Getting a Head Start on Start-ups: what are they and do you want one?
When you hear the words “startup culture”, a stereotypical image comes to mind. Zoe and Dean playing ping-pong on their lunch break. Brady spending his breaks napping in a sleep pod. Marsha confirming Sydney’s latest tropical house DJ for Friday night drinks. But what’s underneath it all?
WHAT MAKES A STARTUP CULTURE?
Behind the stereotypical image, one can identify characteristics common to the culture of the most successful startups. However, these characteristics do not work in isolation and success is dependent on the right balance within an organisation.
1. Humanity and humour
While responsibilities may be structured hierarchically, interactions between co-workers don’t always need to reflect these same structures. Everyone is respected equally and relied upon to contribute to the success of the organisation, from the intern who started yesterday to the founder and CEO. Collaboration across different levels of the organisation can engender commitment, motivation and a high-performance culture. Although the success of an organisation is paramount and the responsibility of everyone, success does not need to be achieved in a sterile work environment. It is possible to maintain a commitment to organisational goals while encouraging a more relaxed working culture. In fact, organisations with a less formal working culture can breed creativity and collaboration, from which success often flows organically.
2. Confidence and self-awareness
A reflective organisation is able to identify its strengths and its weaknesses. The best leaders have faith in their own ideas, but recognise where there is room for improvement and are not afraid to ask for help where this is needed. Alongside this, an organisation and its employees must want to be the “best” and know what they want to be the “best” at. This means having a well defined and strongly articulated vision and set of values which guide the organisation at all times. Here at PCS, we live by our PieCeS: Positivity, Innovation, Expertise, Collaboration, Efficiency and Service.
“A CULTURE IS GOING TO FORM WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, AND IF YOU PAY ATTENTION TO IT, YOU CAN CRAFT SOMETHING THAT MAKES THE COMPANY STRONGER”– BIZ STONE, CO-FOUNDER,TWITTER.
3. Honesty and communication
Whether it’s blogging on your organisation’s website, Tweeting updates to your followers, or encouraging active discussion between employees at round table meetings, a startup culture embraces open and continuous communication. An essential aspect of that communication is honesty. An organisation that acknowledges its failures, as well as celebrating its successes, will earn respect both internally and externally. This does not necessarily mean exposing an organisation’s weaknesses; rather, each failure is presented as an opportunity for improvement.
4. Creativity and innovation
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but making existing processes and procedures more efficient is essential. The way of thinking should always be: “how can we do this better?” The answer often lies in allowing people – at all levels of the organisation – to voice their ideas without fear of criticism or ridicule and encouraging employees to pursue projects that spark their creativity. Employees who are given some autonomy to explore their passions are more likely to produce better work across the board.
“WHEN YOU’RE A TEAM OF FIVE DOING THE WORK OF 10 PEOPLE, YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO COLLABORATE, AND COLLABORATE WELL”– MATT BARBA, CO-FOUNDER, PLACESTER.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
While a culture possessing the above characteristics is one that can add value to your organisation if crafted properly, there is a need to remain alert to the potential pitfalls associated with its creation.
1. Too much fun
While all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, all play and no work makes Jack… worthless. In the quest to establish an atmosphere conducive to creativity and innovation it is all too easy to lose sight of the core goal: to make the organisation an on-going success. From day one, employees need to understand that, while there is room for some frivolity, freedom and informality, these concepts must run in parallel with achieving organisational goals and, at an individual level, employees performing their role to the best of their ability
“MAKE YOUR TEAM FEEL RESPECTED, EMPOWERED AND GENUINELY EXCITED ABOUT THE COMPANY’S MISSION”– TIM WESTERGREN, CO-FOUNDER, PANDORA.
This can be achieved by ensuring that the organisation’s leadership team are role models of ideal behaviour and that a certain number of “fun” activities are always aligned to business development. It is also prudent to ensure that in promoting a less hierarchical and a more relaxed work culture within an organisation, this does not replace an organisation’s core values.
2. Too much money
The modern, high-tech, designer image associated with startup culture doesn’t come cheap. An organisation must always consider whether the money it wants to spend on a pinball machine might be better spent, for example, training staff. An organisation should not be distracted by an obsession with image and appreciate that this is only one aspect of a startup culture. It is important to know your limits and invest wisely.
3. Blurred lines
An organisation in which contributions by all members are considered equally important must not be one in which there is no leader. Strong leadership is essential in order to craft culture and guide an organisation when decisions need to be made. That being said, leadership does not need to be asserted through a “tough” approach. Effective communication, honesty, respect for the ideas of others and an ability to articulate and live an organisation’s values are clear hallmarks of good leadership.
4. Recruitment: wants vs needs
When it comes to recruitment, what you think you want might not be what you need. As with the physical office, an organisation should not be swept up in the image of a candidate and whether it fits a certain stereotype. While a candidate’s charisma may be important, it should not be allowed to distract from whether a candidate’s skills and capabilities are what is needed to drive the success of the organisation. Recruitment should be based on position descriptions and selection criteria suited to the needs of the organisation. Similarly, candidates should be assessed on what they can bring to your culture, keeping organisational values in mind. While the stereotypical image that this article opened with may be attractive, the message is that there is more to startup culture than that. Any organisation can build a culture based on startup principles, no matter its size, resources or industry. When crafted well and with balance in mind, startup culture adds value to an organisation by boosting morale and driving achievement, which in turn can deliver success.
“I BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE TO BE THE ARCHITECT OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES– THAT OPPORTUNITY IS SOMETHING YOU MANUFACTURE, NOT SOMETHING YOU WAIT FOR”– BIZ STONE, CO-FOUNDER,TWITTER.