A startup culture is often defined as one that respects the individual, values creative problem-solving, open communication, and a flat hierarchy. It focuses on its team members and promotes adaptability at every level. Having a clear vision, shared values, and a commitment to success are all likely key ingredients to early success in a startup.
But how will you maintain your startup culture as the company grows?
What is Startup Culture?
Firstly, what makes startup culture so unique? It’s about a clear identity, growth strategy and relationships, all based on the company’s core values. There are typically 4 key components that make up any successful startup culture:
1. Value of the individual
In the fast pace of a startup, it’s easy to get lost in the next milestone, or the larger goal. It’s important to highlight that each worker is a key piece of a larger puzzle, and that their contributions are valued. A timely, genuine "thank you" from a leader goes a long way toward engagement.
Startups can have high turnover rates, as their pace and structure is not for everyone. It’s important to acknowledge the value of the individuals who continuously add not only to the success of the company, but to the culture itself.
2. Flat Structure
In a flat structure, decision-making occurs at the staff level; it doesn't happen in closed meetings, reserved for a handful of execs. Employees in a flat organizational structure are given significant independence with little to no supervision.
A flat structure is often more empowering for employees. It also encourages an atmosphere of openness and transparency that speeds up decision-making and company progress faster than a rigid hierarchy.
From open communication to an open-door policy to an open floor plan, openness is a key element of startup culture. Stemming from a flat structure, open communication allows people in various positions to share their ideas without closed-door meetings. An open floor plan can facilitate this by promoting more interactions between coworkers.
4. Business agility
New startups must adapt quickly to market pressures to survive. Trends, customer behavior, and competitors can change quickly. Business agility is the ability of an organization to:
- Adapt quickly to market changes - internally and externally;
- Respond rapidly to customer demands;
- Adapt and lead change in a productive and cost-effective way without compromising quality.
This agility is also required of the team at all levels, requiring that both individual and team goals are clear and in focus. Flexibility is key, from deadlines to projects, to employees and the culture itself.
How do you keep your startup culture alive?
As a company grows from that initial team of a handful of driven minds in a 200 sq. ft. office, to a well-oiled, multi-department machine, it’s important to keep the components of your startup culture thriving. The types of personalities that are drawn to startups are often enticed by the culture, so maintaining will help keep employees engaged, and help with retention.
1. Remain transparent
Ineffective communication is a consistent source of frustration for workers in most industries. This can be especially true in startups, where the speed with which things grow and change can allow little time for lengthy emails or meetings. The type of communication that worked when you could simply tell a coworker an update across a small office will not work for a startup that now boasts 50+ employees. Being on top of transparent and effective communication is essential, to keep that element of openness at your startup’s core.
Utilize internal messaging systems like Slack, which allow for channels to be created for topics, teams, projects, etc. Be sure these channels are monitored for relevancy, however. An abundance of unnecessary information is just as frustrating and confusing as a lack of information altogether.
Being transparent in all communications, be it in a messaging system, by email, or in meetings, will allow your team to feel they are trusted, and that their input in valued. They may have a solution to a problem that has not been presented yet. If they feel they have the space to share their ideas, productivity will increase.
2. Acknowledge contributions
Even though startup culture is about working as a team towards a common goal, it’s equally important to acknowledge the contributions made by individuals within the organization. In fact, recognizing a team member's contributions helps to strengthen their emotional bond to both the company and its culture. This type of recognition can come in many forms, from tangible rewards, like gift cards or paid lunches, to additional paid vacation days, work-from-home privileges, among others.
Be sure that whatever form of recognition you chose, your employee feels that their contributions are being genuinely valued by the organization. They should not be working for a reward. Rather, they should feel an added sense of accomplishment when receiving one.
3. Listen to new ideas
Many employees hesitate to share ideas with higher-ups, so hold workshops or meetings that encourage the flow of new ideas. Having designated time or space for facilitating idea-sharing shows your team that you value their input. If your startup does truly embrace a flat hierarchy, these types of exchanges will only further promote that. These meetings can be weekly, biweekly, or monthly, depending on what works best for your day-to-day.
If in-person meetings are not possible as frequently as you’d like, be sure there is a designated virtual ‘space’ for your team to share their ideas. If you have an internal messaging application, create a group or channel designated to that purpose.
4. Be constantly evolving
As is core to the business of a startup, constant change and agility are necessary for the culture as well. Your business’s core values should remain unchanged, but the way they are applied in the everyday lives of your workers must evolve. Many companies fall into the “culture fit” trap – employees who do not fit their current way of working, those to question processes and procedures, who speak up often in meetings, are not a culture fit for the company. When a company is small, it’s easy to focus on hiring those who fit the mold, as the dynamics of the team are very close and limited. However, for your company and its culture to get better, you need to add diverse ideas, experiences, values, and personalities to the mix.
By overly focusing on candidates who are a good “culture fit”, you are likely to miss out on a lot of incredible minds. You also risk creating a monoculture – one that doesn’t evolve over time and risks leaving those who don’t fit feeling alienated. While the team needs to keep up with the growth of your business’s success, your company’s culture needs to keep up with the growth of your team.
Easy engagement that grows with you
With the pace of your business ever accelerating, employee recognition in a startup environment can easily fall through the cracks. Qarrot makes employee recognition easy, fun, and effective for small to mid-sized organizations by providing a complete solution.