Values help build the culture for a great team that is on a mission
If you create a startup, you need to understand you are not just launching a startup company. Entrepreneurs start both businesses and cultures. Founders set the goals and determine the values necessary to help the company achieve its mission. The company then gets distinguished by these core beliefs, values, and attitudes, that all help guide its practices. This is under the founders’ control, hence founders can and need to shape their company culture, and ultimately, build a great tribe of people who believe in the mission.
During startup mode, the values and behaviors that shape culture are often unspoken and more often than not, are formed by the behavior of the founder and other leaders, with other employees following suit. As the company grows, everyone needs to understand the company mission, its core values and the operating environment (hopefully freedom and accountability) in order to be successful. Here are some simple tips that should help you in your planning and discussion process with co-founders or key employees so that you can lay the groundwork for a solid culture.
Document and Share Your Values. Documenting your company values and regularly sharing these helps to keep all your employees on the same page. You also need to publicly support the values so all members of tribe understand the values apply to everyone.
No Excuses Culture. While having a valid excuse for a late deliverable can be understood, this should not become the norm. Making excuses instead of delivering on time on agreed objectives means that you are not supporting the company, not supporting your partner or teammates and simply not pulling your weight. The lack of honesty, when you have to make excuses on poor execution, shows disrespect to each member in the team which impacts trust, and has a knock down effect to the integrity of the organization overall.
Hire Well and Repeat. Selection and ‘fit’ of new employees is key to company success. Be specific about who you hire; not only their skills, but who they are. Allow managers to recruit and recommend future employees, then do a culture interview. Ensure that your new employees understand they are joining a team on a mission. Two minds work better as one, and as a team you can support, challenge and complement each other, and ultimately accomplish so much more, so much faster.
Set the Environment. A popular Brad Feld quote states that you cannot motivate people, but that you can create a context in which people are motivated. An environment can be set by how communication happens within the company, how often, in which forums and in which form (written e-mails, posters, meetings). By practicing certain ceremonies and rituals, you can emphasize and celebrate the things you value; birthdays, product launches and achievements. Celebrating a team’s wins is such a basic thing, but goes a long way. Be sure not to over-look celebrating the achievement of short-term goals.
Manage Risk. Starting a business is very stressful and creates much uncertainty. Managing risk reduces employees’ stress and fear. Creating a safe environment with open communication, where trust and transparency are upheld is a crucial responsibility of founders. Managing fear turns anxiety into energy, which in turn helps people work together to solve problems.
Trust by Trusting. In the uncertain world of the startup, trust is possibly the most important and fundamental aspect of building a strong company culture. This starts with a founder sharing his idea to a possible partner, or getting the first employee and hoping he/she will not run away and realize your dream faster than you will. The only way that you can know if you can trust someone is to trust him/her. You have to believe in trust from the start, and then you can learn fast whether you can or cannot trust them.
Allow Freedom to Fail. One of the greatest gifts you can give your employees is letting them fail without making them feel like failures. In startup mode, failure is unavoidably part of the growth process. By ensuring clear communication and objectives, employees will get a good understanding of what is expected from them. Then if their experiments fail, be sure to respond in a way that allows for the growth and confidence to try again. Allow for collaboration and innovation by assuring a no-fear environment where failure is understood and integrated as a core value. A no-fear culture allows people to take ownership of their work, whether it fails or not, and eliminates any need for excuses.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. We all need it, the tap on the back that says “well done”. Not only is it one of the highest motivations, but acknowledging someone’s effort and value, and not claiming it for yourself, shows great leadership. My own career soared when I started giving credit to teams instead of taking the credit. That, in turn, made my teams want to work harder.
Be Purpose-Driven. You need to ensure that everyone in your startup knows what is expected from him/her, even down to a daily deliverable and what success looks like. In uncertain startup times, guidance gives clarity but also ensures alignment. Spend time and identify your business’s purpose and mission, and let everyone be guided and motivated by it. Hopefully your purpose is customer driven because that is a strong talisman that all employees can follow.
High-Performance Culture. While you are working hard to shape your organizational culture, you should also focus on how you can make this a high-performance culture. This requires an environment where everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it. As mentioned earlier, set ambitious, strategic objectives and create an environment in which they can be achieved. Ensure you attract and retain the majority of high performers and be cognizant of creating the environment where these individuals want to be on a mission.
Make sure your team and culture are energized, disciplined and goal and task orientated. While it may be hard to manage and keep high performers, use clarity of thought, honesty, respect and trust to keep the tribe focused on the mission.