Culture, culture, culture… intended or not- it is always there! So instead of ignoring it, why not proactively manage your organisational culture and ensure it provides opportunities for growth and success?

In my last post, I explained that culture can be seen as the internal threats and opportunities of organisations. Once you get the right culture, it drives great results. If start-ups get it wrong, the culture can hinder success and risk sustainability, as the window of opportunities is short.

There is no perfect culture, but there are cultural characteristics that can support or hinder success.

In this post, I would like to share with you some examples of common cultural characteristics that can jeopardise the future of your start-up.

Signs of cultural characteristics to watch for

  • The problem-solving culture– this culture is seen in start-ups that are managed by technical founders that often “fall in love” with solving technological challenges. These companies are highly focused on specific technology tasks and solving challenging problems. I have worked with teams that were proud in this culture. For people that love problem-solving, they find themselves engaged in what they are doing best and time flies fast when you are having fun. However, when not managed correctly, this culture has a critical downside. Once the focus is solely on problem-solving technology challenges, many teams “forget” the big picture (the problem the start-up was established to solve) and the clients’ needs receive a low priority. When the market and client needs receive low priority, how will the start-up grow and succeed?
  • The visionary culture– this culture is seen in start-ups that are managed by visionary and charismatic founder/s who have great ideas and focus mainly on the big picture. They run ahead fast with multiple ideas and leave a trail of “mess” behind them. The concepts are great, employees are inspired, the environment is fun, no day looks like the day before… But, in this culture we often see the lack of strategic planning and planning in general, so for the long term, this is a great risk. No planning, no results! I had some discussions about it with founders who believe that start-up shouldn’t have plans, that strategy doesn’t apply to start-ups. If you don’t have goals and don’t plan how to achieve them- where are you heading?
  • The lifestyle culture– this culture is seen when lifestyle entrepreneurs build start-ups to allow them to live the life they love and are passionate about what they do. The positive about this culture is that it includes a lot of passion, however, it sometimes also emphasises outside hobbies (such as surfing), which then can “allow” employees to be comfortable, reactive and less productive. I can assure you that start-ups with this cultural characteristic could have grown much bigger and have a larger base of happy clients, if only the focus was external and not on the life style of the founders and employees.
  • Small business mentality – is a culture that encourages thinking is small scales- establishing a business that works and not looking to stretching the company to different markets, products, sizes.
  • The conservative corporate culture– is built on power and structure, defined roles and responsibilities. In this culture, the founders manage the organisation by trying to duplicate the systems of big organisations. Employees work within their defined roles and responsibilities, there is a lack of cross team work and the management leads the strategy and product direction, often with limited feedback from the team. These start-ups tend to be less agile and engaging, with a higher employee churn.

What if I recognise one of these signs in my start-up?

Each one of the above cultural characteristics can bring the results you don’t want to see…

The first point to remember is that the start-up’s culture is built by the founders! Whether intentionally or unconsciously, the founders as role models to the start-up’s employees set the cultural tone. And as the start-up grows and goes through different stages, the culture changes (or should change) as well. So, you have control on the culture and can change it as the start-up evolves.

The second point to keep in mind is that as with everything else in life, culture is about finding the right balance. You can enjoy problem-solving, engage with brainstorming and visioning activities, but need to ensure it is balanced with market and client engagement and that your employees know what they need to achieve and are focused on that goal.

What cultural characteristics you should develop in your start-up and how to lead culture are the topics of my next two posts.

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Want to share your thoughts about culture and start-up? I would love to hear from you.