Hiring With Goals In Mind
How did you get interested in culture?
This question evokes an association with the ‘people and culture’ movement, which I think is a positive trend. Even though I’m the CEO of an HR tech company, my interest in this space and in culture specifically comes from my interest in being an effective manager and CEO. I think its actually quite hard to be an effective manager or leader without thinking about culture very deliberately.
To me, culture and management are the same thing.
What does culture mean at a startup?
Culture is a qualitative measure of all of the interactions that happen between people at a company. These interactions can be big and easily observed like a monthly all-hands meeting, or they can be small and almost unnoticeable like the way people greet each other in the morning. All of these micro-interactions together shape your company’s ability to achieve your objectives.
When you are a startup, you usually don’t have much in the way of customers, processes or resources, so the people on your team and the way they interact is one of the few things you can control and turn into an advantage.
There is no answer to what culture means at a startup – it can be anything you want.
Why is culture an important initiative to focus on?
Culture determines two very important things:
1) Your ability to achieve your goals as a company. Culture helps you to recruit the right people and ensure they work productively.
2) What life is going to be like for the people at your company while you are pursuing your goals.
Point 1 is an obviously important one because everyone understands that businesses need to survive and grow. But I think point 2 is especially interesting because it acts as a point of tension against point 1 from time to time. Startups have to make hard choices to achieve the right balance, which can be especially hard when everyone is working a lot for only a little bit of money and the company might only have 4 months runway.
How have you seen companies successfully build a strong culture?
I think it’s really hard to get a true sense of another company’s culture from the outside, and I have worked in relatively few companies in my career.
When it comes to culture, I think it’s a lot easier to build it the right way from the beginning vs fixing something that is broken. And ultimately I think the ‘culture buck’ stops with the CEO and leadership team. They have decision control over who works at a company and they set the tone for how people are expected to work and interact with each other.
What I do know from running my own company is that culture is not the ‘sprinkles’ that you use to garnish your work environment – think ping pong tables, company t-shirts, beer fridges, flex days. I think these things can be fun but ultimately send the wrong message. When management focuses on the cultural elements that matter – like putting people in a position to succeed, paying a fair wage or giving employees autonomy to complete their tasks. I think these things have a much more significant impact in building a positive culture.
What are pitfalls that you’ve seen companies fall into when thinking about culture?
I’m going to speak specifically about startups here because this is the world that I know best. I already mentioned perks as a pitfall that I’ve seen, but I think another big one for young companies is to not spend enough time thinking about org structure.
It’s easy to say “we don’t believe in hierarchy” when you are small, but that can turn into a big problem really quickly. People need to know what their responsibilities are, who to turn to for guidance and be held accountable for reaching goals. I think it is also comforting for us as human beings to know ‘where we stand’ in an organization. We have lived in hierarchical societies for thousands of years, so we are pretty thoroughly conditioned or predisposed to look to social hierarchy to understand how to behave.
Having a well defined org chart will help you to communicate and coordinate as an organization, and it will even help you to ensure you are recruiting for the right roles. If you hire someone for a role whose objectives overlap too much with another fixture on your team, there’s a good chance you’re going to see some dis-economies by bringing that person on. As a startup you need everyone on your team operating at max capacity, and org chart planning is a key element of achieving this.
Companies Need Vision
Ultimately, knowing where you want your company to go, the type of person you want to help run it, and setting those goals ahead of time will help startups structure their future and shape hiring processes. Developing your Employer Brand is crucial to the commitment you’ll need and be able to achieve with new hires if you have the vision from the start. Contact us to learn more about how to find and hire the best talent.
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