DIY Management: 5 ways to build an effective startup culture

Want to build a strong startup culture? Values come first

Cultural Ties

Stephen Shen, chief technology officer of MuseFind Technologies Inc., a Vancouver-headquartered developer of influencer marketing software, and workplace culture consultant Lorie Corcuera, CEO of Spark Creations and Co. Inc., also in Vancouver, discuss how to build an effective startup culture

1. Define what you stand for
Look at the company’s values and the image you want to reflect, Shen says. “Start with the founders sitting down and figuring out what that looks like,” he advises. “Your core values are what’s most important to you as the founder or entrepreneur and your organization,” Corcuera agrees. A company’s values always start with the founder because that’s who had the original idea and understood where the product or the service was going to go, she explains.

2. Hire like-minded people
“Our recommendation, first steps first, is that pretty much your number one or second person you hire is someone who really can support you through your culture,” Corcuera says. “For us, we want to promote thought leadership, we want to be the young, hip brand out there, and so that’s the kind of people we want to attract onto our team,” notes Shen. “To support that, we try to bring the team together. We always go back also to our mission and what we want to do.”

3. Instill the culture
As you bring on more people, the culture keeps evolving, Shen observes. “It’s different for every company, because the individuals that come in, they all bring new values and new ways of doing things,” he says. “But the core, of course, stays the same, so whoever joins one of our teams, we make sure we onboard them correctly and also align with those values going forward.” Corcuera suggests creating “culture experience programs”—for example, an orientation process with activities that help new employees understand the company’s values.

4. Involve the team
Keep the team empowered and involved, because ultimately the culture is for everyone, Shen advises. “It’s not just the founders or the management who say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this, like it or not,'” he notes. “Never force it on [people], because it will be artificial and will never stick.” MuseFind has polls for employees in its Slack channels to help get people involved. “Everyone’s always welcome to give an opinion, and we go from there,” Shen says.

5. Do a culture review
“It’s almost like a performance review, but it’s for the whole company,” Corcuera says. “You can do that quarterly or annually, but it’s important to check to see how did we do—did we live our values?” MuseFind does an informal review. “We want to make sure everything still lines up with what we believe in,” Shen says. “At the end of the year, every team would have a 360 review, so everybody goes around giving feedback and compliments and also revisits those values.”