Scalable Culture, 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.

If you have yet to read parts one and two, they are short, 3 minute reads that you can check out here before continuing:

READ PART 1 — The culture you recruit people into is the culture you ask them to emulate, propagate and build upon.

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

The third facet of a scalable culture is probably the most difficult for most startup entrepreneurs to get behind. This is where the rubber meets to road, as they say, for making behavioral choices in the short term that impact the long term. It is no mystery that we as humans struggle with these types of decisions. Our brains default to short term thinking. It uses less energy and is more risk averse, which our minds prefer consciously and sub-consciously, and it’s what shapes much of our daily lives.

We must be disciplined enough to research and grasp the knowledge that will inform our behavior that will allow us to align with who we want to be and what we want our organizations to become in the long run. Through this intentional pursuit, we ensure our behaviors and choices in the short term will get us to the long term with that vision intact, perhaps even flourishing. In keeping with the actionable numbered lists in this series, here are some points on how to go about this:

  1. Entrepreneurs and startup owners are not exactly the best managers of time. I have been one before and I am one now, I know. That doesn’t mean we are not working hard and are not passionate about succeeding. It simply means that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and we don’t always prioritize properly.
  2. If someone told me I needed to commit 2–3 hours per week right now toward something I may not see a benefit for for over a year, I would struggle not to laugh in their face. Does that make them wrong? No. Does it mean I can put off their suggestion until later in the future when “I’ll have more time” LOL.
  3. Imagine your life a year ago and how busy you thought you were. Now compare it to today. Do you really think you will have more time in the future. Personally, I love the analogy of adding kids to your life. When my wife and I had none, we thought we were busy and tired, when we had our first, we thought we were way busier and way more tired and had no freedom…we just had our fourth. Now, the idea of being tired or having no freedom when I only had one kid is so laughable, I actually cringe at my own naïveté. As your startup grows and scales, you will likely never be less busy then you are now. Think long term. Think slow on this one (as Kahneman writes) and make a calculated and intentional decision for the long run. Take a little time and do the work now. It matters. It will have a big ROI later on, but it also will make you a better leader and better person in the here and now.
  4. There are two main things you need to set up now that will grow with you. You need two standards, one for behavior, one for performance. Keep them separated because no matter how someone performs, they are still human and how we treat them and behave toward each other should always bear that in mind. Once those are set up, you need to have a systematized process for accountability because, lets face it, we are going to screw up. Be intentional about how your culture will handle things when people don’t treat someone according to the behavioral standard, and how the company is going to handle someone who is not performing the way they should. Model these processes after how you would want to be treated in order to rise up and excel.
  5. Lastly, HOLD THE LINE. Accountability to these policies is where you build trust and you prove the culture is going to walk out what it talks, no matter what. Be vulnerable, be open, and be honest at all times. Make changes with consensus and communicate it well so there are no excuses, even for you. When your team witnesses their leader admit when they mess up and hold themselves to the same standards they expect from everyone, you will start to see your team emulate and propagate that culture throughout your growing organization. Or, don’t do any of this and see how winging culture works out for you. Ultimately, it’s your choice.

One final piece of advice. The worst thing you can do is to do the work of creating all of this and communicating it to everyone, and then turn a blind eye to team members treating people poorly, or worse yet, refusing to allow your team to hold you accountable for poor behavior. This will scale toxicity and distrust faster than if you were just ambivalent about it.

Be prepared to walk the talk or don’t open your mouth to begin with.