Why Entrepreneurs Should Care About Culture

Reposted from Forbes

Written by Tom Taulli, a JD and Enrolled Agent

For entrepreneurs, the topic of culture is often relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Hey, shouldn’t there be a focus on the product, hiring the right people and getting enough funding?

That’s true. But culture is something that is critical for the long-term success of a company. If anything, it is the DNA that helps guide everyone. After all, Mark Zuckerberg often talks about his mission – to make a more connected world – that is essentially a reflection of his company’s culture.

Oh, and then there is Google. During the early days, the company set a mission to organize the world’s information. 

OK then, what are some of the steps you can take when it comes to your company’s culture? What are the best-practices to keep in mind?

Well, to get some insight on this, I recently talked to Greg Besner, who is the founder and CEO of CultureIQ. The company, which has raised $5.25 million, operates a cloud platform to help companies strengthen their culture.

“Culture is how things get done in a company,” said Greg. “While it definitely is guided by formal policies, it’s also everything in between. It’s how employees communicate on and offline, it’s how you recognize and reward each other, it’s how you sit together in the office. The list goes on and on. Entrepreneurs typically set out to solve a problem. Your company culture is how employees in your company will work together to accomplish that goal.”

Interestingly enough, he got the idea for CultureIQ from his experience as an advisor and early investor in Zappos.com. “I watched the company grow from about 70 employees in 2003 to thousands of employees at the time of its sale to Amazon in 2009,” said Greg. “It was inspiring to see how the company applied culture not as an afterthought, but as a business strategy. Employees were inspired, satisfied and engaged, and as a result the company delivered excellent customer service and built an incredible brand as a result.”

But when it comes to culture, it’s really important that the CEO sets the tone. Let’s face it, the team will certainly take note – and follow the examples put forth. “One of the best things you can do as a leader in your organization is to be intentional about your actions and reactions, and ask yourself: ‘Is this a behavior I want others in this company to repeat over time?’”

Yet this means having guiding principles and core pillars to work off of – such as a mission statement. This is something that should not change, even though your startup is likely to change rapidly.

However, as with anything, there also needs to be some type of measurement. “One of the easiest things you can do to assess your company culture is to ask a monthly employee Net Promoter question,” said Greg. “Basically, would the employee recommend the company to a friend?”

And, as the company grows, you can certainly get more sophisticated. “You can establish what cultural components are important to your company and then ask employees to rate those components,” said Greg. “Most employees are happy to have the opportunity to provide feedback, and this first survey is just a starting point. Over time, you will be able to refine your questions and more accurately measure and track culture.”

But it is important not to assume a one-size-fits-all approach to cultural change and improvements. “No doubt, there’s a foundational culture at every company, but what will really drive success is diving into each department, location or role to deeply understand each team,” said Greg. “Then you can make targeted improvements and measure changes accordingly, rather than changing some company-wide policy and wondering why employees still don’t seem engaged.”