One of the best things about starting your own business is that you get to (try to) build whatever type of company you want — including the culture. Everybody has been in organizations where the overall culture and values, or at least certain management styles, were toxic. Or maybe a lack of leadership undermined employee morale and performance. So why would you want that to happen in your own business?
Surprisingly, startups and closely-held businesses often fail to instill values and foster a culture conducive to a positive and productive working environment. I’ve seen many small businesses where the organization’s culture was defined by the dynamic and dysfunction of its founders. In startups, where long hours, tight deadlines and high stress is the norm — and where high-performance and passion are critical to success — low morale and high turnover can be a recipe for disaster.
Taking the time to define, communicate and instill your startup’s cultural principles may seem like a luxury compared to launching, marketing and selling your products and services. However, if you don’t take the time to do it up front, you may not get a second chance.
In a startup, it’s easy to place the focus on whatever the shortest path is to get things done and meet critical deadlines, launches, and milestones. But if you’re not careful, you can end up with an organization that lacks a clear set of cultural values or leadership practices, and a staff that’s not motivated or empowered to do their best work. Here are some ways to prevent this:
Think about what kind of culture you want for your organization, and write down a set of cultural principles and company values you want to aspire to for your employees, customers, and partners.
Communicate your cultural principles and company values to your employees, and take steps to get feedback and buy-in from them.
Commit to actions the company will take to instill and uphold cultural principles and values.
Allow them the freedom to perform in the roles they were hired for, and give them room to make mistakes and learn from them.
Establish standards of trust and independence among employees, and strive to weed out those who consistently fail to live up to it.
When hiring for key roles, especially those in management positions, make sure have you a clear understanding of a candidate’s leadership style and skills, and that they align with your desired values.
Strive to embody the values you want to instill in your organization in your daily actions and communications.
Take the time to recognize great work and contributions.
Using the above techniques can set your startup on the right track for success, productivity, and low employee turnover. At Loeb NYC, I have observed a large emphasis placed on establishing a culture of fun, employee satisfaction, and fulfillment, and continued learning. This is done through events like “Speakers Series” and weekly staff meet-ups (celebrating birthdays and milestones). It helps make people happy to come to work on a Monday.
Part of our company culture: Loeb NYC has started a monthly book club (and sponsors the books for whoever wants to join in). Each month, a new “Loebster” moderates the meeting, leads a discussion on the book of the month and votes on the set text for the following month. The books selected relate to improving business, productivity, creativity, innovation, and inspiration. Loeb NYC’s book for April 2018, was “Creativity, Inc.” by Pixar’s founder, Ed Catmull. Catmull, after the release and success of Pixar’s first movie (and the first ever computer-animated feature, “Toy Story”) was faced with the challenge of breathing inspiration into a burnt-out, uncommitted staff. Catmull describes how he made actively, continually improving company culture his personal mission, as a crucial ingredient to the creative process and Pixar’s success.
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