Friday, December 18, 2015

9 tips for building a successful startup culture

By Sharon Lee

The probability of a startup succeeding over the long-term is low if the founders cannot build a culture of passion and commitment.

What does it take to build an effective startup culture? Although there’s no simple answer, and the needs of every company are different, transparency and communication are likely to be a part of the answer.

 Here are some recommendations that should help every founder team put this into practice.

1. Don’t hesitate to verbalize your dream to team members daily
Written mission statements and a passionate quarterly pitch to the team is not enough. Team members have to hear from you daily and see your enthusiasm during individual discussions, to the point that they are repeating your story to others. That’s how a culture is solidified.

2. Demonstrate a consistent set of personal values and priorities
People believe what they see more than what you say, and they tend to imitate what you do. Thus investors look for consistency between you and your team on values and priorities. If there is no consistency, there is no culture.

3. Customize your organizational structure based on individuals' strengths
There is no rule that marketing needs to report to the founder or that every startup needs a chief operating officer. Some of the best startup cultures have no hierarchical reporting, yet everyone knows who drives each of the initiatives. Culture is not defined by job titles.

4. Focus on hiring the right people and deal quickly with mismatches
Skills and experience are necessary in hiring but finding a match in values and culture is equally important. Mentoring and training programs need to be put in place early. Entrepreneurs who are too busy for people never get the culture they envision.

5. Foster innovation in process as well as products
Technology can be used to facilitate customer support and sales as well as enhance your product. Investors look for innovation in all areas of the business and all levels of the organization, from top to bottom. Winning cultures incentivize and reward innovation as well as business results.

6. Visibly link your standards to industry best practices
Teams tend to look inside an organization and tend to compare their performances to their own previous records or other internal groups. Comparisons should always be with competitors and customer expectations of excellence. A culture that excels measures itself against industry leaders.

7. Create opportunities for continuous learning
A winning culture is filled with people who love to learn. They need opportunities to do new work and try out new roles, as well as have access to training updates in their current positions. Successful leaders are good coaches and mentors, as well as being on the lookout for personal learning opportunities.

8. Sponsor internal events to build team synergy
Events need to be inspirational as well as directional. These will build the culture you need, but also give you an opportunity to observe where you need more focus. Make sure each one highlights your values, recognizes the right team members and involves customers and outside experts.

9. Make your startup a winning place to work
Promote your culture and innovations through social media and the press to make the team proud of their jobs. This pride will be sensed by customers and vendors, since everyone wants to buy into a winner. Winning in business is all about building momentum, and capitalizing on that progress.

The right culture doesn’t happen overnight and it’s especially hard to change once it is set. It’s especially important, therefore, to start early. Your business's growth and success depends on it.

Culture matters. A lot!

Good luck building yours.

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