Why Business Values and Culture Must Remain Constants as You Grow

Company values can't be an afterthought. They should be present from the very beginning and help shape culture year after year.

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By Tomasz Domino

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For a startup to succeed, a clear company culture needs to be established from day one. Why? It's culture, based on core values, that sets the precedent for work and ultimately the future of your organisation. In clearly defining your culture from the start, as a founder, you are understanding who you are, who your company is and where it fits into the market.

Yet, establishing culture can sometimes be an afterthought, something to develop once the branding, product and ways of operating are in place. But, whether you're conscious of it or not, the early decisions that founders make have an important impact on business culture so it must be a key consideration from the get-go, alongside strategy, development and funding.

The Infermedica leadership team presented our current list of values when the team was barely 10 people — we now have more than 160. These values were present in the company from the very beginning and have shaped our culture and can be seen in the daily activities of the team. Since then, they have been systematically recalled and repeated, not only by the leadership team during company meetings, but also by other team members within divisions.

What's key is that the values are 100 percent compatible with our internal views and the way we function. They have to work hand-in-hand so we all understand and buy-in to them, propelling the company forward.

A unifying commitment.

Culture is often hard to define. But as a starting point, it's linked to the central values a company creates. These mantras provide a unifying commitment for people across the business, they provide common ground which are used as a springboard for other ideas and activity. They're unchanging and form a key part of a business, allowing culture to thrive while an organisation grows.

Through developing a strong company culture based on values, you create an environment that people can trust in. In the case of Infermedica, we have three main values: two regarding stakeholders — ensuring that we're providing transparency and support to all — with the third being maintaining the quality of a medical company (we're a healthtech company but our solutions are used in the delivery of medical care). We see these three qualities as being fundamental to every aspect of our work, and they combine to create the "Infermedica Value Triangle."

When people feel that everyone is working to the same values, they are aware of the support that they have around them and how they fit into the bigger picture. It also adds resilience. The last 18 months have provided incredible upheaval, but when employees remain committed and values remain constant, it doesn't matter if they're in the same office or working remotely.

The wider impact of a strong company culture.

Values go beyond your internal workforce, they also solidify your brand to the rest of the world. Making your values an integral part of your operations and culture strengthens relationships with clients. They understand what drives you and this is reflected in how you work with them. Moreover, it also enables each team member to become a personal brand ambassador.

Particularly working in the healthcare sector, having these individual brand ambassadors is such a crucial part of what we do because we are responsible, directly and indirectly, for the wellbeing of others. For people to trust that we can offer solutions that help others it must be obvious that we care for our own. This is developed through celebrating every team member for their unique skillset and talents, promoting a strong work-life balance and perpetuating a communicative and dynamic environment where everyone is a part of the team.

It's also incredibly important when seeking funding and strategic partners. Such stakeholders factor in culture when gauging opportunities as they're not simply looking for a great product and commercial traction, but a unified team that is ready to take the next step. Our culture undoubtedly played a significant role in securing our Series A last year.

Measuring and maintaining culture.

Culture can often be viewed as something which is intangible and too abstract to be measured, but this is not the case. Just as companies plough hours of time into strategizing the measurement and impact of key performance indicators like sales and customer engagement, the same diligence should be applied to company culture. Without doubt it plays into company performance and can be measured through clear targets being established, and then monitored and measured on a regular basis.

We utilize an employee engagement platform which enables us to see the more invisible changes within our people. It allows them to be open and honest and for us to solve issues that aren't as apparent. We also observe Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) so we can clearly see if there are certain trends that we need to address through leadership ressaurance or introducing new initiatives. We run two surveys a month and have an average response rate of more than 70 percent — the number is high because people can see the changes implemented based on their feedback. Supporting your people is a critical component of culture.

So that values permeate and become part of the very set-up of the business, they must be preached over and over from the top down. Managers and executives need to champion culture and really resonate its quintessential role within your organisation. Part of getting culture to resonate stems from making it simple and universal, hence why we stick to the Infermedica Value Triangle: transparency, quality and support.

Furthermore, for international companies, making sure that culture spans globally and can be sustained — regardless of time zones, language barriers and working situation, whether it be remote, hybrid or office based — is absolutely vital.

Having three simple values also makes maintaining them far easier. Using regular staff surveys, sample groups and individual feedback through line managers, companies can understand clearly how values are being interpreted throughout the organisation. To make things even more clear in how they should translate into activity, we asked our team to provide examples of good and bad practices so that others can take that thinking and apply it to the different scenarios they face each day.

Well-established culture can take you from strength-to-strength.

A strong culture can be the making of your company, supporting growth and adding resilience as your business scales up. The key to developing a successful culture is being proactive and establishing your values from the get-go, not retrospectively. In doing this you can make your business dynamic, giving it the ability to pivot business strategy, restructure teams, modify products, while still having a central underlying foundation of values and culture that remains unchanged as you evolve.

Tomasz Domino

Chief Operating Officer, Infermedica

Tomasz Domino is COO of Infermedica.

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