Question: How do you maintain values and company culture as your startup begins to grow?
Question by: Ashley
Hold All Feet to the Fire
"Values and culture are only as strong as the Kool-Aid. If you make exceptions or continuously act, live or lead outside of the parameters you've set for your brand, it gets diluted. Develop values with leader buy-in and employee feedback. Hold yourself and the team accountable for not living or demonstrating them. Create a litmus test to say, "Does this fit with our culture?" If not, don't do it."
Remember Where You Came From
"As you grow and become more successful, never, ever forget what values and ideals got you to where you are. Embrace your roots and never forget why you started your company and why you instilled those values in the first place. Being consistent with the identity of your business throughout its growth is critically important."
Culture Must Be Universal
"Culture should be the guiding principle behind all new hires, and I believe in talking about culture on the first day a person comes on board. Second, empower other leaders in your organization to think about culture in their own way and to reinforce it within their own teams. Culture should not flow from the top-down -- it's everybody's responsibility to reflect upon and talk about your culture."
Hiring AND Firing
"As you grow, it is critical that you hire the right team members that embody the culture you want to drive in your organization. If you get the right people on the bus -- and the wrong people off -- it's much easier to stay true to the values of the business and keep growing. "
Assess Each Employee
"Each new employee should compliment or add to the existing values and culture at the startup. Culture fit is an important part of the hiring process, if they are hired and ultimately are not a good fit or become a detriment to the existing culture, they should be removed immediately. Hire slowly, fire quickly."
Build and Maintain
"I've always felt that no startup truly has their culture figured out, and that the goal should not be to maintain culture but rather to continue building it. I've tried hard to ask myself, in what ways could our culture be better, and what kinds of hires are likely to help us improve in those dimensions?"
Codify your Values
"Two companies do this incredibly well: Zappos and MBNA America. Not many young entrepreneurs will know the latter; MBNA is a credit card company that was bought a few years ago. Above every doorway in their office was a sign that said, "Think of yourself as a customer." All companies should clearly define their values; if they are front-and-center, no one will question how to act."
Do Not Compromise!
"As companies begin to scale new opportunities to forge new business partnerships, make sure everyone knows exactly what you stand for. The team also needs to adopt an uncompromising attitude towards their beliefs. If the core team embodies these values, it's easier for a thriving culture to grow. "
Don't Poison the Well
"Be vigilant about the people you hire. Make it clear which characteristics you expect, and be ruthless in making sure those get fulfilled. One bad hire not only hurts your productivity and growth, but it can also "poison the well" and create a sour environment for the rest of your team."
Lead by Example
"For instance, if your startup places primary importance on lifestyle balance, lead by example. Instead of taking tons of money out for your new Ferrari, give it back to the team for gym memberships, retreats, or beer on Friday afternoons. Set rigid hours for yourself, and stick to them. Whatever values you want to instill, embrace them yourself, and the rest will follow suit."
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.