By Brent Drever, President & Co-Founder
Growth-stage companies are so busy growing the business that the company culture can often become an afterthought. Many CEOs don’t realize that the company culture can be a strategic tool to help with growth, even becoming a competitive advantage to companies in sectors that are challenging to stand out. Strong organizational culture allows the team to accomplish goals that sometimes feel unachievable and is a powerful way to bring people together at the same time.
When growth-stage companies put considerable energy into operations and keep everyone’s head above water, having an established company culture is imperative to ensure everyone is holding themselves and each other accountable. If everyone on the team is fully supporting and living the mission, it shouldn’t feel like more work; rather, it will be natural to the team members and feel like an extension of their genuine beliefs. If certain team members feel like the company culture is more work, as the leader, you have to ask yourself if there is a mismatch in the culture alignment of the team.
As a company grows, it is typical for the organization to not directly address culture or define its terms–and those terms and actions need to come from leadership first. So what makes for strong company culture? Here are a few questions to ask (and answer) to determine what your company culture embraces:
What are our standards on how we operate? Standards define how a company acts, which, in turn, builds trust in a brand. For example, they can be regulatory, like ensuring a business follows FDA protocol. They can be voluntary rules to create confidence among clients that a company operates at a high and consistent quality level, like compostable containers to eliminate environmental impact. Everyone needs to buy into the value of set standards, so everyone pulls in the same direction and reinforces the brand.
What are our moral and ethical standards? If leadership is cutting corners, employees will most likely do the same. A company’s moral integrity needs to be insisted upon at the highest management levels to maintain respect and employee confidence. Furthermore, good business ethics can reduce employee turnover since people are more likely to stay with an organization they perceive to be acting ethically and doing good in the world. Operational standards are also closely tied with ethical ones.
How do we treat each other to demonstrate respect? If you want team members to feel respected and valued, fostering a spirit of inclusion where they are confident their ideas will be heard is a good start. This is also beneficial to the organization as a whole. Often miscommunication and mistakes happen because people see potential problems but are hesitant to speak up. It could be the fear of questioning someone who is their senior or who has more expertise, and there could be a backlash. You can start to avoid such problems when you encourage an atmosphere where people feel comfortable challenging things that don’t look right. You have a culture where everyone gets to know each other, enjoys working together and respects one another.
How do we engage with each other? Some companies have an order in which ideas are filtered, where others have an open door policy. Some communication works better in smaller teams, especially when detail-oriented, where other forms of communication and engagement are better as a larger company collective—knowing the best way to communicate while respecting everyone’s opinions while providing constructive advice.
Addressing these questions helps leadership in growth-stage companies emphasize culture, and they are more likely to succeed. When we see organizations with inferior cultures, they lack simple things like trust and accountability. There seems to be a genuine disrespect for each other–the work suffers because people get sloppy. And more times than not, the motivation is short-lived, and the organization starts to fall apart. So we like to focus on culture with the companies that we work with to say, “How do you want the management team to operate together?”
Culture can be used as a strategic advantage, which keeps everybody moving in the direction that you believe will be beneficial to the company.
If you want a team focused on execution, innovation, or delivering results, culture helps further that strategic advantage. More so, you can leverage it for recruiting, retaining employees, and getting new customers. An organization can only be as strong as all of its moving parts, so it is important to consider culture as a business foundation.
Manna Tree knows the impact a healthy and robust culture can have on the growth and value of a company. It’s why we put attention on this area with our firm and all of our portfolio companies. Leadership training, clear objectives and values, and frequent team experiences all help drive the competitive advantages for the Manna Tree ecosystem.