Anyone who has actually lived it knows that startup life is hard. The success stories of Silicon Valley unicorns makes some outsiders think it’s all glamour, check-cashing and massive IPOs. But the reality is that the early days are always a grind — and this stage can last for years.
One of the tradeoffs for the long hours put in by employees, however, are the cultural benefits. Startups generally lack the stodgy, button-up environment and strict stipulations mandated by Fortune 500 employee handbooks. Everyone working for a startup knows you have to work hard, but most founders know that downtime and having a rewarding life away from the office is an absolute must.
It won’t be easy. Few companies seamlessly find the right blend between being a boot-strapping collective that does things its own way and implementing some of the proven corporate practices that are necessary to actually building a profitable business. The following culture hacks will help achieve that ideal balance:
State Your Values
Two things are critical to early startup success: getting buy in from your employees and not losing that trust. The younger, bright people you want to hire generally don’t work for just a paycheck. That doesn’t mean you need to save the whales, but it does mean that the organization needs some clearly stated — and steadfastly-followed — values.
This requires establishing a few non-negotiable principles. Shoemaker TOMS embeds some charitable language in its core value statement, while Slack has said, “we’re on a mission to make your working life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.” Both clearly communicate the company’s reason for existing, and that is the goal. Because, if the founders don’t know why they are getting out of bed to work so hard everyday, neither will anybody else.
IT Decisions and BYOD
There is nothing that makes workers feel more like corporate drones than having an IT guy set them up with all sorts of equipment that already seems outdated by three years. Startup employees expect modern tools and prefer using sleek laptops, convenient tablets and state-of-the-art mobile phones.
For this reason, it’s often best to let people use their own choice of phone for work. The “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend that big companies are still grappling with is generally just how things get done at startups. You need to have some protocols and security measures in place, of course, but don’t force ancient equipment that is hard to use on your employees. Or, for those who are receptive, buy them a work tool that they are guaranteed to adore. For example, the LG V20 is one option that even has a dual SIM card that allows employees to completely separate their work and personal lives on one device.
If you reach the point of having hundreds of employees, you will need a more rigid, hierarchical structure. But until you’re pulling in millions of dollars in profits every quarter, there is usually no reason to be overly reliant on management trees.
The focus should instead be on everyone having specific duties and responsibilities. They will need to have a direct report for logistical purposes, but don’t get bogged down in department structure. It often just leads to petty workplace politics and interpersonal tugs of war that divert attention and efforts away from daily improvement.
You want your employees to feel like they are working for the company and its overall mission — not doing the day-to-day bidding of some boss. Don’t box people in. Let them grow and evolve in their role. Make them feel like innovating, productivity, and fixing problems is their real job. Ultimately, maximizing the contributions of every employee is at the core of any winning culture, and you want to do everything you can to work toward that goal.