4 tips to create a great culture for your growing start-up

4 tips for creating a great culture for your growing start up

The alarm goes off at 6:30pm, but the thought of dragging yourself from your warm and safe bed to the horrors that lay in your inbox put you into near paralysis.So you press snooze again and again, waiting until the last possible millisecond to rise, poised like St George ready to slay all manner of corporate dragons.

Getting up and ready to face the work day shouldn’t be this hard.

Luckily, more and more companies are recognising the importance of employee happiness on productivity and running a great business. They are working hard to create a great business culture so that employees aren’t just willing to meet the day, but leap into it, buzzed by the challenges the business presents. And of course, every company has a different definition on what may constitute a great culture. From Google’s famous nap pods to Chesapeake Energy’s rock-climbing wall, organisations are getting creative (and in these examples, lavish), with what they offer to keep their employees productive, engaged and happy.

If you’re a start-up the above examples may make you panic. How are we supposed to afford nap pods? Can you buy them second hand? Relax and hold off with that Gumtree purchase at least until you’ve reached the end of this post. In actual fact, great culture is much more about purpose than free unlimited M&Ms or company weekend retreats. According to Ben Thompson, CEO and Founder of Employment Hero, it’s what makes a business truly great.

1. Why purpose lies at the heart of a great company culture

Thompson is uniquely qualified to comment on how to create a great culture for a growing businesses. He has worked with several start-ups in the US, the UK and Australia in his career and has founded several successful businesses himself. What’s more, his company Employment Hero’s HR platform and their Employee Benefits Program are designed to make life better for the employees at the 650+ companies they work with.

Thompson believes that it is this passion, this purpose, that is the most integral element to creating a great start-up culture. ‘For me there is a central purpose, or to use an overly kitsch phrase, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). For Employment Hero, that BHAG is to make managing employees easier and more rewarding.’

Yet it’s not enough to proclaim a purpose and put it on the wall in the company foyer. It needs to filter down throughout the company and become an intrinsic part of proceedings from customer service all the way to accounts. ‘The most important element for me in creating a culture is that everyone in my group of companies understands that we have a single united purpose and that’s BHAG existed before EH did. Employment Hero is actually the result of the BHAG’, says Thompson about the creation of his business.

Thompson also believes that having a passionate business culture is one of the key reasons why employees choose to work for a particular company. He cites the recent decision of Apple programmer Chris Lattner to move to Tesla as an example of how potent purpose can be. While Lattner had greatly enjoyed his time at Apple, the lure of the exciting things Tesla is getting up to proved too compelling. Lattner admitted:

‘This was a very difficult decision, because I care deeply about the technology and people at Apple and because I could see myself staying there for many more years. In the end though, the opportunity to dive into a completely new area and work with the amazing Tesla Autopilot team was irresistible.’

2. Live your values (but you don’t need a poster to do that)

Once the overarching purpose is articulated, the underlying business values should be evident. And while companies like Facebook may like to be demonstrative with those values, Thompson says it’s not essential. ‘It’s not necessarily about having the values written all over the place, but it should be an intrinsic part of being at the workplace.’ He says, ‘having those values that people agree on is important, but mostly it is about really living them. And this means that if someone behaves in a way that isn’t aligned with them, it isn’t tolerated.’

However, be careful not to formalise things too early on. Thompson recommends codifying the company values only when there is a real risk they might get lost: ‘when you have so many employees that the founders and leaders of the company cannot communicate and enforce those values directly with the entire team, it’s probably time to be more structured. You could probably get up to 25-50 people before you need to be obsessed with your values.’

For example, for Thompson and his teams one of those key values is ensuring that strategy and progress are transparent, clear and easily tracked, which leads us to the third element:

3. Create goals (and celebrate achievements)

Thompson says that the EH team makes sure that they live by these values by setting a quarterly goal. ‘We stop for a day to review our last quarter, set a goal for the next three months, as well as think of a theme that captures that goal. We also create a scoreboard to track our progress.’

And it’s not just a universal company goal; each employee also sets an individual target so that they understand how they can contribute towards hitting the overarching business goal.

The team is then made accountable for their progress. Thompson elaborates, ‘we track that goal every day. The company stops at 9:09 to check in’. Not only is this an opportunity to make sure members are heading in the right direction, but also an effective way to recognise the good work of others, be it of individuals or departments. Thompson stresses how vital celebration is to making team members feel recognised and visible, as well as creating something tangible to strive towards: ‘when we’re setting our quarterly goals, we also set the quarterly celebration and we always celebrate if we achieve our goal.’

4. Give people the tools to do their jobs properly

As part of their role, Employment Hero staff routinely see companies who have less-than-stellar systems and the fallout that can have on employee morale. For example, people want to be sure that they’re going to be paid the right amount of money at the same time every month,’ Thompson says ‘they want to know that their employment contracts are compliant and that their systems are secure.’ If basic systems aren’t set up to allow for transparency on even those administrative elements of the business, employee morale and engagement is likely to be low - and so is staff retention rate.

However, Thompson has also seen how powerful technology can be in transforming company culture for the better. For example, Employment Hero recently worked with Sitback Solutions a UX start-up who was recognised as one of the Top 20 Best Places to Work in Australia and also as NSW Business Chamber's Employer of Choice 2016. Making sure that their HR policies and Employee Benefits were compliant, up-to-date and streamlined, meant that there was more time to concentrate on the bigger things. Chris McHugh CEO Sitback Solutions stated that the flow on effect has been powerful, ‘it has given us more time and confidence to focus on building our culture and other great initiatives to engage our employees.’

The positive impact of technology on business culture also extends to other areas. Thompson suggests making clever and measured investments in technology, for example teleconferencing systems can help make the day-to-day life of an employee easier and more enjoyable, ‘if start-ups don’t have a lot of human resources to provide all of what’s required for an employee then technology can bridge a lot of those gaps.’ For instance, smart technology investments can reduce the time spent on scheduling meetings and managing projects. Making sure that those little admin tasks are streamlined and easy means that you employees can better concentrate on the deeper work, the work that is more fulfilling.

Do what you love

Thompson sums it up by saying that, ‘you’ve only got one life on this planet and you will be spending a good portion of it at work. You may as well work in a business that ignites your passion.’

If start-ups want to attract the right people, they need to make sure that their energy, love and enthusiasm for their business extends and affects those they employ. Want to know more about how technology can create a better business? Consider attending CeBIT Australia’s 2017 Enterprise Mobility Conference. Get your tickets today.