How to Build a Great Start-up Culture

Put simply, the better your company culture, the better people will perform.
Jane Kennedy, Associate Director at TalentSpark, explains how to develop and maintain a great company culture that will attract, nurture and retain the brilliant people you need to build your business.

Maintaining Company Culture as you Grow

Maintaining your company culture as you grow is one of the many things thrown at you as the founder of a startup. Along with the multitude of other things you need to think about, you, or someone in your organisation, must be mindful of the culture that is developing within your team.

Early Culture

When there are two or three of you holed up in a small office, culture might not seem like a hugely important consideration. You come into work, have some banter with your colleagues, perhaps grab a beer on a Friday and everyone is busy, but generally happy.

So, with everything else that’s kicking off; seeking investment, nailing down your IP with the lawyers, finding an advisory board, why do the two or three of you need to sit down and talk about culture?   

Because this is exactly when it should happen. As the founders it’s likely you’ll be with the business for the long term and it is your vision for the company that will outlive many of the employees, perhaps even your own time with the company.

Agree your Vision and Values

You don’t need to get overly formal with this, but it is important you understand the vision for the business. If you don’t know where the business is going there is no chance the people who work for you will.

Think about where you would like to see the company in the next 15 years (yes, it will take that long) and be specific; lay out an ambitious and challenging vision that will inspire you and your team. Write it down and don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about what you are trying to achieve.

If there is more than one of you, you’ll need to gain some consensus. Make sure there is agreement as you all must be equally passionate about the vision. If that’s not the case, it could be time to find a new business partner.

The values you decide on should reflect the business you want to become and support your vision. They are the building blocks upon which your business will succeed and will give your customers and potential employees an element of differentiation in your marketplace.

Don’t just go for the standard buzz words used by others and try not to copy another company’s values. Those that do are only paying these lip-service as they’re not truly connected to the vision of the entrepreneur. There is no limit but choose more than three and less than seven. These are the also going to become the source of many of the answers to the challenging questions you will face day-in, day-out on your journey.

Implementation and Staying True

This is the tough bit, but ultimately the secret to a successful culture. Coming up with the values and vision is easy. Now you have to implement your vision and build your values into every element of your business.

Your values need to provide the outline for employment contracts; they should guide the type of recruitment process you have; they should be the rationale for promotions and hiring and the basis on which you decide to team up with an investor or which country to take an office in.

As your company grows out of that one room you and your two friends have occupied for the last year or so you need to have confidence that the people you bring on board will buy into your vision and values and that they too can impart them on others as you grow.

New Offices  

So, you are branching out as your exports take off and your orders from beyond these shores ramp up. You need a local office abroad; you need a base for potential customers to visit or you need a local sales team in a different country to achieve those figures you promised your board.

How are you going to ensure the culture you agreed upon as a founding team in your one room is replicated in all the other offices you open?

This is where your values become critical. You need to stick with these if they are still relevant – which they should be. You need to have clear and concise communication that outlines exactly what it means to work for your business.

Your senior hires who will be managing the process have to be exactly the right people. It is them who will drive and embody the culture you have worked so hard to create.

Consistent Message

Internal communication is sometimes overlooked or dismissed as simply “nice to have”. Again, when your company is just three people in the room your internal communications strategy involves a quick chat in the office to agree who is buying the morning rolls.

Then, perhaps you introduce a system such as Slack as you grow. Then a proper intranet is developed and before you know it there are breakfast orders from around the globe.

Making sure people know what is going on is vital. Communication is one of the toughest elements of business to consistently get right. Reinforcing your brand values and reaffirming the vision through this communication will support the team adopt the ideas you have and help maintain the culture you fostered in that one room many years ago.