Beyond Bean Bags – Building a Startup Culture

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Startups love dog-friendly offices, nap rooms, and Taco Tuesdays. While these perks seem cliché and Millennial-centric, the “startup culture” goes deeper visible symbols. A vibrant and invigorating company culture attracts top talent, retains key employees, improves productivity, and ultimately, drives revenue growth.

This dynamic is not limited to Silicon Valley tech companies. Rather, it can be developed in any startup or small business, regardless of industry, maturity, or location. Here are 5 tangible initiatives that promote a powerful culture in any business:

Focus on the “why” – every. single. time.

Every business has a deeper purpose, a reason for existing other than creating a widget or providing a service. Simon Sinek refers to this as your “why.” For example, a security company can either install alarm systems…or provide safety and security for families. While both are true, the difference is more than semantics.

Internally, a focus on why gives team members a purpose, rather than just delivering a commodity in exchange for a paycheck. People want to make a difference, and this lens creates higher productivity, lower churn, and gives each team member a focus on building something together. Within marketing and sales, it fires up consumers and increases adoption of your product. This why must be pervasive among every employee, every day. It should drive decisions for entry level team members and steer managers in their decisions. Employees are wired to make a difference; customers want products that truly change their lives.

Radiate energy and supercharge the air

One of the biggest differences between Silicon Valley and Suburb USA is the energy level in the building, which is led by the CEO. He doesn’t have to be an aggressive extrovert, but he must be excited about the mission/product and eagerly invested in team members. This energy is further perpetuated by filtering on “fit” during hiring. Once the right people are in place, the atmosphere is enabled by the floor plan design, the quality of common areas, and rituals like “ringing a bell.” Take a five-minute break to celebrate specific and tangible wins. Sing birthday songs for team members. Decorate desks when they have a baby.

Radiating energy doesn’t mean a distracted mess of yapping extroverts. Rather, it’s a buzz and excitement that permeates the air – a feeling the second you walk in the door.

Practice a transparent, relatable, team-focused leadership style

Strong startup leaders are a unique breed. While they have the horsepower and strategic vision to grow a company, they are also the persona of their company. Startup team members must not only buy the mission of the company, they also need to be a real part of it. They need a strong personal connection with their leader. Many successful startup leaders eat lunch with their teams (and eat last), go to happy hours despite an overwhelming to-do list, write birthday cards, and are occasionally a little playful and irreverent. This requires investment of significant time and energy, which doesn’t always feel like driving company value. At times, they also overshare with team members, but in doing so, they become real. The leader is no longer a figurehead; he/she is now a person you deeply connect with. Team members relate to them, and the vision then becomes shared. It is a difficult line to thread, but if nailed, it can be very powerful.

Now, add the add beanbags

Beanbags, break rooms, ping pong tables, manager fun-budgets – the final touch. They drive the group together, creating shared smiles, and making employees feel more at-home. They are visible symbols that you are doing your best to provide benefits, even when you can’t provide corporate-quality health plans. and they have the tertiary benefit of spawning creativity and togetherness.

There are other cultural elements to building a startup culture, like unique disruptive position, technology, shared terminology, clear mission/vision, and attractive offices. Combine this approach with a solid product/service with a myopic growth focus, and even the most boring company can catch fire.

Now, as they say in Silicon Valley…go crush it.

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