Three tips to get intentional about your start-up’s culture
Emma Tucker, our newest team member and Internal Communications Consultant at The Comms Crowd provides her top three tips for creating a company culture that is the right for you.
All companies – regardless of how long they have been running – have a culture. Your culture is that certain something that captures the essence of who you are and how you do things. It’s the thing that attracts people to join you and it’s also what keeps them working effectively and loyally.
For start-ups, your culture and vision are probably the two things that you can use to convince those first few hires through the door. So arguably, taking an intentional approach to define and use it is smart and will keep you honest as you grow. Here are three ways to get intentional with your culture.
1. Define it. Get your people in a room and discuss what makes the company what it is or what you want it to be. Write it down. Get specific on the words you choose and don’t be afraid to disagree; it’s in the debate that you’ll uncover areas of tension and uniqueness. Think about the stories that you each tell about your company – what do they say about you?
Be sure to define the values and behaviours that you want to live by. For example, you might choose “Impact” as a value and explain the accompanying behaviours as “You accomplish important work that positively impacts our clients” “You consider the impact of your work on the people around you” and “You leave a good impression because you take action and deliver on your promises.”
Then test it. And better yet, get more people in your company involved in the process. Let them discuss the values and pick behaviours that are relevant and helpful to their work. Get their input and the behaviours will stick.
Then test it with your clients and external stakeholders. Honest feedback will be your friend.
Keep refining the descriptions until they feel right and truly reflect what you’re all about. Aim to define four or five company values. Teams can then decide on the accompanying behaviours relevant to them (aim for three behaviours per value).
2. Embed it. That means weaving it into every interaction with your employees and clients. It should be part of how you hire, develop, and measure your people. It should become integral to the way you innovate and grow your business offering. It should be part and parcel of how you show up to client meetings and deliver results.
It should be reflected in your communications, both in the tone and in the method; instantly recognisable in everything from financial updates, processes and procedures, town halls, team meetings and one-to-one conversations. Ultimately your culture should dictate how you measure your performance and success.
3. Evolve it. Your culture is alive and will continue to evolve whether you maintain it intentionally or not. So, revisit the definitions – a fitting set of values and behaviours in year one might require a different nuance in year five. Check that you haven’t missed an important touchpoint as you’ve grown.
Smart leaders keep their finger on the pulse so go back to your employees and clients and listen again to their stories, observe their behaviour, and act on their feedback.
The speed and scale of your growth will dictate the frequency of these checkpoints, but every six months is a sensible guide.
This is time-consuming work but well worth the effort because getting intentional about your culture, will ultimately drive better business outcomes. McKinsey’s Organisational Health Index shows that organisations with top-quartile cultures post a 60% higher shareholder return than median companies and 200% higher than those in the bottom quartile.
People who want to positively add to your culture will perform better, more easily adapt to change, and help you to attract more talent. They will be your champions.
And putting in the effort to define, embed, and evolve your culture during the early years of your start-up, will save you a lot of time, money, and energy in the long run.