Laurynas Pletkus
Laurynas Pletkus

How to Develop and Sustain a Strong Company Culture as a Startup

August 30, 2019
5 min read
How to Develop and Sustain a Strong Company Culture as a Startup

Having a strong sense of company culture as you scale up as a startup is essential in not falling apart from the original core values.

A great company culture ensures you recruit the best people in terms of their skills and how well they’re going to fit within the team. 

This can be hard to maintain and keep track of, as you scale up, but it’s important not to lose track of the vision that got you started with in the first place.

The culture can make or break the company as it affects the company’s most valuable resources – the people.

According to research, younger individuals joining the workforce are looking for organisations that reinforce their own personal values, and can maintain a positive environment. –

“Younger generations are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to supporting businesses that make a positive impact on society.”

While the paycheck still remains a strong motivator, many say that they would not hesitate to end a relationship with a company that they disagree with in terms of their practices, values and/or political leanings

Company culture is defined within how people in the organisation behave, their vision, values, language, beliefs, habits, and more.

So, there is no one specific thing that defines company culture. It’s a long-term investment in people that pays off through employee performance.

By maintaining a positive environment where people feel calm and can achieve better performance, the company culture is directly affecting the bottom line.

Better performance equals better final product and higher productivity, which in turn affects just about every other aspect of the business.

With that said, here’s how to develop a strong sense of company culture and maintain it as you scale up.

1. Building the Foundation

It all begins with the “Why”. As your company grows, it’s important to reinforce the starting company missions and values.

The first step of building the company culture begins involves discussion and decisions based on the fundamental values of the business.

What does the organisation want to be known for? How are they different? What makes them stand out?

Ideally, these questions should be asked at the beginning to define the core values as soon as possible. 

To make sure you’re on the right track and don’t lose track of your values, it’s a good idea to get them down in writing.

Our own story behind Scale3C here

Looking for the right talent for your development project? Get in touch at [email protected] to see how we can help.

Think of what matters to your company (vision), and values you want your team members to associate the company with.

From their perspective, this might include things like:

  • Flexible/remote work
  • Clear communication
  • Accountability
  • Diversity
  • Fun (how you have fun as a company, team building, etc.)
  • And more

Once a list of company values is created, it’s time to put them into action.

These messages then should be shared via employee communications and be present in most of the company decisions.

The best way to do this is by including them in everything you do.

For example, if you believe in producing a high-quality product, make sure the feedback and communication methods with the product team is as transparent as possible.

Ask questions like “What is the WHY behind the product? Is anything missing? How can we improve the product?

During the process, make sure to keep your standards high and that everyone involved in the process is not afraid to speak up. High-quality should be present across every single custom-experience touchpoint.

Company values need to be mirrored in day-to-day activities and communications with clients as well as other employees. An organisation that seeks to be open and transparent in their communications, for example, should make any information they consider important to be accessible by all employees.

In terms of communications, if they plan to be more informal and close-knit, they could use their first names in emails or even hold face-to-face meetings (though this might depend on the methodology and team location).

The point is that the language you use matters and reflects your team culture. It’s important to keep that consistent as you scale up.

Once you have identified a list of values and beliefs you aspire to, the next step is to put those values into action and identify the “Why behind your activities.

2. Defining and tracking the Why

Defining the “Why is not a new concept, but many companies often still have a hard time with it.

For many startups, this includes creating the perfect working environment – one full of foosball tables, free food, bean bag chairs, and more.

While all of that’s good to have, as it can create a welcoming atmosphere, it’s not really a part of your company culture.

You can’t buy your way into having the right culture, as this is focused on the short term.

Instead, the only thing that will hold your company culture intact is determining what your values are and holding yourself accountable to that every single day.

Now, this does not happen overnight and takes patience. 

Building a strong Why takes time and patience, but is arguably one of the most important parts of your vision. If you want to recruit, hire, and onboard the right people make sure your Why is clearly defined.

Likewise, culture goes both ways.

Make sure the people you’re recruiting fit within your organisation well also.

When defining the company Why, most organisations go with the Golden Circle concept by Simon Sinek.

Source: SmartInsights

This concept is just as popular now and an important part of defining your value proposition. The golden circle is a concept in an attempt to explain why some people and organisations are able to inspire others, and why some can’t.

Sinek explains that organisations should start inwards, with the Why first and then move on to the How and What.

Successfully articulating your Why is essential in your communications (with other people, businesses, etc.). 

Essentially, the Why part refers to the motivation, the How refers to the process and the What to the product.

As a business, you start off by focusing on the benefits of your product or solution, from the outside in. Then, you focus on how you do what you do. 

Many businesses often overlook why they do what they do. As in, what motivates and inspires them.

For building the foundation of culture, this is an important step. Because, once you know the Why you can then better communicate your purpose for being to your employees as well as clients.

3. Scaling up With Culture in Mind

Once you more or less have a list of certain core values and beliefs in mind, the next thing you should focus on is scaling up, without losing those core beliefs that got you started.

When you’re a smaller team, it’s arguably easier to develop a sense of culture between your employees. When scaling up, it’s important not to lose that close relationship.

One way to do that is to provide feedback channels so as you don’t lose touch with your company when scaling up. Consider weekly video meetings, sending out company-wide (anonymous) surveys, and having regular social meetings and traditions.

Here are some more practical ways to analyse your company culture

Culture overview

The first place you can check for an overview of your culture is your communication channels.

For example, consider the language used in your Slack or other communication tools. To get an overview of your morale, collaboration, freedom of opinion, and more, you can use analyse your team’s keywords used. Here’s how that works.

Source: Bunch.ai

Bunch.ai is an AI tool that maps your keywords and phrases used to cultural characteristics, by incorporating the latest research from organisational behavior. Then, a set of KPIs show you how well you’re doing in several key areas of company culture – such as being customer-focused, goal orientation, collaboration, and more.

Ensure the environment reflects culture

Office design and environment can have a significant impact on the company culture, but it can’t replace it. 

Keep this in mind when physically scaling the company and designing your new spaces. Several studies suggest that “architecture and design can support or even change company culture”. The research points out that the workplace is usually viewed as a cost rather than a performance indicator

Some companies need more formal office layout to help the staff focus on technical problems, this kind of approach requires more individual workspaces.

Meanwhile, others that want to encourage collaboration should, in turn, reflect that with flexible design and plenty of spaces for group activities.

Recognising achievements

As you grow and onboard more employees, keeping track of employee satisfaction becomes more and more important.

According to the research, organisations that show regular recognition for achievements experience 31% lower voluntary turnover.

Recognising achievements and milestones show that you’re paying attention and that you care. Consider project achievements, achievement-wide milestones, and other important group KPIs. Make sure you’re tracking what’s important, and when possible, celebrating it with your employees.

Conclusion

All in all, developing a strong company culture is an essential part of business, no matter how small it might seem. 

Many companies rely on short-term onboarding processes that give the employees only a general overview of their culture. But learning is a continuous, long-term process, and many companies often lose track of this.

If you ever plan to onboard the right people and scale up eventually, it’s good to have the Why behind your company developed, and ideally, written down. 

Once done, you have to make sure you don’t lose track of it. Keep track of your communication channels and ensure that your working environment reflects it.

Remember – culture has a direct effect on productivity. By creating a welcoming environment, you’re investing in your future and current employees.

If you’re looking for the right talent for your development project, skill-wise as well as culture-wise, contact us at [email protected]. We work with IT projects from scratch, improve current ones, or put them in touch with the right individuals for specific company needs.