Building A Company Culture Is Not About Writing Values On A Wall
Take a walk around the area known as London’s Silicon Roundabout, and you will easily see from the street into the windows of offices and co-working spaces. Through these windows, can often be seen the typical start-up boards with company values written on them, as well as taglines, banners, and the ubiquitous cluster of Post-It notes. I think about one of my clients who was recently challenged by internal feedback that claimed she was not embodying one of her company’s values. Her confidence levels and performance had dropped as a result.
I want to find out more about these values on the wall; what does it mean to have a company culture; how does a company project and communicate its culture; does it help employees or not; and beyond the Post-Its, where does the culture start?
To create a company culture, the image of an off-site brainstorming day where founders refine their values and ethos springs to mind. However, it usually looks better on paper or on the walls than in reality. So I interviewed Richard Hughes-Jones, Executive Coach and Consultant, interested in the unpredictable shifts that the workplace is experiencing. Hughes-Jones works with executives, leaders and founders coaching them to grow on their personal and business journey, counting clients such as fashion designer Molly Goddard and regarded MBA programmes.
Emma Zangs: What can startup founders do to maintain a company culture that works?
Richard Hughes-Jones: Make time for it. A workshop and some values captured on Post-It notes are an excellent start, but these alone don’t constitute a ‘culture.’ Revisit values and culture at least once a quarter, seeking input from the whole team about what’s working well and not so well. Make culture an essential part of your culture! It gives your business true character, and it will silently guide you through the inevitable tough times.
Emma Zangs: From your experience working with founders and teams, did you observe any trends or issues regarding company culture? Do you have any advice for founders on how to avoid common mistakes?
Richard Hughes-Jones: Startup businesses revolve around their Founders, and culture comes from the top. From Day One, your team is picking up on your subconscious ways of working and translating them into their own. Founders often don’t realise this. Alternatively, they do know it but think that they can turn their attention to shaping culture down line when the business is on a more sure footing. This is a mistake. Pay attention to culture from Day One.
Emma Zangs: Is there anything else founders can look at, other than values and ethos, to shape their company culture?
Richard Hughes-Jones: A frequent conversation in my coaching sessions with founders is around how they incorporate culture into their leadership style. How do they personally embody the culture of the business? How do they communicate it to their team? Taking the time to build a strong culture from the start empowers your team to think and act more independently. The payback is significant, freeing up your own time to focus on all your other executive functions, of which you have plenty!
- Dedicate time every quarter.
- Get Some Post-its and brainstorm on your values with the whole team.
- Lead By Example. Culture comes from the top.
- Don’t wait to have a bigger team. Company Culture gets built from Day One.
- Introspect your leadership style. How do you embody and communicate the culture to your organisation?
If you would like to delve deeper into this topic, Richard Hughes-Jones writes regularly on his blog about how to become a better leader. You can also read the case study I published on how Mehdi El Azhari, first-time startup founder, is building his company culture from the ground up.
Author: Emma Zangs