Founders don’t really control company culture but they powerfully influence it.
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If you haven’t already read “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou, I highly recommend that you do. There’s a lot of lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. What stuck with me was the dysfunctional culture inside the company — full of fear and intimidation.
As a founder myself, I can’t imagine creating such a toxic workplace environment. As Kip Tindell perfectly explains in a previous article for Entrepreneur, “Culture actually drives the value of the business.”
This fact will always remain — culture is vital to the success of any startup because it sets the tone for the company’s future by boosting its profile. In return, your company culture attracts top talent, investors and customers. Additionally, employee morale and productivity get a lift, and it distinguishes you from your competitors.
As crucial as workplace culture is, it remains a misunderstood topic. To guarantee that you build and maintain a healthy and prosperous organization, here are 10 myths about culture and how you can overcome them.
Myth 1: Workplace culture doesn’t start with you.
Obviously, you want to surround yourself with people who are skilled and competent. At the same, you also need to find people who fit you company culture and are enthusiastic about your business. Before you do that, it’s up to you to define your organization’s culture.
Let’s say that you have a short fuss. Because of your little temper tantrums, you’re known to snap at people in a blink of an eye. How do you think the environment will be at your startup? Probably tense and stressful because you’ve built a culture of anger, or fear — probably both.
Your team can become ambassadors for your brand and help shape its culture, but their perception and the way they experience work at your company will ultimately start with you. Create a purpose, define your values, and lead by example when building your culture. Most importantly, keep investing in yourself to become the leader that people will rally behind.
Myth 2: There is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ type of culture.
Every startup is different, and there are different types of culture. Zappos is known for its fun and nurturing culture but fun, gentle and supportive may not work in a power-driven and competitive business, such as those involved in sales or consultancy firms.
There is no such thing as a good” or “bad” culture. It’s all about what works best for your business, team and industry — but suspicion and despair aren’t a good cultural mix no matter how intense your business agenda and strategy is.
Myth 3: Culture is only about pay and perks.
In my opinion, this is perhaps the biggest misconception regarding culture. Many people believe that culture is all about pizza parties, Ping-Pong tables, happy hour, and open-door policies. On top of these perks, employees have amazing salaries and benefits.
While a decent paycheck and unique benefits and perks are substantial, they don’t equal culture. The culture of your business needs to be aligned with your core beliefs and purpose. Your convictions should also be appropriate for your team with all the fun stuff as the cherry on top.
Myth 4: Open offices encourage collaboration.
Over the last several years the open office has been all the rage. The idea was that without any barriers, like separate office walls and cubicles — collaboration would improve since everyone could more easily interact with each other.
Researchers have found that open offices actually accomplish the opposite. Participants spent 72 percent less time interacting and spend more time emailing each other. Additionally, an open office hinders productivity. It also creates stress and causes a higher rate of absenteeism. Instead of riding every wind of change for office design helps, “offer “variety” where there are workspaces designed for specific activities.
Myth 5: Efficiency drains morale.
How would you feel if you arrived to work one morning only to find out that several of your colleagues have been let go? This action is one of the fastest ways to put you and your coworkers on edge. Even more, it has been shown this action is a definite slap in the face and decreases morale.
Indeed, there will be times you need to decrease the size of your team if you want your business to scale. Case in point was the company, Grasshopper. “At one point we had 65 employees and a huge payroll,” said co-founder Siamak Taghaddos. “It was hurting our ability to grow our business and focus on marketing. We learned it was easy to go from $5 million in revenue to $10 million, but hard to go from $50 million to $100 million.”
By standardizing its culture and streamlining its hiring processes, which was built around a set of values and team building, the company reduced costs and became more efficient. “We could see who on our team wasn’t radically passionate, and who wasn’t necessarily entrepreneurial,” said Taghaddos. “It helped us in doing employee reviews and shaped our hiring.” What’s even more fascinating is that Grasshopper achieved this by decreasing its workforce to 40 people.
Myth 6: Employee feedback can solve all of your problems.
Do you feel that your company’s culture is underdeveloped or uninspired? A way to resolve this is by gathering feedback from your employees. After all, it seems like a simple and straightforward way to find out what they want and how you can improve your startup’s culture.
The problem with this approach is that you may not always receive honest feedback from your team. Would you be comfortable telling your superior what’s wrong with their management style or business? It is a rare individual who is capable of hearing negative feedback about the company they founded.
If you want real feedback from your team, you first need to build trust with them. Furthermore, you need to understand that employees recommendations aren’t personal. Instead, these are suggestions that will improve every facet of your business.
Myth 7: There’s no connection between a culture with business objectives and strategies.
You can develop the most exceptional product in the world. But what’s going to make it stand out and turn a profit is people. Zappos, again, is an excellent example of this. They aren’t selling anything that you couldn’t purchase anywhere else. You probably could find a better deal. However, it’s their customer service that made them a success. That’s because they built a culture that put people first.
There is a strong bond between culture and your business objects and strategies. To achieve your purposes, you need to align your culture with the goals of your business.
Myth 8: A great workplace = happy employees, no conflicts, and few mistakes.
While researching his book “The Best Place to Work,” Ron Friedman, a Ph.D., and founder of ignite80, writes in HBR that he discovered the following workplace myths:
- Everyone is happy. It’s been studied that “when people are in a good mood, they become more sociable, more altruistic, and even more creative.” On the flipside, when “we’re euphoric, we tend to be less careful, more gullible, and more tolerant of risks.” To counter this, there needs to be a balance between positive and negative emotions.
- Conflict is rare. Relationship conflicts like personality clashes are harmful at work. However, task conflicts can be beneficial since they can “produce better decisions and stronger financial outcomes.”
- Mistakes are few. Research shows that if you want to “achieve top performance,” you and your team must be comfortable with failure. Acknowledging failure is one of the most effective ways to learn and grow.
Myth 9: Culture costs more than it pays.
When you’re on a tight budget, it may not seem like investing in culture is worth it. There are affordable ways to improve your company’s culture like developing your emotional intelligence or providing your team with training opportunities. However, there is indeed a correlation between culture and your finances.
Studies have found that 40 percent of employees report that they “benefit when their own goals are in step with their company’s goals.”
Myth 10: Culture is just a state of mind.
Finally, culture isn’t the vibe you get whenever you walk into a startup. It’s not the mission statement found on your website and it’s not all the clever productivity sayings plastered on the wall of your office. Culture is the behaviors and rituals that assist you and your team in getting work done.