Culture isn’t a chore

We pay a lot of lip service to the term, “company culture,” but if you ask most people what this term means to them, you’d probably get a variety of answers.

And that’s not a bad thing unless someone identifies “company culture” as a checklist item they think they can install once in an organization, and never touch ever again. That’s a huge mistake.

The reality is that fostering real culture at your startup requires a lot more thought than that. It’s not a chore you can cross of your list of to-do’s.

Culture isn’t static

It’s pretty hard to guarantee anything in the world of startups, but I can guarantee this: Whatever your “culture” is today, it won’t be the same thing 6 months or even 6 weeks from now.


So if culture’s always changing, why bother trying to build it out in the first place? Good question.

Answer: Because culture is the tie that binds your company. It’s what arises when you combine the right kind of people with the right approach to work and play. It’s not so much one thing as it is a stew of many different ingredients.

Don’t confuse culture with core values

What you stand for as a company plays an important role in producing any kind of culture at your company, but culture and values aren’t the same thing. Core values are more permanent, and how you live them out contributes to creating the kind of culture your team creates. If you attract people who get your core values, you’ll do wonders for creating the basic components of an authentic company culture. The two will live symbiotically.

Understand that top-down culture doesn’t work

Entrepreneurs have a tough time letting go. But in order for your company’s culture to flourish, you have to sit back and let your team take the reins. It may be hard, but since they’re the ones in the trenches each day, they need to feel empowered to create it. That means giving them the green light to be themselves and feel like they have your support in doing that. One caveat: Don’t be so far removed from the culture of the company that you don’t participate in it. Even though you’ll take a backseat in creating and maintaining real culture, you have to be actively involved with what your team is building. You’re not exempt.

Don’t rush it

When you’re running a business, a lot of people think you have to rush to create culture. Rushing culture will hurt your business because it will feel false. Focus on bringing on the right people and setting up the permanent elements of your company—core values, overarching philosophy, respectful work practices—and culture will flow from there.

Expect the unexpected

The one thing you can expect about the process of forming your company culture is that it will be in a constant state of flux, subject to the influence of many different factors, like how your senior team behaves, whether or not you listen to your teams concerns, and if you’re open and transparent. If you pay attention to those important elements, the culture that’s right for your start-up will emerge without a lot of coaxing on your part.

Remember, culture isn’t something you can just bring into a company and leave to languish while other efforts are pursued.

Culture is as vital as anything else, and needs regular stimulation and inspiration to maintain itself. Don’t put it last.