Super-charge your startup culture and leadership to elevate your growth stage

  • Or why unlearning is key to success in startup

There is tremendous potential in supercharging your startup culture.

What especially intrigues me when working with people, organization, and culture in startups is how the close connecting to external capital requires a different way of organizing, hiring, and firing and how much potential there here is in working strategically with culture in order to fit the specific growth stage the startup is in.

The Startup Growth Compass

Startups connection to external funding

Funding rounds are from an organizational perspective very interesting as they often are the barriers in where we need to shift organizational gear, in short, you can put it as:

  • Ideation — Preseed

With the funding stages, we are also able to build some overall logic into startup development but at the same time, it is also obvious that what we are trying to achieve with the startup in each of the development stages changes radically and that there to some extent are competing values in play.

The development in business objectives can be described as moving from an internal focus under ideation, where we are trying to come up with a compelling offer to take to market, from here we raise preseed funding to take it to market test it, and find a proper market-fit, once that is achieved we “lock” it down and work focussed with scaling and ones we have reached our market potential we look for an exit or IPO to gain synergies and take it to the level.

Looking at this from a people, organization, and culture perspective the optimal forming changes quite a bit and it is actually completely opposite needs that are in play for the “crossing stages” ideation vs. scale and market-fit vs. operation.

People, Organisation & Culture

We all heard it and can probably all relate to it “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” but how do we work with it and level it to our advantage. Culture is not just something that appears out of thin air. Yes, culture is unique and something that should be nurtured, but why not work strategically with forming your culture to fit the organizational purpose, and why not supercharge it to the specific development stages you face?

Culture is not cut in stone, a classic definition is that culture is the sum of the people you have employed, I would argue that it is a bit more complex and elements as company history/legacy and the market you act in, for instance also are important factors in forming a company culture. One thing that is for sure is that a company does not just have one culture, it consists of many subcultures and it is not something that is owned by the management team, but it is something that you can work with and form in specific directions, for instance by the way you communicate, the people you hire and how management is conducted.

On a more interhuman perspective it is the way we interact, the trust, the way knowledge is shared (or not shared), the resistance towards certain changes. The culture is represented in the collective values (not just the ones that are written on the wall), the beliefs, and principles. Culture is included in the vision, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, environment, location, beliefs, and habits.

Culture influences how employees, founders, stakeholders, and society identify with an organization. There is no right or wrong when it comes to company culture, but there are clear correlations between specific cultural traits and a company's ability to perform in certain ways.

Competing values in play

With inspiration from the Competing Values framework developed by Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron an leadership and cultural “navigator”, the following are a few indicators of what is needed from a leadership/culture perspective in order to succeed at the different growth stages (do bear in mind that the framework is not developed for a startup growth journey but more as a lockdown view of a certain organizational culture):

Culture & Leadership characteristics, Competing Values Framework

With this framework, we get the opportunity to work at three levels in order to connect the external wished for business outcomes to internal organization and all the way down to the individuals we bring in.

Another interesting thing is that it is also shows how values in a startup growth journey are actually competing at the different stages, it is for instance hard to scale a company that is designed for ideation.

Unlearning is the key to success in a startup

I have seen statistics of less than 20% of founders staying with a company after a series B funding, and looking at the above cultural indications it is no surprise. It is simply very different skills and traits that are needed at the different growth stages, and what gave you success at one stage as a founder will not work at the next, which is why unlearning is so damn important in a startup. This is something along with some of the other typical mistakes/conflicts in a startup growth journey that I will put way more attention to in some of my following writings and videos.

I have created a youtube video on the subject and will in the following time dive into several aspects of the subject in videos and blogs, I hope that you will follow and take part in my journey

Independent Venture Developer & Startup Investor @ All about People, Impact & Growth