Company culture is notoriously hard to define and measure but it’s critically important to the success of a business. In any company, no matter how small, the company culture is a product of the leadership and the leadership's vision for the company. In most companies, it starts with the CEO.
Office layout and design, team building, offsites, and perks like free lunch, doggie day care, etc are usually good signs of a company that cares about culture, but they may just be window dressing. Take a closer look.
What really matters: How employees are treated on an individual level
Most employees really want to enjoy what they are doing, but when you boil down why most people work it’s to earn a living. In all of this talk about culture, this fact is the key aspect is missing in many of the discussions. If you have individuals that are happy, you can foster a happy team. Here are some of the most important factors:
Compensation: Not all startups have the ability to pay market, but get there and beyond as soon as you can. Pay employees generously. Review your employee compensation as you grow and if you don’t want to pay your team market – you may have the wrong employee and it may be time to let them go. Combine equity and cash to make all employees feel like important and valued members of the team. Today, the market is only getting better and compensation is becoming a bigger consideration.
Career path: Care and support all employees careers. There may not be room for “moving up the ladder” but if you want to keep talented people, even small companies need to help create and allocate growth projects. Most people want to make a difference and feel like they are moving the business forward. As long as there are big challenges and meaty projects, great employees are generally self improving through experience, discussion and observation. It is important to acknowledge this need even If there’s not a job big enough for a particular employee at the moment. The employee can make the decision for themselves if they think the role will grow into something bigger or if it is time to move on.
Reward system: Who gets promoted, rewarded and who gets let go is a big indicator of culture. Your employees know who is pulling their weight, who is a star and who should leave. If your company doesn’t do what it is necessary to evaluate these situations objectively, this will drag down morale and hurt the overall culture. The company needs to show what behaviors and skills it values.
Reviews: Closely linked to reward system is reviews. Employees should know where they stand and whether its informal or written, reviews should be done at a minimum annually. Reviews are just another way values and culture can be reinforced throughout the company. It’s about creating the best team that learns from each other.
Respect of downtime:
Generally there is not a lot of downtime when you work at a startup, but when there is some.
Vacation – Vacation policies make sense when there are necessary reasons for people to be in an office everyday. But the reality today is you probably get emails at all hours of the night and have a steady flow during the weekend. No one asks for vacation credit for being on their iPhone while sitting on the beach over a long weekend. In a startup, few people would even think of taking more than a few weeks in total over the year. My vote: No vacation policy, particularly for the early stages.
Work Hours – Nothing kills morale faster than someone who has been working round the clock and on weekends who gets reprimanded for coming into the office 20 minutes late. That same employee will think twice before opening their email on the weekends or double checking a project at 2:00am. The idea is that people will get their work done in a timely fashion, sometime during the week.
Trust – The bottom line is the best companies trust their employees. If you don’t trust your employees, replace them. If you do trust them, give them autonomy. Trust from the company will also foster trust and cooperation between employees.
There are many, many more areas that contribute to culture including, following your own mission statement, facilitating effective communication, limiting process and procedures, use of spot bonuses and rewards and how you welcome and let go employees. And…last but most importantly overall respect.
It is about building an all-star team, not a family (which is more than likely dysfunctional).