One of the most common things I notice from employee surveys (the ones with flashy titles like “What Millennials Want from Their Workplace”) is the focus on culture. If you’re just starting out, you might ask yourself, “How do I create this culture everyone is talking about, why does it matter, and what does it even mean?”
Merriam Webster defines culture as “the set of shared values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Let’s unpack this. When the leadership team at a company comes into the office (basement, coworking space, etc.) they are creating culture. Most of the time, culture is created from the top down. People fear and respect their boss and model the behavior their boss wants to see or that they believe they want to see. This means that the leadership team defines day-to-day practices of an organization and the way the company operates socially.
For example, at my organization, we don’t have fixed work hours. Everyone is free to come and go as they please, and while this conflicts with the established norms of many large organizations it’s becoming more of the norm in the startup ecosystem. I come into the office at fairly regular times, but occasionally I’ll have a dentist or doctor’s appointment or maybe an early morning meeting. When I come into the office, I don’t check to make sure everyone is in their chair working; instead, I look to see what results my team is producing – not where they are producing them from or how many hours they spent in the office to achieve them. This culture we created positively supports my team’s creativity, development and gives them the flexibility to have a life.
Occasionally, teams create their own culture. A telltale example of this is “gossip” at many organizations. Particularly large companies may have significant amounts of interoffice gossip or even infighting and a desire to “climb the corporate ladder” over someone else. This typically happens when the leadership team has failed to create a positive culture and allowed a negative one to take its place. What both examples show is the importance of the leadership team to talk the talk and walk the walk.
Many of you probably heard “treat others the way you would like to be treated” as kids, and in startups the mantra is very similar. You might be the one setting the standard and defining the culture, so define practices that you’d be happy to live and work by if you weren’t the one making the rules, and live by them.