Crafting culture: Lessons from a startup

Startup SpeechI have visited/worked in my fair share of places and business culture is something that I know within 30 seconds of walking into the space. It’s the “it” factor.

You can try and fake it with foosball and casual Fridays, but anyone can smell a fake attempt at 50 paces. Trust me, you do not want to stand around while toxic culture sours; it leaves a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.

Culture is a top priority for Red e App’s CEO & founder, Jonathan Erwin (standing on the desk). I could tell from my first meeting with employees that Red e App has “it”. The culture is encouraging, kind and cohesive.

So, how do you craft a healthy culture? It takes thought, planning, alignment, careful hiring and elbow grease.

As much as I would like to believe positive culture happens spontaneously, I have yet to see the case. Developing and nurturing a creative, educational, inspiring, [insert your desired adjective here] culture = lots of work. Much like work, though, the more you put in, the more you get in return.

Here are 4 tips to crafting culture like a startup. Use the STAR acronym to recall them …

1. Start with the “right” people

The “right” people are the ones that fit into the culture you are building.

Startups don’t have the same amount of wiggle room that large companies have when hiring new employees. We are always (painfully) aware we have to get it right the first time. Turnover is avoided like the plague. “High employee turnover hurts a company’s bottom line. Experts estimate it costs upwards of twice an employee’s salary to find and train a replacement. And churn can damage morale among remaining employees.” The Wall Street Journal

The old business model is hire the person with the highest competence, regardless of the cultural fit. In reality, your best chance in finding the right person the first time is hire someone that believes in the mission, supports your vision, and fits into your culture. These things aren’t teachable, the rest is.


2. Talk to your team

When working in a startup, the future of the business changes on a monthly basis, sometimes daily. This could be a ripe breeding ground for fear and dissension among the employees. One way to avoid this huge pitfall is strong communication. As Douglas Magazine states on TechVibes, “Employees want and need to know what is happening in your company. Tell the truth.”

Honesty is what you have to work with, so be truthful and develop an open line of communication. Listen to what is being expressed, address any fears, answer questions openly, and share your thoughts.

These are things that build trust in any relationship. Fear stems from the unknown, not from a difficult challenge everyone feels that they are taking on as a group. Be authentic and honest to turn distrust into bonding over a common goal.


3. Align when you go astray

Do you already feel your company has a weak/toxic culture? All is not lost. It only means most people are not aligned with your vision. If your company has a clear vision, make sure it’s the touchstone for all decisions big and small.

Kellogg’s purpose statement is, “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive.” (as taken from Kellogg’s website). If a decision needs to be made about a new brand, a relocation, or even inspiring a new hire, that phrase is their compass. Even if the ship has gone adrift, realigning with the mission can get your team back on course.


4. Remember, change begins with you

Toxic culture affects companies both large and small; no one is exempt. And yes, firing all the negative people and hiring on all people who agree with your mission sounds like a quick fix but it doesn’t get at the root. The root is you – you notice it, you don’t fix it, toxic culture continues. Simple as that.

I know many times that I have wanted to pass the buck on responsibility, especially when Culture Ambassador was not on my job description, but here is the simple fact. We spend a majority of our life at work. Do you really want to spend that majority in a toxic environment?


Crafting a positive business culture takes many people, but it only takes one to start. Here’s to you for taking the first step and starting your own positive cultural trend!

If you have personal stories on how you created new mission statements, streamlined communication or got the work fridge cleaned on a regular basis, I’d love to hear about them.

Try the employee communication and engagement platform your employees will love and use everyday.

Companies using Red e App create meaningful connection with their entire workforce, increasing efficiency, boosting productivity, improving employee retention, and driving profitability. Start a Free trial to see what it can do for you.

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