Dear New Business Owner:

If you build your house and you skimp on the foundation, you’ll be regretting it for the rest of the time you live there.  The bad foundation leads to nothing but problems.

So does starting a business and ignoring the foundation of any business–its culture.

It’s understandable how new companies–especially those in fast-growth mode borne of addressing a particular need or breaking out quickly because of their creation of a particular technology–don’t think about culture first.  They simply lack the time.

But believing that culture can be something that you can wait on–something that you can get to after the company makes millions–can doom your organization to failure in some cases.

Culture represents the company’s core values and beliefs.  Ideally those should be the test by which every employee is hired.  If you hire someone with values that contradict those values or cancel them out, you can expect clashes and departures regularly.

Culture represents behaviors.  If you’re too busy for common kindness and civility and view your company as nothing more than a balance sheet, you’ll get the results you would expect–an unkind and uncivil atmosphere.

Culture represents standards.  It’s the rulebook by which things are judged.  If you don’t have rules and benchmarks, you won’t be surprised to learn you’ll get some atrocious behavior, along with some good behavior.  And the atrocious will be partly your fault because you never set a standard.

Culture needs to start early–and with the first employees.  They’re your foundation.  You must start your company with a determination of what you believe in and you must measure each hire by the standards you set.  And, if the employees do not fit your standards, you can’t be afraid to let them go.  They represent you, can elevate you, but can also destroy you.  The last thing you need at an early stage is an arsonist–that employee that can burn down your staff and your culture through destructive actions.

In start ups, the trend has been for many years to ‘hire fast, and fire fast’.  I would urge you to ‘hire slow and fire purposefully’.

Hire with full knowledge of who someone is and the talents and attitudes they bring in.  If you have doubts, don’t take the chance on a problem solving itself.  Use your best employees as part of your screening process.  Having great employees select candidates that they like creates employees that are tied and invested in the new hires and their success.

If you need to fire someone, determine that their departure is their fault, not the fault of your systems or lack of preparation or direction.

And finally, remember that culture is about communication.  Especially during the earliest of times within a company, there are lots of moving parts and people are often busy doing, not planning or communicating.

Broadcast your values in all that your company does–your employees, your customers and your bottom line will appreciate it.



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