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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

7 Ways to Build a Strong Company Culture for Startups and New Businesses

Creating a vibrant and enduring company culture from the ground up is no small feat, especially for new endeavors like startups navigating growth and innovation challenges.


Just to be clear, company culture isn't about beanbag chairs, free lunches, or a ping-pong table (although those can be perks).


For startups and new businesses, it's about forging a foundation that fosters innovation, attracts top talent, and weathers the inevitable storms of rapid growth. That’s why a well-crafted culture is pivotal, acting as the backbone of any successful organization.

 

A diverse team of professionals unites hands over a wooden table covered with business charts and a laptop, symbolizing teamwork and collaboration in startup culture.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast

As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, a strong strategy in an organization with a weak culture will not succeed.


Here are 7 well-proven actionable strategies to help new companies forge a strong company culture.


1. Define Your Core Vision and the Mission Statement

Clarity is key. Begin by articulating compelling core values that will function as your moral compass in regular and challenging times. These values should influence the decision-making process and every interaction within the company and outward. There are no shortcuts here: the core values should always be respected and honored, even when it seems harder to do so sometimes.


The core values will address the mission statement or the “Why,” as Simon Sinek well defined in his book “Start with Why.” The mission statement, a crucial element, articulates the company's purpose, answering the fundamental question of why the organization exists. It's like the Constitution of a Nation, serving as an explicit declaration of the company's goals, philosophy, and the unique value it seeks to provide to its customers.


2. Lead by Example

Once a company has defined values and a mission statement, the founding team and leaders play a pivotal role. They have the (not always) easy task of embodying those core values and culture daily. Their behavior sets the tone for the entire organization, demonstrating what is valued and expected and avoiding the trap of privileged behaviors. When leaders walk the talk (or, even better, when they walk before the talk), it resonates throughout the startup, encouraging others to follow suit.


3. Hire for Cultural Fit

New companies struggle to find the best talent; sometimes, they seek the most competent people. There is nothing wrong with that, but while skills and experience are essential, hiring individuals who align with your culture and values is even more crucial. The reason is simple: skills can be taught, but a deep-seated alignment with the company’s core values ensures a harmonious and productive work environment. It is a long-lasting investment.


4. Foster Psychological Safety

Innovation thrives in environments where employees feel heard and safe to take risks, experiment, and even fail. Failures and mistakes can be interpreted as learning opportunities, not a career killer. Psychological safety has become one of the most essential features in companies because it empowers employees to voice their ideas, leading to better problem-solving and a culture of continuous improvement. Regular check-ins, all-hands meetings, open communication, and open-door policies can foster transparency and inclusivity, making team members feel valued and heard.


5. Promote Diversity and Inclusion

The coral reef is my favorite example of diversity because it is among the most varied and biologically complex ecosystems on the planet, supporting an extraordinary number of species, all contributing to the reef system's resilience and functionality. The same is true for companies. Diversity in backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, and experiences fuels innovation and problem-solving, making a startup more resilient and adaptable (you can read more about the power of diversity here).


6. Make Work-Life Integration a Priority

I know: startup founders and SME owners have multiple roles and thinking about work-life balance is probably the last of their priorities. However, an approach of continuous “all-in” can be counterproductive. Imagine a high-performance engine. To function optimally, it needs regular maintenance – oil changes, filter replacements, tune-ups – and by neglecting those, eventually, it will not be able to perform at its best or at all. 

Burnout is a real threat, not a buzzword. Promoting healthy work-life integration by encouraging employees to take breaks, utilize vacation time, and disconnect after work hours can make the difference between effectiveness and stalemate. And when more effort is needed, everyone will be fully charged, motivated, and ready to contribute.


7. Invest in Learning and Development

Technology moves fast, and skills can quickly become outdated. Thus, investing in the professional development of team members is like paving the way to lasting success. At the same time, companies will demonstrate their commitment and attention to employees' growth and career aspirations, boosting motivation and a sense of belonging.

 

Company Culture is the Root

A startup is like a towering oak – its roots firmly anchored in a foundation of solid company culture. Through this root system (the culture), the organization receives the nourishment to fuel innovation, the resilience to weather storms, and the shade that attracts top talent to thrive within its branches.


That’s why startup founders and SME leaders should not settle for a flimsy sapling. It would compromise their growth and the already complex journey toward long-lasting success.


Which of these strategies will you prioritize first? Share your thoughts in the comments below.




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