When I hired my first team of 3 people, I issued them a challenge. I told them, “whatever we do together now is going to set the tone for the culture we have as the company grows. So, let’s be intentional about it.” Don’t wait until your Startup is growing exponentially before you get clear about your workplace culture. Your culture has a significant impact on your company’s ultimate success, so start defining it today before you end up with one by default.
Here are 5 strategies to help you.
1. Give Them Something To Care About.
When people have a sense of purpose in their work, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to the company. A 2019 study by Cone/Porter Novelli showed that 83% of Generation Z (those born between 1997-2015) consider a company’s purpose when making job decisions. Other studies reflect a trend toward wanting meaningful work and I would venture to say that since 2020 that trend has only increased and spans generations.
Founding members of startups can tap into this desire by painting a vivid picture of the kind of company they want to have. This means focusing not just on what you do, but why and how you do it.
Answer the following questions. How do your products or services make a difference? What’s your purpose beyond profit? What impact do you want to have on your customers, your community, or the world? Who do you want to work with? How will your team work together? What kinds of experiences do you want to have?
How will working for you give your team members a sense of doing something greater than themselves? Answer those questions as specifically as possible and you’re on your way to building a culture that fuels passion and focus.
2. Promote Your Purpose.
The problem with most organizations is that they spend an enormous amount of time defining their mission, vision, and values, launch them in some elaborate way and never talk about them again. Don’t be like those companies. Keep your vision and values alive and well by repeatedly promoting them internally and externally.
Spend time at the beginning of each team meeting discussing one aspect of your vision statement or the core value of the week. Or, if meetings aren’t your thing, bring the topics up weekly on your startups social media or communication channels. Ask team members to participate in (or better yet, lead) the conversation.
At the end of each day, week, or project swap stories that exemplify your purpose and your desired culture. Share them with your team and share them with your customers. In fact, the more you promote how your people are living out your core values, the more you’ll instill a sense of pride and a desire to create more stories worth celebrating.
3. Hire With Your Culture In Mind.
With every person you hire, your culture either gets better or worse. So, it’s essential that you deliberately recruit people who completely buy in and compliment the rest of your team. This means being as intentional about your hiring process as you are about your culture.
To begin with, promoting your culture externally will attract the best candidates. You might send all applicants your written vision and values and ask them to consider them carefully before requesting an interview. If they come back to you excited, proceed to the next step.
Ask values-based questions like “One of our company values is Mastery. Tell me about a time when you went the extra mile to truly master something important to you. How would you apply that experience to this job?”
Involve others on your team in the interview process. Give finalists time to spend with people on the team before you officially bring them on board. Thumbs up or down – are they a fit for your culture.
One word of warning. A cultural fit does NOT mean that everyone is alike. In fact, diversity of thought, gender, race, generation, etc. makes for a very rich culture indeed. I once had two candidates I was carefully considering. One was upbeat, enthusiastic, and oozed positivity, just like the rest of my team. The other was also upbeat, but a little quieter and more thoughtful and deliberate. Both were equally qualified. A co-worker asked, “Candidate A is more like us, but do we really want another person exactly like us?” I hired Candidate B, and it was one of the best hires I ever made.
4. Invest In Your Onboarding Process
The way you bring new people on your team sets the stage for how quickly they will engage in your company culture. Even if you are only bringing on one person at a time, roll out the red carpet and give them the best onboarding experience they’ve ever had.
Plan their first two weeks with exceptional detail. Provide them with an agenda of where they’ll go, who they’ll spend time with, and what they’ll do. Expose them to as many co-workers and experiences as possible. Create an onboarding adventure that includes hands-on experiences, in-person and virtual education, involvement in meetings and traditions, and with a little bit of paperwork if necessary. Touch on the four core elements of effective onboarding: Culture, Connection, Communication, and Compliance.
5. Cultivate Connection.
Show me a workplace where colleagues feel connected, and I’ll show you a strong company culture. Regardless of whether you all work in the same office or are spread out throughout the world, you can build strong coworking relationships. .
Get everyone together for an in-person meeting once or twice a year. Use that time to get really focused on specific topics like sales & marketing, customer experience, or the future of (insert your company name here). However, also build in time for “getting to know you” activities and team outings!
Use your virtual communication channels to create connections between team members. Photo icebreakers are a quick and easy way to allow people to get to know one another. Have people post photos of their lunch, their favorite possession, or their bucket list items on your team social media page or Slack channel.
Encourage weekly calls with a coworker, and randomly pair people together for a 15-minute conversation. The more colleagues know each other as people, the better they will collaborate.
Finally, be open to edits. As Founders, you should be clear about the kind of workplace you want to cultivate going forward. However, as you grow, ask for input from your team to continually refresh and improve your company culture.