5 Tips to Take Your Startup's Culture to the Next Level

At startups, executives and employees alike have the benefit — and challenge — of molding their own company culture. Do it right with these tips.

People often talk about a “company’s culture,” but how many people really know what that means?

Renowned MIT management professor Edgar Schein, for one, has done a lot of thinking on the subject. He believes that a company’s culture can be broken up into three categories: artifacts, values, and tacit assumptions. “Artifacts” are collective characteristics of a company that can be easily viewed and felt by employees (i.e. dress code); “values” are characteristics that employees and managers would say the company strives toward (i.e. loyalty); tacit assumptions are the elements of the company’s culture that are unseen — and hard to express — in interactions between workers (i.e. the general assumption that asking your co-workers to hang out after work would be viewed as unprofessional).

Together, artifacts, values, and tacit assumptions create a company’s culture, which is more commonly — and simply — defined as “how work gets done.” These elements affect a company at every level: if the culture is welcoming, supportive, and promotes clearly defined expectations, then it will make it easier for people on all levels of the organization to buy in. And when everyone is onboard, the company will be better positioned to achieve its overarching goals.

At small companies, every employee — from entry level workers to the C-suite — has the opportunity to contribute to the organization’s culture. Below are five tips to take your startup’s culture to the next level.

1. Define your purpose.

In order to foster a vibrant startup culture, you must first clearly articulate your organization’s vision for moving forward, and ensure that all employees know and understand this mission. Employees who connect with an organization’s vision on a personal level will be incentivized to remain loyal to your startup and personally contribute to its growth.

2. Promote diversity and inclusion.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion at your startup is perhaps the best way to prevent a groupthink culture — in which people feel afraid to take risks or voice dissent — from forming. A healthy culture is one that not only welcomes people from all backgrounds, with all types of ideas, but also grants them a sense of belonging. In diverse and inclusive startup environments, creativity, collaboration, and innovation are all able to thrive. Go above and beyond to ensure that inclusion is maintained at every level of your organization, and allocate resources to support diversity initiatives.

3. Provide ample development opportunities.

Employees should always feel like they are learning and honing new skills, and an appealing culture for employees is one in which managers and executives foster that growth. If you want employees to invest in your startup, then you must make them feel like you are investing in them. Train managers on how to give constructive feedback, and ensure that fluid communication is happening across all levels of your organization. By showing employees that they have a future at your company, they will be motivated to buy into your culture, long-term.

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4. Always make space for communication.

In a healthy startup environment, channels of communication are always open and accessible. Encourage leaders, managers, and individual employees to regularly engage in honest and transparent conversations. This communication should go both ways: employees should be given consistent feedback, and they should also feel comfortable voicing their concerns. Millennials value transparency in their leaders more than any other generation. Create forums for both casual and formal conversation, and make sure everyone feels encouraged to express themselves.

5. Engage your employees.

John Baldoni , an internationally recognized executive coach and leadership educator, defines employee engagements as such: “People want to come to work, understand their jobs, and know how their work contributes to the success of the organization.”

Beyond helping employees buy into your startup’s mission, executives and managers can monitor employee engagement levels on a more tangible level through surveys and focus groups. Organizing fun social events is another crucial way to boost engagement and company rapport.