5 reasons your startup should focus on culture first
A strong culture is the backbone of any business that wants to survive and thrive.
However, instead of being prized as the lifeblood of success, it’s often either dismissed as a nebulous concept that doesn’t affect the bottom line, or simply regarded as an afterthought – something that would be ‘nice to have’ at some point.
When culture is embedded properly, it instinctively informs every internal and external interaction in an organisation, and while you might not notice its presence, its absence is frequently identified in post-mortems for businesses big and small.
With that in mind, here are five reasons why culture should top the list of your priorities as a startup business.
1. Brand story
Your company culture is a living entity which is animated by the behaviours that support your declared values – it’s literally kept alive by the way you and your employees treat each other and the way you deal with clients.
It’s therefore crucial in the development of your brand story – which fuels the type of long-term, empathic customer connections that lead to sustained success.
So even if your offering isn’t ground-breaking, by positioning yourself as a company that genuinely cares about its staff and customers first and foremost, you’re cementing attractive human values into your brand’s creation story.
Positive culture is role-modelled from the top and fed from throughout the ranks. It can’t be faked – if cultural entropy has taken hold internally, it won’t be long until internal and external customers feel the disconnect between what you say and the way you actually operate.
Being known as the brand that’s the ‘good guy’ is a smart first move, but you have to genuinely commit to this type of culture straight away and realise that it trumps rank, hierarchy and office politics. You can’t tell customers an effective brand story if you don’t believe it yourself first.
A strong culture provides unity within your startup by creating an environment where your team is closely connected and each individual takes full responsibility for their role within the business.
Having a culture in place also gives employees a clear view of how and where they fit into the ‘big picture’ of the enterprise and why they’re important in helping it achieve its mission.
This is a crucial motivating factor for a startup, where staff resources may be stretched and wages may not yet be at optimal levels – being aware that you’re working towards something genuinely fulfilling and helpful means you’ll keep faith, remain focused and always be ready to support each other through thick and thin.
One of the biggest challenges that startups are faced with is uncertainty. You’re in a constant state of flux, with periods of growth and times of decline – when things often feel precarious, it fosters working conditions which are far from ideal.
However, with shared values and the clearly defined behaviours that support them instilled in your team, staff will be better equipped to deal with obstacles caused by uncertainty, without the need for specific rules and procedures to guide them at every turn.
This cultural compass empowers staff with a greater degree of autonomy and directs them to make the most appropriate decisions at every touchpoint.
4. Staff turnover
With a considered company culture in place, you’ll find recruiting and keeping the most suitable candidates less challenging.
This is due to the fact that you’ll have a cultural framework to assess them against, rather than relying primarily on their CV and interview questions. This leaves you better placed to hire candidates who are not just qualified for the job, but are also fully invested in the overall direction of your business and therefore, more likely to stick around to help you achieve your goals.
Finding candidates who are a good cultural fit ensures that they’re more likely to behave according to your established way of doing things, and maintaining this consistency is crucial if you don’t want to damage your reputation and disrupt your business momentum.
By taking the time to develop, implement and enforce the correct company culture, you’ll be able to present a brand that’s fair, ethical and transparent throughout its operations – from the supply chains that power its product production to the way staff are treated and customer relationships are forged.
It’s one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from the competition, because customers nowadays care about your ethics and brand purpose – not just your products, services and pricing.
If you’re really a people-first organisation, putting culture first is the right thing to do, but there’s also a burgeoning body of evidence that positive work cultures are more productive and profitable.
So if your startup champions culture from the get-go, you’ve got a much greater chance of creating the type of healthy, happy workplaces that make money and change things for the better – what’s not to love?