19th January 2022

From Seed to Unicorn: Company culture

 

Rob Williams

In our previous articles of this series, we explored how a newly created tech venture’s, brand strategy and visual identity should be curated alongside its business strategy to ensure a clear articulation of its purpose, as well as a unified identity.

In this, the final article of the series, we consider how a startup’s culture and employer value proposition forms the third prong of a well-rounded brand strategy.

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When we think of culture, we often think of the physical elements – namely the office. While physical space is an important aspect for general wellbeing, gone are the days of the startup image – a bootstrapped office space, sparsely decorated with a ping pong table, neon-lit logo, and some mismatched beanbags. Instead, the growth of the co-working/shared office spaces has provided professional outfits to even the smallest of teams. The rise in open-source and freemium technologies has enabled better collaboration and systems.

But culture is so much more than just our working environment.

Culture is the co-collection of values and behaviours of both the employer and the employee. A workplace culture aligns employee behaviours with the Company policy, as well as the purpose of the brand and business. It acts to inform the needs and wants of those individuals who may choose to work there – their attitude, work-life balance, career aspirations and job satisfaction.

So, why should a small startup be overly concerned with its culture? After all, it’ll likely be a small team at the beginning – perhaps two co-founders working closely together on the next big thing.

The answer, simply, is that things will scale at pace. Two people will quickly become five, five will quickly become 10, and 10 will eventually become 100+. When the size of a workforce means that you no longer have direct involvement with shaping an employee’s individual experience, it is critical that structures are in place to ensure consistency and cohesion across the entire Company. And when it comes to recruitment, a Company’s culture is what will set your value proposition apart in the minds of prospective candidates in the race for talent.

So where does culture start? As cliché as it may sound, it always starts at the top.

Lead by example

When building a Company’s culture, first you need to consider your leadership. If you’re hiring into a newly formed C-suite, consider that these people will be tasked with setting an example and embodying the company values.  Do these people’s personal values align with the Company’s purpose and values? Do they exhibit what your Company stands for, in behaviour, integrity and attitude? By placing people into highly influential roles that will set the direction of your Company’s culture, you need to spend the time to make the right choice from the offset, ensuring that you and they are aligned on the vision of the Company you are building.

Culture is more than just our working environment.

Core values

Next to consider are the values of your Company’s culture. These are the fundamental DNA strands that will inform everything you do and should be aligned to both your business and brand strategy. These are often communicated at policy level, perhaps through job descriptions, role remits, sign off processes, team structures and internal committee initiatives.

When building a values structure, it’s easier to break them down into categories. For example, you may start with:

  • Accountability: How you empower everyone in the Company to own their outcomes, act with authority and autonomy to deliver towards the overall vision.
  • Communication: Even more critical in a post-pandemic hybrid working world, ensuring communication channels are open for everyone to access team members, leadership, and peers, to facilitate better collaboration and information sharing quickly and effectively.
  • Authenticity: Recognising and developing a diverse and inclusive culture so employees feel safe to bring their true selves to work. Having a workspace that encourages freedom and respect of everybody’s identity and working styles.
  • Recognition: Is in two parts, recognition of the value being added by an individual through continual reviews, openness on career progression, training & development, and respect - recognising the input and ability of your people. The second part is remuneration – the benefits package that is offered in return.

A leap of faith

When a candidate applies for a role at a startup, they’re taking a leap of faith. They believe in the Company’s vision (if it has been articulated well externally), and they are essentially shunning established competitors or legacy companies that can offer more stability and likely better remuneration. They likely want to be a part of the movement, to build something with you.

While a startup may not be able to fully compete on a rewards package that matches that of a more traditional employer, start-ups combine fewer rigid structures of legacy companies, with more autonomy and better progression.

In addition, there’s something that a start-up can offer as a promise of future remuneration – stock options. Consider then that if they’re helping to build the vision, they should be rewarded when that vision reaches fruition.

 Win the race for talent

While some companies may not consider in detail what their culture should feel like for employees, there is great benefit in doing so. Therefore by,

  • effectively communicating why potential candidates should invest their time and effort in your company,
  • building an employer value proposition that is both authentic and rooted in purpose,
  • retaining employees for longer and encouraging higher levels of motivation and productivity.

These actions can contribute to building your vision at pace.

Culture should be based around designing a mutually beneficial agreement in principle for both the Company and the employee to build the desired outcome that benefits everyone.

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About Author:

Rob Williams is a Senior Strategist at Design by Structure.

 Structure creates relevant and compelling brands for next-generation tech companies.

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This article was first published in Brands Journal.

Published by: Fara Darvill in News

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