Start-up lessons - How to develop the culture you want for your start-up

 Company culture is not always a priority for a start-up. However, culture can set identical businesses apart.

We have been speaking to experts to discover how to develop a culture of success in a start-up:

Make sure you dream big and never settle for second best!

Author Chris Dyer says: ‘Starting a new company is exhilarating and difficult for entrepreneurs. Your role may change by the minute and demands take a toll.’

Dyer also explains that entrepreneurs have to look to the future: ‘At the start, entrepreneurs are so busy that they may give no thought to how things will look with more employees. They hire whomever they can find and afford—and often regret that choice.’

He says that culture has to be at the foundation of the organisation: ‘You may focus on what you want your culture to be, but not on who will build it, and how. This is the time to stop and dream.

‘Think about how you want your company to run, operate and hire as it grows. Think about the people you will need and how they’ll fit into your culture. You might change your mind, but deciding what you want now for the future is game changing.

‘Then hire people that forward this plan. When I work to help companies mature from the start-up phase, we focus on hiring to build their culture. Don’t settle for the first person that comes along. Find the right people to help you cultivate a great company!’

You're already creating your culture. Is it the right one?

Dave Birss, creativity and applied thinking expert and speaker, explains: ‘Companies try to use culture to try and increase employee engagement and retention. But most of them get it completely wrong and it can end up doing more harm than good.’

He goes on to say: ‘Companies' cultural efforts are leading them to hire consultants to help them define who they are. They end up with mission statements they can plaster everywhere. And, of course, a bunch of activities that have been copied from the most successful companies.

But creating a culture in this way, Birss argues, ‘leads to an organisation becoming an identical-thinking group of similar people. Which, in turn, leads to a confirmation of bad ideas and an elimination of new ideas. The company becomes even more slow-moving, more resistant to change and more likely to become irrelevant.’

On the other hand, Birss explains, ‘wise companies embrace the difference and diversity of their employees. The broader the knowledge, perspectives and skills an organisation has, the better the ideas it can generate. And the better the chance it will have of adapting to the changing landscape it operates within.’

So as a start-up, Birss says the best way to create a culture is by not trying to create one at all. He says: ‘Simply value your employees and everything that makes them unique and do things that demonstrate you care. The side-effect of that becomes your company culture. And it will be authentic and effortless and far more successful than any culture change programme. It’s better to actually care than to mimic other companies who actually care.’

Let a shared purpose and vision create a culture

Royston Guest, CEO and author explains, ‘in organisations where culture is strong, people either fit in or they don’t. The ultimate success measure in whether you have developed the right culture will be how proud your people are to wear your company badge. Culture is the “thing” that gives two similar companies in the same industry distinctly different flavours.’

Guest then says, ‘a common mistake is thinking of culture as a ‘nice to have’, rather than a potent competitive advantage. One of your greatest strengths will be creating a culture that delivers high levels of performance through shared vision, purpose, values and beliefs.

To create a culture, Guest says, ‘the starting point in developing your culture is to think long and hard about your vision and purpose; what is your unwavering goal for your business and why will it exist in the first place?’

He goes on: ‘You see, a compelling vision and purpose is like infusing work with purpose and meaning! It will give everyone involved with our organisation an emotional and intellectual connection with your business beyond its operational characteristics.’

He then stresses the importance of vision and purpose. He says that these areas will, ‘create the tone of your culture, focus the business, reinforce the goal and ambition, offer an inspirational focal point and let you know that your goal is worth achieving.’


Chris Dyer is the author of The Power of Company Culture which can be seen on the AMBA Book Club

Dave Birss is a creativity and applied thinking expert and speaker in the Thought Expansion Network

Royston Guest is a global authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. He is CEO of Pti-Worldwide and author.