What does your startup’s culture look like? Does it reflect your core values and ethics? Are employees engaged and upbeat about their work? Is teamwork fundamental to your operations?
Culture can seem like an elusive concept, especially as a startup grows from just the founder and a few additional employees to a sizeable staff. As the company grows, it becomes urgently important to create a culture where everyone feels valued and hard work is rewarded; neglecting your business’ culture could result in a dysfunctional work environment and high employee turnover.
Here are seven tips for building a startup culture that benefits employer and employees alike:
1. Hire for the Right Employees
Your culture begins and ends with the people you hire. Determining how well an individual melds with your culture before extending a job offer can help minimize employee turnover and create a work environment that contributes positively to the bottom line. When interviewing, don’t focus solely on candidates’ skills and experience, but also ask questions related to their personality and work style. How an employee answers questions like "What type of work environment works best for you?" and "Do you prefer working on your own or are you more productive as part of a team?” can help determine if they’re a good fit for the culture you’re trying to mold.
2. Assess Your Team's Strengths and Weaknesses
By understanding how each person fits into your team, you can assess the specific contributions they make to the business and compensate for any weaknesses by drawing on another employee's strengths. By doing this, you build a more cohesive and productive team, adjusting its makeup as needed depending on the project.
3. Build a Foundation of Trust
Establishing a foundation of respect and dignity for your employees is an essential component of a successful culture. "You'd think this was obvious, but when things are moving at a million miles per hour and the tension is high, it's easy to get into habits of impatience, negativity, and frustration," says Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, CEO of AirPR. "Simply put: treat others as you would want to be treated, and watch your company flourish."
4. Reward Teamwork
It's nice to have a superstar or two on your team, but generally speaking, your business will do best when everyone works closely together to produce results. Encourage employees to collaborate and brainstorm on new ways to get things done — and when their ideas bear fruit, celebrate the achievements and reward them accordingly. The best cultures grow out of the understanding that when a new challenge arises, people will pool their talents and, as a team, come up with the best solution.
5. Be Generous with Credit
No culture that emphasizes the leader's achievements over their employees' contributions stays intact for every long. Your employees work hard on behalf of the company, and giving credit for good work is essential to good team morale. This is particularly true in a startup culture where everyone is expected to pitch in and put in extra effort.
6. Recognize the Benefits of Failure
Companies only grow through trial and error. Praising successful contributions is important, but so are "noble failures" (assuming, of course, that mistakes are learned from and not repeated). Let employees know that you value their attempts to solve problems in new and inventive ways, while understanding that not every idea will pay off. Teamwork flourishes in an atmosphere where honest attempts at innovation are consistently encouraged.
7. Invite Employee Feedback
Team members may be more familiar with the specifics of a given situation than the company's leader — and that’s a good thing. With a high-performing team, team members are empowered to identify issues the leader may be unaware of, and offer solutions to problems that might otherwise go unnoticed. This only works in a culture where employee feedback is welcomed. Design a process where employees can provide feedback in a simple, real-time manner.
Culture isn't something you can institute from the top. It grows out of an environment in which the right people for the job are all working together to grow the business. As the leader of a fledgling business, it's up to you to create this environment and then get out of the way so the talented team you chose can do its job.