How to Ruin Your Start-Up Culture

The New York Times coverage on Amazon has made me think a lot about company culture. What makes a workplace an environment in which employees can thrive? 

Start-ups are widely known for being less structured yet more passionate – lots of work and plenty of play.

Many give partial credit to their culture for their success, and clients and employees alike flock to these workplaces for the “cool factor.” But it only takes a few missteps to lose sight of what’s really important when it comes to culture and ruin what you’ve built.

Here are a few of my thoughts on this subject.  

Too Much Focus on Fun

When you’re trying to build a fun and relaxed office environment, it can be easy to veer off the path of productivity and finish what you originally set out to do.

Don’t lose focus. Build the culture that fits your specific company and will best contribute toward your growth.

It may be tempting to copy all the elements of “cool” you see from other places, but a ping-pong table or office keg might not necessarily align with the company values.

It also may not be condusive to what your company really needs in order to be successful. Just like your parents told you in high school, “Never pretend to be something you’re not. Resist the peer pressure.”

Blurred Lines of Hierarchy

There’s a fine line between corporate organization and complete confusion. Start-ups often have a democratic, all-for-one and one-for-all sort of vibe in which most of the employees wear multiple hats.

This can be great, however day-to-day operations run best when there’s some sense of who is in charge.

There should be clear leaders in different functions of the business such as sales, marketing, and tech/IT.

In the beginning phases of your start-up, there may be a need for people to play multiple roles, but there should still be clear distinction in who is reporting to whom.

Pruning Rather Than Mentoring

Pruning or culling of employees received some flack after that Amazon article – and for a good reason, in my opinion.

pruning

In an effort to continuously push the business forward and ensure that only the best talent is on board, some companies will automatically and routinely purge the lowest performing 10 percent of the staff.

With this practice, potential is often overlooked. Instead, ensure that a practice of mentoring and coaching is in place.

Forget “purposeful Darwinism” – let employees adapt to feedback and evolve naturally.

Failure to Assign Anyone to “Own” Culture

This is perhaps the biggest mistake I’ve seen. Culture is not a “set it and forget it” thing. If you want it to constantly grow and evolve as your company does, you need someone watching out for it.

Appoint someone – either officially or unofficially – as your chief culture officer (CCO). When problems arise or changes need to be made, this person can be expected to step up and protect your culture.

We have one in my company, and it really reinforces our values and how we portray ourselves to the outside world.

Remember that the primary objective for each employee should be optimizing the company’s overall development as a profitable and reputable business.

A little justifiable structure and organization will not deplete the “cool factor” of your start-up’s atmosphere.

Try applying some of these concepts to your start-up’s company culture, and see if the results are more conducive to professional success.

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