You may be an entrepreneur, but that doesn’t mean you’re running a startup. A startup isn’t just a new company — it’s a new company that’s designed to grow fast. Think about how Google would have made decisions early on compared to a new restaurant in your town.
For startups, this focus on growth should extend beyond setting goals. It should extend into the culture that pervades the business.
Many founders of startups are naturally focused on growth, and they assume this attitude will automatically trickle down to the rest of the company. But developing a growth-focused culture among a team that’s constantly adding new people is something you have to work at.
We went from five people on our team to 35 people in a matter of months, and it presented a number of culture challenges. For starters, no one knew the business well enough to have the context necessary to think about a growth culture.
There wasn’t a common language, either. People didn’t know how to work with each other yet, and each person came from a completely different background with a unique set of cultural norms.
And perhaps the biggest challenge of all for founders is shifting from doing the work of the company to leading the work. To cultivate the right culture, your job has to extend to coaching and managing. Plus, you’re still responsible for doing the work you’ve always done.
Here are three things you can do to develop a culture of growth that will feed the rapid growth your business needs to succeed while enabling you to do the rest of your job.
With so many new people, companies often take the “just join in, make an impact, and figure it out” approach. That makes it difficult for anyone to determine what the expectations are and what success looks like.
I used to think all we needed to do concerning culture was come up with a list of values. That attitude led to a short list of loosely defined terms that didn’t have the impact of shaping a solid culture.
After studying some culture success stories, the one that our leadership team related to the most was Netflix’s. We found that, like Netflix, we wanted our official values to be the behaviors and skills we expected from our colleagues.
We sat down and clearly laid out what we wanted from our team members. This focused approach led to a solid list of 11 core values. We made a document containing the values, alongside clear descriptions, so everybody had a common language and understood how we defined success.
A key slide in the Netflix culture deck is “Context, not Control.” Providing context is about giving people the understanding they need to feel empowered to work together toward goals. It’s the difference between giving them numbers to hit and explaining why those numbers matter.
At Soda, we have a one-page strategic plan that outlines the major goals for each department for each quarter and for each year. It’s not an earth-shattering strategy, but it allows everyone to see the bigger context of how each department’s efforts fit into our overarching goals for the quarter, as well as how each quarter fits into the year.
If people don’t know which metrics drive growth, they can’t work on improving them. If they aren’t aligned with the strategy, they can’t contribute to evolving it or challenging it. As the company grows, your goals will change. But never let your teammates lose sight of the context they’re working in.
Once your team understands what your values are, you need to exemplify and reinforce those values every day. Your leaders have to show that they’re serious about their expectations. How you reinforce a culture of growth depends largely on which values you’ve determined will foster progress.
One of our values is curiosity. We reinforce that value through an optional weekly gathering where people have an opportunity to share what they’ve been learning. It inspires curiosity by encouraging people to see what others are learning and to share their own findings.
Our leaders have an opportunity to exemplify this value by showing up, sharing what they’ve learned, and asking questions. From there, the rest of the team gets more involved, and this part of the culture compounds and builds up.
Of course, not every employee will automatically follow your example. But if your leaders don’t emulate the culture you want, employees won’t take culture seriously.
Developing the right culture takes hard work, but if you don’t unite your team around one that’s designed for growth, your company won’t even have the chance to earn the “startup” label.
As Co-founder and CEO of Soda, Corry Cummings focuses primarily on products, marketing, and the overall vision and strategy of the company and its three properties: Reviews.com, Freshome, and The Simple Dollar. Soda’s three human-centric media brands aim to establish standards to make quality measurable, make decision-making less burdensome, and help brands understand how to make content better, not just plentiful.
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