The power of Culture - by Charlotte Murray

Entrepreneur panel discussion - photo Chris Kolmatycki.jpg

PropelICT Entrepreneurs Panel Discussion at Volta - photo by Gillian McCraeWhen starting a business, there’s usually not much focus on building a company culture. The focus is on finding product-market fit, finding the right people to join your team, getting customers and of course cash flow. Nowhere is there this “thing” called company culture. But, at the same time, it’s there.

It’s been on my mind because of the constant change I see around me at the startup incubator www.voltaeffect.com that houses and helps tech start-ups get off the ground. There are many micro-company cultures within the building, as well as a special culture within the Volta space as a whole. Having spent seven years in the corporate world, I always found culture an important and core component of a company and I’m always on the look-out for inspiring stories of companies that do it well, and that I can reapply in my own way to my own company. Just like it’s never too early to start talking to customers, it’s never too early to start building a strong company culture. This is because, in my view, company culture has the power to keep people motivated and engaged (and also attract great people to join the team).

Competitive advantage of Culture:

Whereas a company or organizational culture “encompasses values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization”. Company culture defined only by a plaque on the wall or a catchy slogan can have the opposite effect of what is intended. For a company culture to be a competitive advantage that others simply cannot copy, it needs to be genuine and engrained in every person who joins the team. It’s great for building a strong team, and it great for protection from competition.

HBR had a great article about definitive elements of a winning culture. I’ve heard many varying degrees of agreement or appreciation for company culture. Some people will be skeptics of the ‘soft’ side of values and culture, while others will take it to heart. I for one, believe in the power of a strong company culture.

Startup Culture:

A year ago, the whole world of Startups and startup culture was new for me. There were new phrases and terms (pitch, demo, SaaS), and I found the whole culture surrounding startups fascinating and different from my corporate days. From my point of view, startup culture involves reliance on a good and fast internet connection, an unlimited supply of Red Bull, moral support from fellow startups and founders, and tireless dedication (grit and hustle) to getting the company off the ground seven days a week. While I didn’t mention integrity, honesty, collaboration, agility, performance or results, they’re being acted upon every day. How does that compare to your experience of company culture?

Stories of Culture:

I came across the Netflix story of company culture, and they clearly illustrate how they live their company culture and values: “Like every company, we try to hire well, unlike many companies we practice: adequate performance gets a generous severance package so that we can open up a slot to find a star for that role”. Another company, Fibernetics, has a fantastic story of how they completely turned around their company culture to one that leverages passion and gets people engaged with the ‘I’m In!’ mantra.

Creating a Culture:

What’s on my mind is how we can build a company culture while we’re still a small budding company so that as we grow it grows with us. While I’m still working through it together with my team, here are some questions that I’ve put down for myself to help and guide us through all the possibilities towards defining our culture:

-        Why are you doing what you’re doing?

-        What impact can you have within your industry, nationally, globally?

-        What values do you apply when making important decisions?

-        How would you describe your company if it were a person?

-        How do your every-day actions reflect the strategy and vision for the company?

What questions would you ask?