Don’t Let These Common Culture Mistakes Ruin Your Startup

Mar 30, 2020

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Don’t Let These Common Culture Mistakes Ruin Your Startup

As a healthcare founder, you’re likely dreaming about scale and building the perfect team. But did you know the success of that ‘dream team’ depends as much on skill as it does on how closely the team adheres to company values?

Creating a strong company culture from the start

When Boris Jordanov was ready to scale and grow his Brentwood, Tennessee-based IT consulting firm, FrontGate Technology Solutions, he turned to the experts at the Nashville Entrepreneurs’ Organization. But even through all their coaching, there was one lesson he wasn’t sold on.

“They were always talking about the importance of culture,” Jordanov said. “Like it was life or death. Initially, I didn’t believe it. But the more I do this, the more I realize that a strong culture is absolutely essential.”

Creating the right culture can mean the difference between a successful startup and a shuttered one. But too often, startup founders don’t prioritize the process of culture-building and instead make the false assumption that the right culture will develop in time. That assumption is at least half right, says Chad Parodi, CEO of XMI, a Nashville, Tennessee-based Professional Employer Organization, which provides human resources services to small and mid-sized companies nationwide.

Drawing on more than 40 years of combined experience working in and with startups, Jordanov and Parodi share a few common culture mistakes to avoid when building a new company.

You haven’t established clearly-defined core values

No matter how long you’ve been in business or how few employees you have—all companies should have core values. A company’s core values are the foundation for, well, everything.

“If you don’t have a clear idea of your core values, then your ability to grow and scale will be on shaky ground,” Parodi said. “This foundation has to be firmly set before adding employees.”

No two startups will have the same set of core values, so you can’t just borrow a slick list you find online. Instead, take the time to ask yourself questions like these: What key qualities would you want every team member to possess—no matter their role? What drives your business decisions? Are there certain fundamentals you’re not willing to compromise?

You’re not activating core values on a daily basis

If culture is important, and core values are the basis for culture, then it stands to reason that core values should play a daily role in your startup. But it’s a common mistake to write down the core values… and stop there. Startups that create core values usually do a pretty good job of talking the talk—displaying core values in the office lobby, for example—but they fall short of walking the walk.

“You can’t just write them down and put them on the wall,” Parodi says. “You have to activate them. You have to make sure you are reinforcing them, talking about them, catching people in the act of living them out, and rewarding them when they do.”

At XMI, all daily huddles start with “Core Value Callouts,” a simple, fill-in-the-blank card that allows anyone in the organization to applaud anyone else for exhibiting one of XMI’s core values. These cards get collected and the team member with the most core value callouts each month wins a cash prize and a trophy for their workstation.

Skillset outweighs cultural fit in hiring decisions

Jordanov has eight employees at FrontGate Technology Solutions. With the exception of his very first hire, everyone is still there. He credits his still-evolving hiring philosophy for such a high success rate.

Parodi agrees, and recommends companies use their core values to guide the hiring process.

“Too often founders are tempted to hire based on skillset, but ultimately you want to hire people who fit your core values,” Parodi said. “If you have someone who is super skillful but is the antithesis of your core values, they’re not going to be there very long. You can continue to add skills, but you’re never going to be able to teach someone to embrace your core values if they don’t want to.”

While you dream of scale and growth, spend your time in equal measure thinking about your core values. Your ability to scale and grow depends on it!

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