3 Ways to Create the Company Culture You Want

3 Ways to Create the Company Culture You Want

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October 2015

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Successful companies have learned to look beyond skills to find out if potential employees fit into their corporate culture from the start.

As founder and CEO of KeepSafe, a San Francisco startup with a cloud-based application for storing personal digital files, Zouhair Belkoura is well aware of the difficulty for a fledgling business to attract and retain talent. This is why he instituted a “test drive” policy for new employees, leaving them the door open so that they simply leave their new position in a few days, without hard feelings.

Most new employees decide to stay, but not all. “We just lost two really strong candidates this way,” he says.

This is good by Belkoura, who explains that he prefers to focus not on what the company loses in defections, but on what it has to gain from methodically building a company culture around people who feel fit and who really want to be there. Better to let a person get away earlier to minimize the damage of a bad rental.

While Belkoura says that corporate culture “is something we think about a lot”, too often, the founders of startups rush forward with a single focus on getting to market.

“The typical mentality of startups is to spread the word about their great idea,” said Marissa Levin, who launched Successful Culture, an executive coaching and consulting firm near Washington, DC, three years ago. to monetize their idea. They don’t think “Maybe I should put some fundamentals in place” around the culture of their business. And that’s a mistake, because they end up having to reverse engineer their culture. No matter what happens, a culture will form within an organization. The question is: will you drive it or will it drive itself? “

A social contract

A veteran of half a dozen startups, Dan Merritts has seen firsthand how tunnel vision can hinder a young business. “You are so focused on your product and your growth. Then, a year or two later, you finally look up and say, “My God, this is not the culture I had in mind.” “

With his latest startup, Newrow, based in New York, which provides an online video classroom platform for higher education and business training institutions, he tried a different tactic. “We have established a clear social contract for our staff and our organization, a sort of start-up manual which explains our cultural vision. By doing the work of defining our vision of a corporate culture, we have a guiding light on how to build our organization. And that, I think, will help us grow and adapt, and get better results faster as a business. “

Image credit: David Fenton

Founders like Merritts have surrounded enough startups to conclude that there is a direct link between culture and bottom line. According to them, defining and creating a culture based on values ​​from the start can translate into a sustainable, efficient and highly satisfactory workplace, instant brand differentiation and therefore a better chance of profitability.

A strong and healthy internal culture serves as the raw material from which a startup can build the external brand identity.

“We fundamentally believe that our brand is our people,” says Merritts, “and that’s what sets our business apart from some of our biggest competitors. As long as we maintain this belief structure and people continue to adhere to it, and as a leadership team, we will constantly strengthen it, we will see superior results. “

When launching newrow in October 2014, Merritts and its leaders consciously sought to emphasize values ​​such as trust in the team, personal ownership of decisions and simple problem solving. “It makes everyone row in the same direction,” says Merritts.

According to Ron Storn, Vice President of Human Resources, the founders of the Lyft carpooling service focused on cultural engineering by preparing the ground for launch in 2012. At first, they identified four fundamental values ​​on which to build. an organizational culture and brand: being yourself, creating fearlessly, raising others and getting there.

These values ​​create a sense of commitment among employees, notes Storn, who in the space of three years has seen Lyft reach more than 450 employees. And this commitment “gives us instant momentum in new markets, which obviously contributes to the bottom line,” he says. “When your employees are hired, you will get better results and you will also have lower staff turnover.”

Built from scratch

Creating a healthy culture “is really a business problem,” says Sarah Nahm, founder and CEO of Lever, a Silicon Valley company launched in October 2014 that develops systems for tracking candidates for hiring and recruiting. “Your growth depends on competition with established talent companies, and your culture is really the only competitive advantage you have against companies that can offer much richer pay, so it’s absolutely essential that you nail them down.”

Nailing it does not happen by accident. It is rather the result of an in-depth reflection of the management team to identify the principles or standards of behavior on which they want to build a business, then develop practices, processes, rituals and other avenues allowing to emphasize, strengthen and maintain these standards as the business grows and its workforce grows.

Non-traditional benefits such as flexible or unlimited vacations, shorter work hours, and corporate yoga classes can help attract and hire employees, but don’t confuse cultural values ​​with benefits, warns Nahm. “People now have different relationships with their careers, where they are not as motivated by benefits as by substance, such as opportunities for success and growth. It’s not all of the fluffy perks that attracts top talent. “

Once the founders have identified their values, the hard part begins: instilling them at all levels of an organization, especially among new hires. “We can’t settle for mediocre talent and we can’t afford a bad hire,” says Storn of Lyft. “We want a cultural and technical match.”

Image credit: David Fenton

How do you measure this type of adjustment? Collective Bias, a Rogers, Arkansas-based company that conducts social influence campaigns through a blogging community, subjects candidates to a “cultural” interview in front of a panel of eight people from all departments. This not only allows them to assess how the candidate’s personality fits into the core values ​​of the company, but also to give potential recruits a taste of the corporate culture, explains the co-founder and chef. from client management, Amy Callahan. Once hired, the employee “has a group of eight cheerleaders to support them,” she says.

Callahan believes that general skills are more important than hard skills when assessing candidates. “The culture of a business can get lost as you grow,” she says. “I can teach people difficult skills. I want to find people who share the values ​​we value as a business, such as teamwork, community, frugality and demolition. “

To preserve cultural continuity, she adds, it is wise to “keep the founders involved in hiring as long as possible. When business leaders emphasize or contract hiring, it is when they lose control of their corporate culture and, in some ways, its future. “


Want happy employees? Get inspired by these companies, whose goal is to start new employees on the right foot.

Instead of traditional job descriptions, the Silicon Valley Lever startup creates “role” profiles that describe expectations for position and growth opportunities in various directions within the organization. For new hires, Lever has a dedicated counseling process called a “ramp camp” that involves “educating people about tribal knowledge, customs and representing our business and culture well,” says founder Sarah Nahm. “It’s not about training to do the job, but knowing how to be a good Leveroo.”

As part of the integration process into the Lyft carpooling service, new recruits receive a coffee card to encourage them to meet other employees and get to know the neighborhood. Every two weeks, the company pays tribute to an employee of the Fortnight who renounces beyond the company’s values.

In San Francisco startup KeepSafe, employees have lunch together “to give people a chance to talk about work or other random things,” notes CEO Zouhair Belkoura, adding that new hires get a skateboard, symbolizing the expectation that “their work will take them out of their comfort zone, but that it’s always about having fun.” Each month, the company’s founders organize informal “happiness check-ins” with employees to see if management is meeting expectations.

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