Company culture is important; we all know that. But when should it be a focus? In the early stages of a startup? Or later on when scaling and building a team? And what is culture, really?
Tony Hsieh has proven to the world that culture can be a competitive advantage, and credits much of Zappos’ success to its culture, and its passionate people. Tony says, “Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”
Culture is no doubt critical to any team’s success, no matter what the size. My concern is that I observe teams in infancy place an over emphasis on things in the name of company culture before the business fundamentals are flushed out. In the beginning, we as entrepreneurs must focus and prioritize the basics and fundamentals of creating a scalable business over trying to build a cozy culture.
Ping Pong tables, free lunch, and massages help make Google a great place to work, but these things did not make Google great in the first place. These are the perks that help keep employees happy and a great company on top, not necessarily what propels it to greatness.
Tony Hsieh teaches us in his book “Delivering Happiness” that culture is created, protected, and maintained at the point of hire. When Zappos interviews a new team member, they are first focusing on good cultural fit. A classic unorthodox example: when Zappas flies you in for an interview, they will send a car service to pick you up. The driver will naturally engage you in conversation; what you don’t know is, the driver is on the recruiting team, clandestinely interviewing you to see if you would be a good cultural fit.
With respect to culture, this is perhaps the best precaution we can make as startup entrepreneurs: to hire good fits. The first five hires will make or break a startup, as they are co-founders in their own right. In the Zappos fashion, we must diligently qualify them as a good fit. In his book, Hsieh talks about taking a candidate to happy hour; a few drinks will really tell you what a person is like. If you can break bread with the person, then why hire them? If you won’t enjoy hanging out with them socially then they won’t be a value add for culture.
Perhaps sometimes culture gets mislabeled as “perks” offered throughout an organization. In its most potent form, culture should refer to the aligning values of the organization; do you and your team members all believe in the same things? What is your team’s mantra?
The specifics of your team’s values are not as important as the fact of having the values engrained that align each member of that team. This adds purpose to the mission, and passion is a product of purpose. These are the elements by which real culture is created.
These values have to be installed at the early stages of a company, as it’s impossible to come back later and sprinkle in some culture and values into an established team.
Strong culture is created when each member of the team believes in the same things. When that is the case, trust emerges, and when you have trust you have loyalty. With these elements embedded in a team, no matter how big or small, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.
Bryan Clayton,is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tennessee startup GreenPal