Sometimes culture in entrepreneurship environments falls to the waist side to productivity, growth, and profit to meet your organizations goals. Culture is an immeasurable thing that holds all the pieces of your organization together. If you talk to almost any Silicone Valley executive, they will all have different opinions about how to evolve a company’s culture, but one thing they will all agree on is that a solid culture cultivates an organizations success.
In 2006, Harvard Business Review published an article by John Kotter, Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, and he talks about the 8-Step Process for Leading Change. The idea of leading change in practice is “to give your transformation effort the best chance of succeeding, the right actions at each stage—and avoid common pitfalls” (Kotter 2006). One of the important lessons from Kotter’s findings and years of grassroots research is that change takes time and should not be rushed, especially when transforming an organizations culture.
The beginning stages of your startup you should not be too concerned about your organizations culture. The main goal in the beginning stages is to build a solid foundation so your organization has something to work on. When your startup begins to see growth is when you will notice the potent role and effect culture will have on your organization. You can compare your organizations culture to everyday values. Culture is what guides employees decisions when the path is somewhat unclear.
Having a strong culture is critical in achieving company goals. An example you can use for culture and organizational goals is comparing it to values and goals while on a road trip. Let’s say you live in Reno, NV, east of the San Francisco Bay Area and you want to take a road trip to San Francisco. You get into your car and begin to travel to your destination (goal) west on the highway. Your culture will be the road signs you pass (values) as you travel to your end destination. Similar to culture, your values are all the road signs that you pass guiding you to San Francisco. Those signs help keep you going in the right direction when the direction is unclear. Sometimes when we drive to places we have never been there is a chance we may take the wrong turn and become lost. That is okay because we have our values or organizational culture to get us traveling back on the right direction. Eventually, following your values or the culture, the organization will arrive to San Francisco and achieving its goal set in place by the organization’s culture.
When a startup is still operating in single to low double-digit employee size, everyone including the founders, executive officers, and employees, sit around a meeting room table and are involved in all decisions at some level. The culture is driven and evolves from the implicit values and personalities of all the early stage employees. There is less uncertainty regarding how to solve problems because the problems are much simpler with communication being more direct.
Bristlecone Holdings is one of Reno’s most successful early growth startup companies it has ever had. The company’s Founder and CEO is Dusty Wunderlich, who is motivated to visionary to implement much-needed change in “a high-growth network of consumer and business-to-business finance platforms and financial technologies.” Bristlecone Holdings has only been in operation for about a year and half and since then has quickly paved a new and inviting path for the financial industry.
Dusty has made many bold and great decisions along the way in building Bristlecone. One of his great decisions has been his ability to hire the right people. Every successful Silicon Valley startup always has a Director of People and Culture (it might not be called that) to evolve the culture, and for Bristlecone that person is Kelsey Martin. If you have not met Kelsey she is about as happy as a person as you can find. Kelsey believes her responsibility is to “focus on keeping people happy and engaged by acting as a responsible steward for [her] colleagues and community, inspiring and innovating [her] colleagues through creating great culture, and transforming goals into interactive and visual themes that connect everyone [at Bristlecone Holdings].”
I have had the pleasure of listening to Kelsey present in one of my MBA courses about how she evolved the culture at Bristlecone. Bristlecone is approximately 23 employees, including the CEO and President, all working closely as a group where communicating, supporting, and valuing each other unconditionally as employees and bettering their organization. There is no challenge that is too small or too large because they all know how to support each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Some bottom-line advantages having a Director of People and Culture like Kelsey in your organization:
- Kelsey is the “assigned owner” that is directly responsible for your organizations culture.
- Leadership sets the tone like Dusty has done with Bristlecone.
- Finding people who are different but complementary to your organization by adding diversity and a different perspective than the other employees.
- Being vulnerable and not afraid to ask for support from other employees in the office.
- Communicating effectively with everyone in the organization whether you are the CEO, executive, or employee.
- Your organization must have personal accountability, ethics, and enterprise value.
Kelsey mentioned two rules that all organizations should consider implementing in their own organizations:
- Be respectful, considerate, and kind.
- Always act in the best interest of Bristlecone (or your own organization).
So what does your corporate culture look like?
Do you have your own Director of People and Culture?
If not, you need one!
I want to give a special thanks to Hugh MacLeod’s GapingVoid.com for allowing me to use the images that are located on their Internet site.