To begin understanding how culture is important inside a company and how it can help tremendously, we first have to define it.
What is culture?
According to The Balance “Company culture is the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals.”
I think this sums it up pretty well, and it also falls in line with my personal opinion of what company culture is. The problem, though, is that it makes culture appear as a non-breathing entity within the company. On the contrary, company culture is shaped by everyone in the company, has a life of its own, and can become the number one driving force for growth.
Why is culture important in a new company?
Culture is critical in every step of a company’s lifecycle. You might not feel that it can be the force that will stop you from growing in the beginning, since everything is simple, requires less red-tape and in general, there’s more motivation. But it’s the only time though in a company’s lifetime that, if done right, one can create the platform for easy growth, both for employees and the company itself.
In a newly found company, it is easy to motivate your team and much easier to create long-lasting bonds. It can define a company’s later stages and this is why you should really pay attention early on.
If a company grows enough with the wrong mentality and attitude, then it’s harder to change these traits, due to resistance. People often tend to get used to negativity and inactivity and it’s easy for them to get trapped in this vicious cycle. The hard part is to break out of it.
Let’s focus on what owners, partners and in general everybody in the company can do to either build a strong foundation within the organization or fix a faulty one. There are many ways to do this, but I’m going to focus on the 9 most essential.
Hiring the right people
Recruiting is the cornerstone of a company’s growth. It will help you become better and faster at what you do and will also give you options and opportunities you didn’t have before. At the same time, you have to always remember: You’re not hiring people for their skills, you’re hiring them for their talents, their passions, their goals in life, their aspirations. And those should align with your personal and your team goals and visions.
You have to seek people who are genuinely interested in your industry. This is the only way to have someone that can stay motivated in the long run. You have to create an environment in which people will feel free to express themselves, challenge the norms and have a chance to change the future of the company.
“Making a company grow and helping it shape itself is not about moving a brick wall to the desired direction yourself. It’s all about letting everyone find their own brick and own that mother$#^%@.”
And this brings us to the next point:
Team members have to be responsible for their tasks
As a company grows, the owner is not also the blogger, programmer, PR person, strategist and business developer. They have to let go of their baby and give room for the people helping them find ways to make it flourish.
Because, after all, if you are the judge of your work, nobody’s going to love what you have created more than yourself. The sad part, though, is that you aren’t creating a product or service for yourself. You have created it and you want it to grow by helping other people and companies. And this is where task responsibility comes into play.
Even inside the smallest departments, people must have responsibilities. They should know that they are responsible for finishing and delivering a task and that’s what will make them strive for better results.
If you have, let’s say, to send a newsletter and it’s part of the “marketing department” well… Nobody’s responsible for it. And if an error is made once, guess what will happen…
1. People will start saying “this was not my task, who had it?”
2. When the error is corrected, since no one was responsible for it, no one will learn what actually went wrong and guess what? The likelihood of it to happen again is huge.
Responsibility also works both ways. When something is done well, credit can be given to people, not departments. Departments should be evaluated every quarter or so, set goals and see where they’re heading.
People in those departments are doing the microtasks that slowly build a company and help it grow; those are the employees who need the motivation and the reassurance of managers knowing how much they try and that their effort is appreciated.
When you’re a “solopreneur”, you know that if you make a mistake, your result will affect the end product. When your company grows, people tend to forget what their effort creates, which rolls us into the next point:
Team members have to be owners of the process
It’s one thing to be accountable for your actions and for people to know what you’re responsible for, and another for you to know what others do, how and why your job affects others and how.
It’s an unforgivable mistake not to know your company’s monthly recurring revenue, is even if you’re on support.
Same applies to sales not knowing how fast support answers, same also applies for marketing now knowing about the release of new features. There should be meetings, gatherings and everything that’s needed should be done, in order to have everyone on the same page.
It’s critical for people to know how their company is doing and critical for you as an owner and a manager to make them understand the whole process and what else they could do to help.
Knowing what the whole process is can help people create a growth mindset. Find new KPIs employees can create and measure themselves, challenge themselves to do more, to become better.
If someone on the support team, for example, doesn’t know how they fare against competition in terms of speed of the first reply, how would they ever become pumped up enough to volunteer for some after-hours support and see if it makes any difference to support satisfaction?
People that are owners of a process and responsible for their tasks will eventually create a growth mindset and will start thinking of new ways to grow their business out of their immediate scope. They will ask if the company uses a marketing tactic they’ve seen online, if it reaches out to people who register on the platform, and so on.
Evolve as you grow
Companies change and so do people. Don’t treat your company as it is in its infancy stage if it’s not. You have to adapt to new needs, new trends and new opportunities and threats. And so do your people.
Their goals change, they get married, have children, their priorities change. Learn what these are and stay up to date. See how you can help them achieve their goals in their business and personal life, and they’ll help you achieve yours. It’s as simple as that, a two-way process that always evolves.
Create a mind-map with your team, to help everyone know where you are right now and where you want to go. Build it and use it as your guide, go back to it, tweak it. Share it with your peers and get feedback, evolve it.
The right people for the right job
Stop promoting people that are amazing at what they do! Bear with me… There’s more to it.
The way promotions work is that when someone is very good at their job, let’s say an amazing programmer, they will start getting promotions and eventually become a manager. This has many hidden dangers like:
1. People might not be that willing to become a manager, maybe they want just to program and they might actually love what they do! Most people will accept a managerial position just because it has better pay. Ask them if that’s really what they want, to manage teams, and if you don’t see them quite willing, offer them the raise without the position. Not everyone in the world is meant to become a manager, different people have different mindsets, let them thrive at what they love the most.
2. Being a great programmer doesn’t mean that you can become a great manager. Being able to manage people and projects requires completely different skills, mindset and attitude and not everyone has them. You need to be a skilled “people person” and be able to take initiative / become the scapegoat when problems arise, take the full responsibility for mistakes, while at the same time give credit to people when something is done right. Not everyone is built for it.
3. Last but not least, just think about it. Taking your best talent from what they know best, not to mention love the most, and change their position – is it really the best thing that you can do for your company?
The only way to avoid misunderstandings is to become transparent. There are many companies that have their salaries open for everyone in the company to see. It might sound extreme and I’m not suggesting that it’s the right way to go for your company, but it does make sense.
When setting goals, though, try to be clear who will get what and why. Don’t just give bonuses to some people with a vague general message. Let them know what they did well, what you appreciated in their work and how they can help you move forward. Make them feel special. And most important of all, try to make people who didn’t get a bonus, understand what they didn’t do well enough and how they can change it.
Rewarding performers is half the picture, giving under-performers the chance to shine, is the other half.
While it seems irrelevant and most companies and startups need to be agile in order to survive and thrive, focus is the name of the game when it comes to company culture. It’s one thing to set goals and responsibilities and another to change them week by week while trying to find the next “golden goose” that’ll make your company grow.
Everything needs to be tested thoroughly. If you cultivate an environment that tests everything and nothing, in the end, you lose both accountability and passion for people to find measurable results. Stay on top of each testing phase and try not to test too many things at the same time.
Patience is the name of the game while rushing into new shiny objects, pestilence.
Celebrate small wins
Go out for beers, lots of them! Celebrate an increase in traffic, a great new client, an increase in conversions, take the whole team out for drinks if you can, take some people at a time but blend with all, celebrate with all, make them understand that you’re in this together, even off-hours.
You don’t have to become a party animal, but do what you can to make them feel at home. After all, that’s what we want from our business life, to work with people we like, on an interesting project that makes us wake up easier in the morning. 😉
Technology is great, focus on your product, but no matter how good it is, the people will make it shine and help it grow. Invest in them, you’ll reap the rewards.
About the author: Angelos Papaioannidis is enjoying life as a freelancer and entrepreneur and at the same time trying to help other people understand the concepts around Internet Marketing and how they can apply the methods learned into their everyday business life. You can find more about him at his Internet Marketing Blog called Moneytized.