05/23/2019 12:00:00 AM
Creating a Powerful Startup Company Culture: how to create, support and empower true leadership
One of my favorite things about being the HR Director at A15 is mentoring our startups on daily basis, I get to help those inspiring entrepreneurs navigate the troubled waters of HR.
Novices assume HR is merely hiring, paying and firing employees, while in fact, those parts of HR are the easier parts. Companies are built by people, for people through people. It is all about people where we come from and CVs are the least of our worries.
A true HR department is designed to help design, create, empower and manage a strong company. And that depends on two strong words: Company Culture!
Most companies start developing a set of policies: vacation days, stationary, payroll, travel guidelines, working hours and other things. While this works for corporates: startups are a completely different ball game. Because they are built to scale, they are built from the bottom up at very bootstrapped circumstances and while founders are busy pitching, raising, developing and eventually: scaling; HR is usually at the back burner.
My Experience is: the key is to control less and trust more.
And that happens through a set of company culture mantras I tell every entrepreneur or founder I meet.
1- Evolve with Change
You are building a startup, that means all bets are off and that means change comes frequently and should be truly embraced. Make sure your employees know this and are designed for this. Change is great, we will amend, reamend, shift and re-shift, if they lose their momentum and discord is coming, you are doing something wrong.
2- Your employees are Adults
They are not your babies; you are not their parent. Don’t practice fatherhood on your employees, they are already old enough. Give them responsibility, give them power and give them your faith, they will take leaps knowing you are there to support.
3- Don’t control, build.
The Startup world will soon teach you that being in control all the time doesn’t happen, that is just a fact of life. You might decide to import policies and rules from other companies, thinking it might help. No, no one likes a bossy boss who is fixed on things because that is “usually how it is done”. There is no “how it is done”, actually, with your teammates and employees, design how it is done in YOUR STARTUP.
4- People aren’t designed to be anchored.
We hear a lot of myths on “Turnover”, that people leaving your team essentially means you have failed and that your startup’s reputation will suffer, that is honestly, untrue.
People will come into your company to lay some bricks or do wonderful things and move on once they are done. That is totally fine, you are building your startup, they are building their careers. So what?!
Instead of making it hard for people to leave your company or start feeling insulted by a resignation email, create a company culture where those great people leave your company feeling like they have just left the greatest place in the world. Make sure every employee feels and acts like your brand ambassador out there in the workforce.
5-Everyone should understand the business.
Not the product, the business!
I meet developers working on great products but are completely out of tune with what is happening within the company. They aren’t interested in business development, marketing, sales or any other vertical within their startup. That, sadly, applies to most startups I mentor and this is a problem.
Everyone should understand everything about everything. They aren’t supposed to be experts or to get into details but the entire company needs to understand how the business works.
I am not advocating wasting everyone’s time in endless meetings but maybe, send a quick message to the company’s slack channel announcing major things whenever they happen. Also, no matter how busy you are, encourage and embrace questions and make some time to answer them.
6-Everyone should learn to appreciate the truth
A great team is a team of people that welcomes the truth. No one likes the annual review meeting because it feels long, overdue and usually unjust and no one feels they actually learn from it. In startups, everything is on the fly and feedback should happen on daily basis. If an employee does something great, give them a shout out. If they make a mistake, let them know as it happens and not a year later.
Truth is great because it is, essentially, true. Keep it true and encourage a company culture of people who don’t mind learning from their mistakes and don’t take feedback negatively.
7-Live out the Values
You go to any startup’s office any day of the week and you see the list of startup values hanging on some wall somewhere. But, are they living up to those values or are they just some “cool” empty words?
A truly strong company culture is a culture highly reliant on living up their values day in and day out. This even applies to the product, every employee must be encouraged to work by these values and strive to apply them and reach for them every single day.
8-Create a Team Excited for Change and Freedom
Patty Mccord, Former Chief Talent Officer in Netflix once said “If I ask the team to go with me to the right then take a hard left suddenly, I want them all to jump and actually yell ‘YAS’.” She didn’t mean it literally, what she meant was is that a team needs to be so empowered and free to the extent they are actually on board for any sort of change and actually excited for it instead of feeling apprehensive or pensive when faced with any sort of twist or turn.
My advice to you is this: Your team needs to feel empowered, free and more importantly, not like employees. Everyone is influential regardless of their title and it is your job to give them the power to influence and let your mind forget your need for control.