Before investing, VCs will want to learn more about your startup. Have you achieved product/market fit? What is your customer acquisition strategy? How much equity will you retain? The best startup founders are prepared to answer these and other essential questions. In addition, investors may also have a few questions related to your startup’s work culture. Why? Startups that possess exceptional work cultures experience sustained productivity, enjoy higher revenues, and attract the world’s top tech talent.
However, as startups grow, founders must make sure that the company’s core mission and values remain intact. Even in the face of rapid growth, organizations like Google, HubSpot, and Zappos have perfected and sustained their company culture.
According to David Radcliffe, vice president of Google Real Estate and Workplace Services, “Casual collisions are what we try and create in the work environment. You can't schedule innovation, you can't schedule idea generation and so when we think about our facilities around the world we're really looking for little opportunities for engineers or for creative people to come together.”
Are you ready to build and sustain your startup’s culture at scale? Achieve the cultural success of these and other industry-leading businesses by following these four guiding principles.
How to Maintain Your Startup Culture at Scale
1. Identify + Integrate Culture
Start by identifying your startup’s core mission and values. What does the startup stand for and what does it promise to deliver? After you’ve defined your startup’s mission, you must make sure that your team members understand the company’s focus and trajectory. To align your employees with your startup’s mission, Elizabeth Dukes, Co-founder and EVP at iOFFICE, recommends the following:
"Create an event that celebrates the revitalized mission. Share stories about how the work employees are doing is creating a positive impact. A video campaign is a highly effective way to share this story. You can also connect employees to the roots of the mission by revisiting how your organization was founded, why it was founded, and how far it's come."
In order to achieve maximum buy-in from your employees, your startup's mission must be clear, concise, and actionable. Your company's core mission and values should unite your workforce around a simple cause and commitment. As your company scales, identify whether or not the mission and values are being upheld and make adjustments as necessary.
2. Make Smart Hiring Decisions
When hiring, should your startup prioritize applicants with amazing qualifications or those with an exceptional cultural fit? When an employee's beliefs and behaviors are in alignment with your startup's core values and company culture, they're in it for more than just a paycheck. Instead, the staff member is committed to honoring your startup's core mission and values.
For example, Airbnb prioritizes their company values when hiring. In fact, as Chief Employee Experience Officer, Mark Levy worked to scale their product team, he recognized that the need to hire could not displace the company's core value of diversity.
"We're putting the diversity of our tech team ahead of our growth metrics," said Levy. "Our goal is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, which means our workforce should represent the makeup of our hosts and guests."
Once your company culture is defined, it should be outlined in all recruiting materials. During the interview process, ask questions about the applicant's values and aspirations. Use this information to determine how their personal beliefs align with your startup's core mission, values, and culture.
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3. Be Authentic + Accessible
"Culture starts with the founders," says Jacob Gibson, Co-founder and former COO of NerdWallet. "You can't just decide one day what you want the culture to be. It's how you act at work, how you treat people's decisions, and how you treat people's work. All of those things are your culture, whether you like it or not."
As a startup founder, you are the living and breathing representation of your startup's culture. The best startup founders lead by example. During rapid growth, they're working right alongside their employees. When a team member has a question or concern, they're the first one to offer practical advice and insight. They communicate the startup's values in every interaction they have or decision they make.
"Every time Tim, our CEO, gets up in front of the company to talk about anything, he ties it back to the company culture — the values, the mission," said Gibson.
4. Gather Feedback
When it comes to company culture, startups must routinely field feedback from their team members and pivot accordingly. Startup founders should meet with their employees to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Start by asking your team about the company's goals. What is the startup trying to accomplish and how are staff members helping the company to reach those benchmarks? Are they having fun and learning new things along the way?
Sunita Malhotra, managing director of People Insights, a Belgium coaching and consulting firm, solicits feedback during all company meetings. For those hesitant to provide feedback, Malhotra tries to make the process fun and casual. Each person on the team is given a set of green, yellow, and red cards to reward or flag behavior. If someone on the team listened exceptionally well, the team member was rewarded with a green card. Similarly, red cards were distributed if someone interrupted a co-worker.
Anonymous surveys are another way to glean valuable feedback. The most effective surveys ask:
- What are we best at?
- What are we worst at?
- What are we hypocritical about?
As your startup grows, use this feedback to identify where improvements must be made.
Maintain Your Culture + Scale
The world's top investors use company culture as an indicator of startup success for a good reason. Businesses that build and maintain a meaningful work culture can expect more satisfied, focused, and dependable employees. Their enthusiasm results in greater productivity and revenue for the startup. As the company scales, the work culture will inevitably evolve. However, it's the founder's responsibility to monitor and manage how the culture changes during growth.
If you're looking for an innovative work environment built to compliment your startup's unique culture, we invite you to join the RocketSpace tech ecosystem. RocketSpace provides growth-oriented amenities, programming, mentorship, and more to the world's fastest-growing tech startups and scale-ups. In fact, RocketSpace has supported high-growth tech companies like Spotify, Uber, and Zappos. Are you ready to change the world like these tech visionaries?
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