Scalable Culture, Part 1 — Emulate & Propagate

The culture you recruit people into is the culture you ask them to emulate, propagate and build upon.

Recently I was invited to speak on the School For Startups Radio show and podcast. (You can listen here starting at minute 34) I spoke specifically on the importance of startups investing in their culture. In preparing for that podcast, I came up with three phases of a scalable culture that can be applied in even the smallest or most challenging startup.

This post is the first of a three part series where I will go into detail on each of these three facets. I want to keep this simple and tactical so it will be brief, numbered points. Every company has a culture. Most companies have the intention of doing something proactive to support a vision for the culture. Unfortunately, only very few organizations are intentional enough to build a process around accountability to the standard and walking out the behaviors they wish to see in the company. Therefore, project #1 is to understand that all culture is learned through watching. We people are funny creatures with cool things called mirror neurons. Essentially, they make it a psychological default to do what you see, not what you hear. In essence, we naturally want to emulate and then propagate.

So here is the strategy

  1. Ask: What kind of life are you pursuing by working where you are or by starting your own business? What are the long term benefits you see yourself having because of this choice? Maybe more time with family, more time off, better life balance, etc.
  2. If that is the end goal, what choices, or better yet — processes, are you building into your life, team, and company that ensure you are going to maintain those priorities in day to day behavioral choices?
  3. Once you establish processes or habits around an outcome based plan for your life, what then are you doing to extrapolate that out into your behaviors, your workplace, your team, your company?
  4. It starts with you but it doesn’t end with you. Travis Kalanick of UBER is a brutal example of what happens when a leader fails to address his personal leadership blind spots in a healthy way that then multiplies the worst aspects throughout the organization until the culture implodes. All the HR initiatives and motivational culture posters and emails in the world did not prevent the spread of the behaviors of the leader throughout the organization.

You set an example with what you do, not what you say. Others around you, whether you are a leader or not, will mirror your actions. They will emulate and propagate. so be vulnerable with your team, share your weaknesses and ask those you trust to hold you accountable to behaviors of the person you want to become.

READ PART 2— Today can save tomorrow. What will get you profitable today, won’t maintain or scale your profitability tomorrow.

READ PART 3 — Now or Never. If you don’t have the time or money to set up your culture right the first time, you definitely won’t have the time or money to fix it later.