One of the most important things about a company in its early months and years is its culture. Successful companies have a very distinct culture, a voice, a vibe that’s unmistakable. When people or processes or other entities infringe or violate the emerging culture, you have to eliminate these things at all costs.
Why is Culture important?
A distinct and vibrant company culture will postpone the inevitable insurgency of office politics and bureaucracy. All companies eventually get bogged down by bureaucracy to some degree...the key is to postpone this day as long as possible. More on this topic later.
A strong culture makes it easier for everybody involved in the company to deal with stressful situations, long hours, and other worklife pain.
Strong cultures foster better overall efforts at beating the competition. It's more fun if everybody feels like WE are winning, not just "the guy in the corner office seems to be happy that he is winning" or even worse, "look at that loser in the corner office, he thinks he's winning!"
When you don’t have a strong culture, you get:
- Bureaucracy. Without an implicit understanding of how things work around here, everything has to be explicitly articulated, documented, and instructed.
- Office politics. Companies with a very clear vibe or feel to them find that politics don’t encroach on the landscape as quickly as companies without a distinct culture. Probably because people start sniping or backbiting when uncertainty and policy are the order of the day.
- Beat by the competition.There's not as strong a desire to win, to beat the competition, because there's simply not as strong a sense of a distinctive US that's trying to beat THEM. It's fun when everybody wants to win, it's painful and boring when management wants to win and everybody else wants to get paid and find a more interesting place to work.
A marker virus for trouble early in a company's life is a fake culture. We've all been in these environments where the leadership is trying to force a sense of spirit and excitement into the environment and everybody can sense that it's forced. I think investors should try to look for more signs of this kind of thing earlier in a company's life. It's a sure sign of trouble.
How do you foster culture?
Frankly, I'm not sure, but I'll take a couple of guesses. You foster culture through transparency and honesty across the organization. You foster culture by being diligent about the company's external voice, so that everybody gets a sense of how we want to consistently portray ourselves in the market. You foster culture by picking the couple things you are going to focus on doing an A+ job on from day one, and then show everybody that you are committed to those things through deeds, not words.