Much has been said about how it takes equal parts hard work and dumb luck to turn a good idea into a viable business. However, when it comes to startups, there’s no set or specific recipe for success — there’s no “secret sauce” that you can pour into a business incubator and end up with a fully-functional startup, especially considering how even the most well-thought-out startups can crash and burn for seeming any reason.
By the same token, however, there are some things that are universal when it comes to successful startups. For any organization to flourish, a positive environment needs to be present — one that encourages trust and open communication between employees and management, and between your startup and the outside world as a whole. Ensuring that such an environment exists within your own startup is often easier said than done, especially for those new to the process of running a business.
Yet it’s not impossible to foster a culture of communication and trust within your own startup environment. In fact, there are some highly effective methods for accomplishing just that very goal, regardless of what specific business sector or industry your startup inhabits. These universal methods will help ensure your startup establish a healthy culture of which you and your workers can be proud, and one that will, more likely than not, pave the way towards increasing your odds of success.
What a Positive Culture Provides Your Startup
First, let’s establish some parameters, such as why you would need to cultivate a culture of trust and openness within your startup in the first place. While this may seem rather self-explanatory, the idea that a startup environment would need to have such a positive culture might be hard to grasp by more results-oriented business owners that feel designing a product or service and bringing it to the marketplace should be your first — and only — priority.
The argument against making the development of a startup’s positive culture is fairly straightforward, in that it seems like devoting time and energy to something that doesn’t specifically reflect a startup’s bottom line is a waste of resources. Time spent on any activities that don’t translate to direct movement towards this goal are wasted opportunities to the results-oriented, and there is a case to be made for prioritization. Yet the importance of establishing a positively-positioned culture for your startup means that the results-oriented approach couldn’t be further than the truth.
In actuality, there are some very strong advantages to having a well-developed company culture. These advantages aren’t as amorphous as you might consider, either. In fact, they’re rather concrete, as they include helping to define a strong identity and value set, to solidify a brand identity, and even to help attract and retain strong talent. Upon a more detailed examination of the issue, it becomes easier to see, with much more clarity, how all of these benefits are highly desirable to any startup — and how devoting resources to achieving these benefits are goals worthy of being pursued even if they don’t seem to have a “direct”, quantifiable benefit.
The First Step: Establish Transparency
If you want your startup to have the best chance of developing into a fully thriving business, one of the first things you’ll need to do when it comes to developing a positive culture is to establish the importance of transparency. Specifically, you need to ensure that you adopt a leadership style that prioritizes transparency when it comes to interacting with your workers, and that employees are not only permitted to understand the management and operational processes but they are invited to do so.
Every company, large, small, and in between, lives and dies by the quality of the relationship it has between its employees and its management. Opaque leadership — one that relies on not informing your talent of developments within the company but simply instructing them on what projects to work on and when to have them completed — creates a feeling of disconnect between workers and management. This can all too easily lead to employees feeling less valued, which in turn damages engagement and reduces productivity. In fact, workers who feel like the company they work for only wants them to show up, sit down, and shut up aren’t the most motivated of employees.
Transparent leadership does more than just preventing these negative mindsets from manifesting. Opaque leadership tends to discourage employees from engaging and thus prevents these employees from being their most productive. On the contrary, transparent leadership’s positive influences on a startup’s workers are much the opposite. Companies that provide high levels of transparency to their employees report better relationships with talent, increased employee alignment when it comes to their understanding of the specific role they play in the company, and, most importantly, higher overall engagement and productivity.
The Second Step: Embrace Honesty
Once you’ve established that your startup’s culture will prioritize transparency in its internal dealings between workers and management, it’s time to build on that success by integrating a policy of honesty in your dealings with employees as well. It’s an important step towards ensuring that your place of work develops and maintains a reputation for integrity, early in its existence. Like the old saying goes, honesty is the best policy, and every startup can benefit from developing and maintaining a reputation for honesty and fair-mindedness.
Fostering honesty, it turns out, is not nearly as difficult as you might think. Employees that know they aren’t just free to voice their opinions about a project or an issue but that they’re encouraged and expected to is empowering. This is especially important when employees know any viable alternatives they may have in regards to the resolution of a specific issue will be given a fair shake by management. Additionally, leaders that communicate honestly with their workers on both the positive and negative aspects of things like performance are more likely to earn the respect of their employees, even if the core message may be hard to hear at times.
It’s important to note that in this context, honesty and transparency are not one and the same, even though the two are, of course, interrelated. That being said, however, you can still provide honest feedback to an employee without having a policy of general transparency in place when it comes to revealing the inner workings of management, after all. Meanwhile, pulling back the curtain of your startup and showcasing to workers how policy decisions are made, for instance, might be transparent, but unless you provide them accurate information — or limit their ability to prevent exposing negative aspects of your startup — it’s certainly not honest.
The Third Step: Encourage Cooperation and Collaboration
Unless you’re a sole proprietor, your startup is going to be at minimum a small collection of individuals who are working towards a common goal — creating a product or a service for public consumption. This means you’re going to have to take steps to ensure each individual has the tools needed to work together with others in a positive manner.The ideal way to encourage collaboration is to take steps to highlight the importance of cooperation between employees and between workers and management. This goes double for startups that want to develop a positive company culture.
One of the most effective methods for reinforcing the importance of cooperation and collaboration are, unsurprisingly, team-based training and education. With so much of nearly every startup’s business model relying heavily on effective teamwork, anything that focuses on developing teamwork skills will naturally focus on how team members can communicate and collaborate better with one another and how bilateral communication between teams and management can help keep a project on course. While much of this can be accomplished by targeted team-building training, the use of support tools like internal project management and communication tools also aid in encouraging the implementation of better collaboration.
Effective teamwork does go farther than simple communication and collaboration, of course. It requires strong leadership, one that involves some of the other facets of a positive company culture that’s been discussed above. Ensuring that workers are treated with honesty and that processes are transparent are just a few crucial steps to supporting productive teamwork. These aren’t the only components of a positive company culture, though, as indicated by the other facets described below.
The Fourth Step: Ensure You Have High Levels of Organization
Building on the previous three points, it’s time to discuss the role of the organization in your startup. While any business needs to be organized effectively in order to provide for higher levels of overall productivity, startups need to be even more highly organized in order to help smooth out the inevitable bumps in the road ahead — especially since this road is fraught with potential business-ending disasters.
However, while it’s obvious that keeping a startup organized is integral to its overall success, it may seem less clear at first blush why a strong organizational structure helps to contribute, specifically, to your overall culture of communication and trust. This becomes clear with just a bit of thought, though. Well-established avenues for communication between workers and management is a requirement for ensuring both high-functioning employees and ones that feel engaged and valued by the company as a whole. This makes high levels of organization a multipurpose tool that benefits your startup in a myriad of ways.
There are a number of organizational structures you can adopt to help provide a framework for your startup. Not every organizational approach is created equal, though. Traditional, hierarchical structures with employees at the base of the pyramid, separated by supervisors and managers from the CEO at the pinnacle may be the norm. However, research has shown that alternative approaches – such as the more decentralized movement known as holacratic management – have proven to be just as effective, if not more so, than traditional organizational structures.
The Fifth Step: Putting it All Together
Researching and implementing even one of these steps discussed above can be a major undertaking. However, the bare truth is that any startup that strives to be a successful one (in other words, all of them) needs to have these processes put into place in a cohesive network to supercharge your chances of making it out in the highly competitive, all-too-cutthroat world of business.
While this figure will differ depending on the specific industry or sub-sector, it’s well-established that around 90% of startups fail within their first year. There are, of course, a number of contributing factors – from incompetence to lack of experience to a CEO suffering from personal problems – but ensuring that your startup has a strong foundation in the form of communication and trust will do more than provide internal benefit. These same values, reinforced and celebrated by employees and management alike, will inform your company’s reputation and your brand image with every interaction with vendors, clients, investors, or anyone else you cooperate with in a professional capacity.
No one ever said that starting your own business would be easy. At the same time, it’s also unlikely that anyone told you, specifically, just how much goes into getting a startup off the ground entails in actuality, nor how integral it will be for your startup to adopt and reinforce a culture of communication and trust. Yet despite the high level of difficulty — and the simple truth that there’s a massively high casualty rate among startups — it’s certainly not impossible to achieve success. With a solid plan that puts the focus on providing employees the tools to achieve high levels of engagement and productivity and more than your fair share of luck, your startup can beat the odds as well.