5 Ways Startups Can Develop a Positive Company Culture

December 9, 2012

12:00 pm

Startups have a number of bumps to face on the road to business success, but developing a great company culture shouldn’t be one of them.

Too many startup companies focus on product or service development without remembering what may be the most important aspect of creating a great business: fostering a culture worth joining. With proper preparation and attention to what it is that makes your company stand out and your workers admirable, any startup can develop a company culture that will make qualified candidates excited to join. Here are five ways startups can develop a positive working environment:

1. Lay out your values. Before you can encourage a sound culture, your startup needs to clearly identify the values it is committed to. Ask yourself, what do you and your co-workers believe? Do you think work should be fun? Are you committed to transparency? What about creativity, environmentalism, innovation, honesty, making a difference, expertise? Check out this list of values to identify what it is your startup is committed to.

2. Commit to accountability. Once you’ve pinpointed your values, your startup needs to be committed to sticking to them at all times–no exceptions. Creating a company culture means having a code of ethics that all employees are expected to demonstrate without exception. Be proactive in ensuring that your culture will be respected by penalizing workers (or simply sitting down with them for a one-on-one) who aren’t demonstrating your principles.

3. Talk about culture before you hire. Your company culture has an effect on the types of workers you attract–and the ones who are likely to stay. Company culture plays a huge role in retention, and for cash-strapped startups that can’t afford to go through multiple hires, this is a key element to ensuring you bring on the best workers for your team. Discuss your company culture with potential hires during the interview process. Ask candidates to describe the worst corporate culture they’ve ever worked in, or ask behavioral interview questions to determine where their ideals lie.

4. Foster rituals. Developing company rituals can be a concrete way to bring your values to the forefront. If you value collaboration, hold company social events. If you value long work hours, organize a dinner. If fun and lightheartedness is your focus, buy games. Your rituals and traditions should reflect your culture and reinforce it, so think carefully about how you want to implement these initiatives.

5. Get feedback. As a manager or CEO, don’t think you’re all-knowing when it comes to keeping in touch with employee concerns. Managers need to gather regular feedback from employees–perhaps in the form of one-on-one interviews or anonymous surveys–to pinpoint where cultural problems or conflicting ideologies exist. Being proactive about these issues will help to foster improvement and to catch potential ideological issues before they cause a problem within your business operations.

Startups need to understand that their company culture is often the element that makes their business stand out–for both customers and employees. Follow these steps to ensure your startup has a culture worth joining, and good luck!

Startup founders, have you made any specific attempts to foster a positive company culture? What steps did you take?

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Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010). Find Heather on Google+.