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I see some version of the following questions crop up fairly frequently, especially in the startup community, so I figured I’d take a moment to share a few thoughts.
The questions go something like this:
How should we take steps to implement a healthy corporate culture that will strengthen as we grow? If we’ve taken steps already, how should we think about leveraging or expanding those?
In an all-too-short and never-comprehensive-enough blog post (just wait for my book) I’ll do my best to speak to a few truths as I see it.
Any legitimate attempt at instilling a healthy corporate culture is derived from setting forth a clear and compelling corporate mission and values. (as a sub note, I’ve previously written a couple of articles on this topic, which you can find here and here)
Let’s explore the lack of mission and values for a moment. Let’s assume these have been neglected, for instance, because leadership thinks that these are fluffy ideas and spending time on them detracts from concrete business functions that result in tangible revenue generation. Sooner than later, a lack of mission and values that drive decision-making, communication style, accountability, and actions, will erode key areas of the business that rely on these things to function, namely: corporate goals, shared responsibility, and meaningful actions.
Driving culture through clear and accessible mission and values aligns everyone to the goals of the corporation. This is especially important at a startup because, 1) goals can abruptly shift and 2) every hire that you make has an outsized impact on the company as a whole.
Aligning corporate goals to your mission and values will help ensure that, as things change, getting buy-in and understanding from employees is more easily approachable. When making important hiring decisions (and they’re all disproportionately important for quite some time) you are aligning the candidates skills, experience, and attitude to what your company is poised to be. Absent of this, the risk of a poor hiring decision being made, and that having an exaggerated impact on the business’s bottom line, is strong.
The next layer is shared responsibility, or collaboration and accountability. Individuals driving toward the company’s mission and values by way of corporate goals, will find it easier to take on responsibility (especially within the often-ambiguous realm of a startup), add bandwidth and expertise in areas where it’s needed, and self-govern by holding each other accountable to the clear goals everyone is working to accomplish.
Finally, in a granular sense, all work is driven by action items–the actual doing of things from day to day. The big upside to this type of strategic rollout is that individuals won’t get lost doing tasks that are misaligned or out of scope. The answer to the question, “should I do A or B right now” becomes much more apparent.
To touch on the sub-question regarding incorporating previous work, I think it’s always important not to give into dogma and to reassess and evaluate what’s been done in the context of where things are going. Insofar as prior work aligns to the agreed upon direction of instilling and being incessantly watchful of company culture, the necessity of incorporating such work will be relatively simple because it will obviously fit somewhere in the puzzle.
I hope this helps as a way to frame the important aspects that play a role in answering this question–I’d love to hear any thoughts and additional ideas!