The Craft of Culture
Startup culture is an art, not a science.
When you read the word, “Zappos,” what comes to mind? It might be shoes, and yes, they do sell a lot of them. But I’m betting you also think about their customer service. You’ve probably heard the stories even if you haven’t had the experience — yet.
Customer service reps are encouraged to stay on the phone with customers until any problem with an order gets solved. A classic example has to be the story a friend shared with me. She ordered a suitcase for her grandmother, and when it arrived, one of the zippers was broken. A call to Zappos resolved the issue in minutes, and a rep immediately sent out a new suitcase, no questions asked.
At the moment, Zappos is still trying to adapt to it’s new management philosophy of holocracy (no managers). But it’s clearly a company that committed from the start to developing and crafting a culture that fit some pretty specific values.
While your goal may not include selling shoes, there are important lessons to learn from Zappos and other companies like it who’ve made culture a priority. Glassdoor recently published it’s list of Best Places to Work in 2016, and the comments on the surveys they conducted are telling.
- “Best People, Best Culture, Best Training”
- “Great culture, great people, great products”
- “Great culture, better workforce…”
- “Transparent culture from top to bottom”
Culture matters, and it will play a key role in the success of your Startup Equation. But how do you craft a culture? Start by setting your core values.
- Break your stakeholders into small groups. This includes you, any co-founders, or other team members who do or will set the tone in your company.
- Ask them to share their personal values. Send a short email to each stakeholder, and ask them to define in a short phrase the 3–5 key values that guide them personally.
- Look for themes. Use their responses to identify shared values. After you’ve reviewed all the answers, create a list of the 10 most shared values.
- Take time to reflect. Bring together your small groups and share what you’ve learned. Brainstorm with the group ways to introduce and test these shared values.
- Share the love. After you’ve settled on a plan, share the process, the results, and how you’ll test those values with everyone at your company.
It’s then time to ask some questions of yourself.
- What do you believe about yourself? What can’t you live without? Make a list of 10–20 things you believe personally.
- What are your beliefs about the company? Why did you start this company? What should this company stand for? Again, make a list of 10–20 things that you believe.
- Where do you see overlap? Look at both your lists and circle common answers. Let’s those answers become your guideposts.
- What are the top 3–5 values? From your list, pick -5 values that you want your startup to support.They will be the starting point for your Culture of WOW.
I know that this all sounds like a bunch of emotional woo-woo. Does culture really matter if you’ve got a great idea? But after plenty of research and years of experience, the answer is clear.
Companies that make culture a priority thrive (and by culture, I’m not referring to Sub-Zeros packed with beer or ping pong tables in the conference room). The companies that ignore their culture have a hard time attracting and keeping the talented people they need to succeed.
What you value, what your company values, matters to the people you’ll serve and the people who’ll help you build your dream. Craft the culture that supports those dreams, and you’ll find yourself one, big step closer to your goal of creating a successful business.