How To Boost Your Startup’s Culture Next Year

Source | The Huffington Post

Startup culture has become somewhat of a cliché: ping pong tables, bean bag chairs, unlimited snacks. But snacks do not make a culture. These surface items mean nothing if they do not reflect a deeper satisfaction within the work place. So, how can burgeoning startups dig deep and ensure engaged employees and a positive environment? I sat down with Shawn Konopinsky, CEO of Toronto-based Nascent to find out.

Q: How do you define culture within your company?

A: I don’t believe there is a straightforward way to define culture. In fact, I don’t worry about definitions and simply focus on the human part of the company, on how people are feeling and the energy within the team. A great culture is when all team members are happy, when they are productive because they feel empowered and engaged. Great culture is when people feel that their craft is supported and their successes celebrated. You know you have a good culture when people are excited to come to work each day.

Q: If culture isn’t so tangible, how do you communicate it to new members of the team?

A: Talk is cheap. Every company has their values written down somewhere, but few companies live them. Instead of trying to communicate values by telling new people what the values are, show them how those values come to life in your company! It all starts with the executive team and trickles down to all employees. As an executive, you should be the first one to roll up your sleeves and lead by example.

Q: How do you go about ensuring people understand the values?

A: Always communicate values in context. As simple words, values don’t do much because they don’t communicate the depth that underlies them. “Teamwork” or “Collaboration” for example appear in many company’s values, but few actually live the true meaning. Understanding is believing, and believing is seeing. So don’t just say values, show newcomers what the values mean in the context of their craft and in day-to-day work.

Q: How do you check for internal alignment?

A: Talk to people! You don’t have to onboard fancy tools; you can just meet every team member once a month — it’s more than possible in a startup. This also reinforces that management listens to every person on the team.

Q: What do you think are the biggest culture killers?

A: There are a few I can think of. First, it’s inconsistency- when execs say one thing, and then do something different. Discipline, consistent thought and action are key. Second, confusion on why certain things are done. Forget “because I said so” — this is awful in any company, but in a startup, it’s the absolute worst. People need to understand why they are doing something in order to do it to the best of their abilities. Third is executive abdication — when you, as an exec, aren’t in the trenches with the rest of the team.

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