and need a lot of support to help them get to their potential.
You need to be available to guide them, give them feedback and invest time in setting up frameworks and roadmaps for their growth. As people grow, your startup will also grow and you will be able to retain good talent
Emphasise Impact Over Effort and Keep Repeating Your values: It’s easy to get satisfied just by putting in a lot of effort without realising that the efforts aren’t leading to anything substantial.
Always value the end result and impact people are creating and encourage them to strive for that. Repeat this often along with your values and make sure everyone is aligned with the primary goals
Recognise Achievements, Small and Big: Celebrate people who uphold your values, who go the extra mile and those who are creating significant impact. Do this weekly, not annually. It sets an example for what everyone needs to work towards.
Also, discard the ones who are abusing your value and are pulling the rest of the team down
The strongest startup cultures have adopted these fundamentals and tweaked it for their own purpose. Every startup has different needs but building a strong culture should be a top priority for founders. It goes a long way in separating the successful companies from the average ones.
Rahul Singh is an IIT Bombay, 2012 grad. Worked at GulfTalent, a Dubai based market leader job portal for the Gulf region with over 1 million users a month. He started off as an Analyst and worked across Product, Operations, Sales, Marketing before becoming the first Product Manager there.
This gave him massive exposure on running a business and he is also specialized in building great products. He was CPO at Ithaka till March this year, when I took over as CEO when Ameya, my co-founder left.