The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
How are some companies, such as Google and Zappos, able to land high-caliber talent at less than industry-leading salaries? In a word: culture. Although money matters, you have to climb a bit higher up Maslow’s hierarchy to recruit talent and to keep them happy. Culture can be that ladder.
That’s why we’ve picked the minds of the YEC members to answer the following question: “What’s one company culture characteristic that you have found makes your startup employees the happiest? How do you make sure you’re implementing it?” Their responses are below.
Every six weeks, we have scheduled, highly structured bi-directional reviews with every employee. The predictability and structure of these meetings make it extremely easy for employees to deliver feedback, both good and bad. This level of transparency and communication keeps employees happy and motivated.
At RTC, we have a motto as a publisher: “Don’t expect your reader to change through reading your book if you haven’t changed through writing it.” That motto defines our core belief that continual growth is necessary for the human spirit to regularly experience joy in the workplace. As a result, our executive team strives to help our staff remove aspects of their work that do not bring them joy so that they can focus on what they love doing. By intentionally making room for them to focus on what they enjoy, they are able to grow out aspects of the business that bring them deep personal satisfaction while also serving our clients. We’ve developed entire new lines of business this way, as well as new positions within the company. Support their dreams, and they will grow your business.
When my co-founder and I started ‘ZinePak, our business plan read simply, “Make money. Have fun.” As the company has grown, we’ve made sure not to lose sight of this mission. At the end of each day, we ask our employees if they had fun that day. Almost without fail, the answer is always “yes.” We try to always remember that we’re an entertainment company. We aren’t changing the world. We aren’t curing cancer. No one’s life is at risk, so there is no need for the doom-and-gloom culture that seems so prevalent in Corporate America. From half-day Fridays to candy jars to days off for charitable activities of the employee’s choice, we try to mix “fun” into everything possible to ensure that work feels as much like play as possible.
We always take time to celebrate our wins. Whether it’s a new project, new teammate or new launch, we take time to recognize team and individual successes. Taking small breaks to socialize and catch up at team happy hours reenergizes the team and ultimately leads to awesome workflow and collaboration. Our internal party planning committee makes consistent plans to pull us away from our desks and into fun environments where we can take our minds off work for a bit.
I think that people are generally happiest at work when they are engaged by the work that they do. Doing the same jobs, having the same responsibilities and facing the same tasks day in and day out can get tiresome. In my company, there is a variety of work to be done, and employees are encouraged to embrace the variety. This keeps work fresh. We also support telecommuting (to the degree that we don’t even have a “home” office — all work is done “off-site”) and flexible schedules. We trust our team to do their work when they can and where they can. Work variety and flexible work results in employees who are happy and productive.
When we started, we had been told to be careful of what we share with our employees and other stakeholders. We, however, are very open and transparent communicators and did not keep anything confidential and didn’t hold back any information. This allowed our early employees to not only feel like they were playing an important trusted role in making an impact on growing the company, but also allowed them to dissent and suggest better ways of accomplishing objectives. They respected the founders because they saw not just what decisions we made, but how we made them, right or wrong. And for failed experiments, we had their support and morale to pivot quickly. Each and everyone felt individual ownership for each decision and worked that much harder to succeed, because they never felt separate.
Every other Friday, someone different leads our team workout. We’ve played tennis and basketball, done yoga and CrossFit and even learned (barely) various martial arts. Unintentionally, we’ve taken risks doing new things, discussed how we’re improving our lives (not just our work) and laughed a lot. The benefits of exercise combined with the additional vulnerability, camaraderie and fun has increased the happiness quotient of Team Fig.
When people hear the words “company culture,” they often think about ping pong tables or beer taps. While those sorts of perks are cool, they really don’t matter unless you’ve created the right work environment to embrace them. You create that environment by giving people a voice. When we built our new corporate office space, it was very important to solicit opinions and ideas from our employees. Before moving into our new facility in 2011, we hosted an internal version of Pinterest where employees could put ideas and pictures that they felt should be considered for the new space and workstation setups. In the end, when you’re making a decision based on democratic feedback, you need transparency. People will be invested in the outcome as long as they feel like the process is fair.
The characteristic that I swear by is living the mission every day. Oftentimes, people join your team/company as a startup because you are doing something different or you’re doing something the way no one has done it before. You cannot afford to lose that, and you have to live that everyday. For us, that is our mission. Everyone who has joined our team is in it for the mission, and we push it and live it every day, which makes our team members happy.
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