Brian Chesky, one of the founders of Airbnb, recently wrote an article on company culture. He stresses that company culture is built on locking in the core values from the start.
“It’s living the core values when you hire; when you write an email; when you are working on a project; when you are walking in the hall.”
Values; a set of principles and beliefs that you live and breathe by, are more than just nice words or wallpaper when it comes to running your business. The values define your actions. When I joined my family’s business to help out in a time of crisis, one thing I did not do was to take the time to understand the values. I understand now, that it was the first thing I should have done. It was impossible for me to create and grow a positive environment when I wasn’t able to capture what we were all about.
Values become important because they will eventually define your culture. As you grow, and build your team, your culture starts to form. Taking the time to highlight your values and drive how the affects behavior from the start, will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
An advantage for start-ups is that you get to define your core values. My co-author, George Bradt, did an exercise when he started his business Prime Genesis, where the whole team listed their top 3 personal values. They posted them up on a window, and picked the 5 that collectively reflected the group.
By not taking the time to do a similar exercise, you can get into a lot of trouble when you start to grow. Your team will start adopting behavior’s that may be out of line with the core values, and these kinds of behaviors can be almost impossible to undo. This can be extremely detrimental if your company exhibits hyper-growth. Hiring too quickly without setting the values or defining the culture can allow for your business to go completely off the rails, and most importantly, start forgetting where you came from, and why you started.
This leads to a very important question. Why did you start your business? I’m assuming you have found something your passionate about, so how to you capture it? Think about what gap you’re filling, what market are you helping, and why you are helping them. This is the essence that you want to capture for the rest of your companies history. This will set your core values and will naturally start to define your culture.
Simon Sinek highlights this beautifully in his book Start With Why. He explains that a leaders must actively remind employees why the company exists, and most importantly, make them accountable to the values. He even goes to far to say that incentives should be tied to values, which surprisingly is not common practice, but makes a ton of sense.
Unfortunately, too often I’ve seen employees rewarded for behaviors that are out of line with the values (they are usually inline with increases to the bottom line) which then single handedly derails culture. Companies start to lose their purpose as they start to grow because they don’t clearly define it from the beginning.
A key point that we often overlook is that your values are not to be compromised when opportunity for financial gain arises. This can be detrimental to your business, product and credibility. In it’s rush to keep up with Samsung, Apple launched the iphone 5 too quickly, and was not well received by long time Apple customers. Apple has built their business around quality and high standards, and it has become something their users expect. The long-term effect it had on their core customers was a far greater risk than the short term financial gain it had on Samsung.
What does this mean for you?
If you have a start-up or are thinking of starting one, begin to think about your personal values. Start to notice and highlight how your values direct your behaviors, attitudes, relationships and actions. All behaviors, from how you communicate, to how you vote, to what you read, to how you spend your weekends, can be attributed to your own core values.
By understanding your own behaviors, you will be better able to communicate it to your team. Using the values for when you hire is crucial, and as a leader, your role is to ensure that the values are being driven into your team’s behaviors.
Chesky states in his article that “when you live the values you don’t have to be reliant on heavy processes”. Makes sense since when your culture is starting to build and everyone has the values built into their ways of working, you start to rely on trust, and this is where every company wants to be.
If you’re growing your start-up, ensure that you have locked in your values as these will become the bedrock for your culture. This simple exercise will ensure sustainable long-term growth.
Guest Post by Gillian Davis
Gillian Davis is Author of First Time Leader: Foundational Tools to Inspire and Enable Your New Team. She is passionate about attracting, recruiting and attaining talent into hyper-growth companies. She runs First Time Leader, a coaching, training & development company that helps new managers avoid management traps by providing them with business strategies that enable them to be leaders.