How to Set Your Company Culture on the Right Track From the Beginning


Companies can avoid a scandal like Uber if they set their company culture on the right track from the beginning

The recent scandal with Travis Kalanick from Uber revealed a toxic company culture that was born out of neglect and inattention by the CEO whose only focus was fast growth. It’s a lesson that has made the business world rethink company policies by paying more attention to nurturing a good company culture.

The best time to focus on culture is right from the beginning. Values the CEO and board adopt from the startup days are cemented into the company’s culture as it grows. In the Cerius Business Today podcast, we spoke to three distinguished CEO’s about their experiences and their advice for new entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Set Clear Expectations

“You have to make clear what you expect from people. Because if you don’t, or if you demonstrate a culture that’s not good for the business environment. The investors will eventually say, well you’re growing but the detriment is you’re going to wipe out our money by making bad business, staffing, or personal decisions,” says Kevin Gibbs, who has been with four startups from angel funding to the final sale of the company, and works with turnaround companies.

Set clear expectations for your staff and emphasize qualities that are important to you as a leader. Kevin suggests, “You have to tell people what you want, but you also have to make sure that people know what your expectations are as a business person. Because if you don’t and you get into the culture where it’s a boys game and no one else seems willing to play, that’s very, very bad and its very bad for the investors. A bad or negative culture repels investors and experienced executives. Neither will want to be associated with your company, and you’ll lose out on great business opportunities.

Create an Inclusive Environment

The culture of an organization is as good as its people. Your team will exhibit their best qualities if they feel appreciated and are included in company activities and planning. Jeff Greenberg is a serial entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in the high-tech community and with technology based startups. He advises new business owners to build an organization where everybody feels as if they are a part of it. They should feel supported and empowered.

That responsibility rests upon the leader. “Having a person at the top who’s a visionary is not sufficient,” he says. “They also have to be a people person.”

Keep everyone informed. They need to be aware of what’s going on in the market. “You have to stay in touch with your customers, with your technology partner, with your channel partners, and make sure you’re doing everything to optimize everybody’s success,” says Jeff.

Create a Culture Model Early On

Sometimes it pays to plan ahead and create a model of what kind of culture you want the company to have as it begins to grow. Ken Hubbard, an advisor at ACH Ventures holding investments in 60 companies and board member for multiple technology and consumer product companies, says that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, culture is a personality. The personality of the executive running the company, whether that’s the CEO, CTO, or business owner.

“You really have to come up with that culture model early on or the personality of the company is going to marry up by itself with the personality of the leadership, and that can be detrimental,” advise Ken. “Its culture and brand have to have communication. They have to be a part of each other, otherwise the company will have a muddy image in the marketplace whenever the team is doing anything, whether it is hiring or demoing.”

Culture Takes Time to Develop

Fostering culture doesn’t start from day one. Within the first 6 months to a year as the company and brand will slowly start to develop. At first it is usually a simple brand that doesn’t stick and will evolve as the company adjusts and finally reaches the right marketplace. It is built on the stories told, the team accomplishments, and what is shared. It is us to the leadership to determine what that will be whether it is by example, or through emphasizing the company’s brand. Brand can be a powerful tool when looking to separate the company’s culture from the founder’s personality.

“I think that you can develop culture a little bit early on, unless you’ve got a headstrong leader like they did at Uber,” says Ken. “He basically overlaid his brand on Uber. And the market didn’t see his brand necessarily until finally the board and some of the incidents came out into the public. So I do think it needs to be established within the first six months to a year and a half. You’ve got to come up with this brand which is married to that culture.”

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