A Positive Startup Culture is Everyone’s Job: Why it’s your job to create a healthy and sustainable CultureFeatured
I want to talk about culture. Culture has always fascinated me because it’s something that is focused on so heavily in the startup world. It’s both the draw and challenge for startups and it seems like there's such a fine line between getting it right and getting it very wrong.Having worked in high-growth startup environments, I’ve seen first hand how culture can start off on the right foot, but then either fail to evolve with the company or evolve in a way which the founders and first hires had hoped it wouldn’t. Initially, the culture is vibrant and inherent, but as the organisation expands (often rapidly), it loses its identity. The old guard becomes disillusioned with a company they no longer recognise and leave, and newer members of the team are just confused as to what the culture actually is and what the company stands for. A downward spiral begins. To me, it feels like this doomsday scenario is more than avoidable, it’s totally unnecessary. Culture in a nutshellWhen defining company culture, I love best-selling author Josh Levine’s summary: ‘Culture is the cause and effect of every choice.’ It’s the sum of those choices that determine the way your organisation works, including the attitudes, atmosphere, and values of your employees.I also can relate to the definition offered by Daniel Coyle in his book, The Culture Code. ‘Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.’ Good culture happens on purpose - it needs purposeful cultivation.Creating a cultureWe need to start being more intentional, thinking about the culture we want to instil from the start and how we want it to evolve as the company grows, expands, and diversifies. The challenge is that the idea of consciously creating culture can feel strange, artificial, or contrived even, and overuse of the word “culture” can also have a detrimental effect on the way a business and its people are perceived. But by being purposeful and intentional with your cultural goals from the start, you will naturally build a team and environment that carries this with them as the business matures. But it cannot be tackled as a “project” with an end goal that, once complete, you can tick off the list and move on. Once you have clear ways of working that define who you are, you can talk less about “culture” specifically and more about what you stand for as a business. It becomes part of everyday life but it will always be an ongoing work in progress. A journey, not a destinationIf culture is about relationships and choices then it stands to reason that it’s always evolving and requires purposeful cultivation.Josh Levine sums this up perfectly, ‘Culture isn’t a destination or answer to arrive at. It’s as alive as the people who live in it, and it’s constantly evolving. It requires tending, curation and updates - call it continuous improvement if you want.’ It is key to both personal and business success but there isn’t one answer or formula for creating a positive culture that is truly reflective of your business. Like every great journey, you’ll take a wrong turn or two along the way and you will have to overcome hurdles that will test you, but like every great journey, getting there is also half the story.It is more important than everThe shift to working from home and hybrid offices over the last year has amplified the importance of culture and the work businesses need to put into it. Companies really must make it an explicit priority. A big part of today’s employee experience (and productivity) will be defined by an organisation's ability to create and maintain a positive remote working environment. And it’s not just existing employees we need to be thinking about. As businesses become more confident in growing their teams again, the significance of culture has never been more apparent. Job seekers will be faced with a wealth of opportunities and will often be looking less for the professional experience a business can offer and more for the cultural environment they would be joining. Getting the culture conundrum rightThe number one requirement for getting it right is to be consistently considering it. Include culture-defining factors on your meeting agendas and start thinking of projects or even interactions in terms of company values — do they align? Will they help or hinder the business in maintaining what it stands for? Remember, it’s not about perfection, it’s about action.We can’t just talk about values, we have to live and breathe them. And that means culture must become the responsibility of the whole team. Creating and defining them may start at the top, but it must filter down and everyone must be on board in order to create those authentic elements that define a business. If you are working from home, your team may not have access to leadership at all times, but culture doesn’t stop just because conditions aren’t ideal.Are you ready to become a culture champion? These are my favourite books on the topic.Great Mondays - Josh LevineThe Culture Code - Daniel CoyleUnleashed - by Frances Frei & Anne MorrissOne last quote on culture that I think pretty much says it all. Again, from the great Josh Levine ‘From here on our culture rules, and it is everyone’s job’.