How to Grow Company Culture as a Startup

Oct 18, 2017 · 6 min read

Most of us are familiar with and understand the concept of ‘culture’ within our society. A quick dictionary search will give you this definition: “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” However, can the same be used when describing ‘company culture’?

Company culture is an idea discussed prevalently across countless organizations today, and has become even more important of a topic as it pertains to retaining talent. 82% of respondents in a 2016 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey believe that a company’s culture can be considered a competitive advantage.

So, we know that company culture is important. Got it. But, what is it? When looking at company culture from a 10,000 foot view, it can be defined as a company’s value and belief system that determines how employees and leadership interact with each other and with its’ stakeholders.

Easy enough, right? Not so fast.

It might be simple for large corporations to implement some sort of culture system within their four walls and maintain it with gusto, but for a startup with growing pains and days filled with the chaos of business-building, think again. Each day is an adventure; it’s an ever-changing environment, and when a company culture isn’t built from a solid foundation, it can come crumbling down quicker than your Jenga on game night.

We’ve talked about how to incorporate wellness into your company culture, but after establishing that base, there comes a challenge with maintaining its strength through the chaos of expansion. Through Peerfit, our team has seen the emphasis and energy that our founders have put into our company culture, and how that has positively affected what has lasted through a whirlwind of growth.

Here’s how to grow (and maintain) company culture in a rapidly changing startup environment:

Start with defining your culture around company values.

Even when it was just the founders and a few interns, I wanted Peerfit to be defined by its values. We looked at ourselves and each other to find what qualities we felt were most important: empathy and initiative, accountability and adaptability, innovation and passion for learning. For us, the health and wellness of our team comes first. We strive to live that culture of wellness so we can authentically bring it to our clients.

- Scott Peeples, Peerfit President & COO

Culture is determined by how you interact, and how you interact is determined by your company values. You can’t say ‘this is how we will interact’ and have no idea as to why you choose to interact that way.

When determining your external brand values, lend some thought to what your company should see as a value system internally. Maybe it’s focusing on open, transparent communication, respect, celebrating wins and learning from losses, encouraging creativity and innovation, to name a few. Define those values and principles, write them down, memorize them, practice them and preach them. They will allow your organization to have a strong foundation for communication and something concrete to reference when the day to day is moving very fast.

When defining these company values, it’s imperative that leadership is aligned. In a survey conducted by cultureIQ to determine top company cultures, what stood out between the winner’s and other applicants was employees’ confidence in leadership.

Company leaders can’t operate said companies on their own — their teams are important, and they know it. If leadership is aligned with the company’s values and how they pertain to its’ culture, making sure that they advocate for that belief system for better or for worse, your company culture should stand through anything.

Hire the right people based on your core values.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had the chance to interview Albert Einstein, if an applicant doesn’t fit within your standards of company culture, just say no.

It’s important to establish a hiring process that hits all aspects of what you’re looking for in an employee, especially looking at how they’d fit into your culture equation. One bad hire can throw a wrench into your whole operation, and nothing is worse than taking the time and money to train someone, only to realize they were a terrible fit.

An example of a hiring process to follow to ensure a culture fit is to first interview with the particular department the applicant will be working in. Allow the department to focus mainly on the applicant’s skillset. Is this person right for the job at-hand? Can they get the job done, and done well? Perspectives can become blurry when interviewers are trying to focus on the job and the culture fit at the same time. Sure, someone can be great at the job, but if working with them is like pulling teeth, it might ruin your well-oiled machine. (Someone had to say it, we know you were thinking it.)

Next, have the applicant interview with leadership, or someone on your team that is great at observing and understanding if someone is a good fit culturally. They will ask all the right questions, analyze the applicant’s answers accurately, and not to mention body language and/or tone of voice.

After the department has received feedback from the ‘culture’ interview, they can either interview again to look out for positives and negatives provided to them, or just go with their gut, trusting said interviewer(s).

Establish a culture focus.

Quality over quantity. Choosing a focus for your culture can greatly help the way it operates and maintains itself through trying times. Guess what we would recommend your company culture focuses on…


Good guess, totally beginner’s luck.

Choosing a focus for company culture, and any type of goal really, “allows you to organize your resources and attention around a single theme and drive powerful corporate culture change.” When it comes to focusing on wellness, the opportunities to build a strong culture and community within your organization are powerful. Peerfit has committed to redefine wellness in the workplace, and a large part of this redefinition focuses on the cultures of participating organizations.

As Peerfit President, Scott Peeples, put it: “Redefine wellness as a culture and not just a benefit.” Group fitness, for example, gives employees the opportunity to engage with their co-workers in a different environment. An environment that challenges them physically and mentally, and gives them a glance at how their team deals with adversity (like, a heart-pounding cycle class). This builds bonds like no other, which is crucial to a culture that can last through a tornado of growth.

Collaboration and camaraderie are essential for successful company culture. Through this you are able to enroll all employees, while setting strategies and seeing the vision as a collective entity. Group fitness allows your team the opportunity to come together, deepen and develop relationships, thus increasing and encouraging team performance instead of individual performance.
- Alexandra Markopoulos, Peerfit Director of Engagement

View your company as a community.

Surprisingly, a company culture that is also a community is much different than a culture that exists as its own entity. Why is that? As discussed by Planet Labs’ Director of People, Cara Brennan Allamano, the word community as it pertains to company culture is “inclusive as well as empowering. Culture can feel bigger than each individual — community instead relays the level of impact that each individual can have.”

According to Oxford Dictionaries, community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Due to the fact that communities are guided by shared interests and beliefs, they are much more susceptible to adaptation of the ebb and flow of the startup world.

A culture cannot rely on individual efforts, but the sum of a system that lifts up the community and allows it to prosper in an ever-changing ecosystem. When building your company ‘community’, focus on forming systems that support company goals while adhering to values and beliefs set forth by leaders in unison with cultural objectives.

Not only is your company culture a significant driving factor in obtaining and retaining top talent, but it’s what keeps your organization chugging along through the rollercoaster that is startup life. We can all be happy and stick together through the highs, but without a strong community and culture, you may more than likely not be able to make it through the lows. Tactics such as utilizing the psychological and physical benefits of group fitness for the health of your team can aid in building and maintaining a strong culture and community within your organization, and in turn, help your business thrive as a healthy entity in the marketplace.

Christina Valenziano is the Senior Marketing Strategist at Peerfit. She’s an avid Peerfitter, music addict, and speaks fluent sarcasm.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade