Creating a Positive Work Culture for Startups

Business leaders and entrepreneurs are immensely appreciated and rewarded by their stakeholders (customers, partners, regulators etc.) when their employees work with such grace and gusto. They demonstrate contagious enthusiasm that comes through in every transaction and engagement.


For Startups, the expectation is even higher i.e. stakeholders expect employees working in Startups or Owner Managers themselves, to demonstrate much more grace and gusto in every relation and transaction. The reason is obvious; they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


A work culture permeated with such grace and enthusiasm is not a coincidence or a mere reflection of the Founder or Owner Manager’s personality. It is a result of deliberately creating an environment that fosters a high sense of ownership, excellence, customer-centric orientation, and openness. Each of these concepts forms the bedrock for a positive culture for both startups and corporations built to last.


We can take a further look at each of these fundamentals and explore practical insights for all Startups.


High Sense of Ownership – Owner Managers and Startups must find ways of getting each employee to have an owner’s mindset. This can be achieved in many ways beyond share schemes. Employees can be empowered to take decisions within the job limits or without the attendant bureaucratic tenets of large corporations. In addition to this, prompt exchange of information across the business also facilitates a high sense of ownership. The experiences of the business across its various life cycle must be shared with all employees. This way, employees will not only take ownership of the problems and challenges of the business, they will also take responsibility for solving these problems and challenges.


Excellence –It’s been said that the “biggest room in the world is the room for improvement1. The best time to institute a culture of excellence in a business is when the business is still in its Startup phase. At this phase, Startups can dare to take calculated risk, take on huge projects, confront the status quo, go the extra mile and stretch beyond set limits. Employees can build shared experiences of what excellence means to the business and this can then be a reference point in the future.


Customer-Centric Orientation – Over the years, we have learnt that all solutions we will ever need lies within us. Whilst not disputing this notion, Startups must be flexible to adopt an “Outside-In” approach to their processes and operations. Processes should not be an end but a means to delivering exceptional value to customers and all stakeholders of the business. Employees in Startup businesses must therefore understand the value universe of the customer, the critical touch points where value can be enhanced and how their own activities can be designed to deliver value at each touch points.


Openness – Startups must embrace the attitude of being open. Open to customers and employees, open to vendors and third-party service providers, and any other stakeholder whose decision or indecision will affect their business. Openness will require employees to be candid with one another, be willing to give and take feedback, and be willing to collaborate and share ideas with one another. Owner Managers and Founders of Startups must embody this openness and cascade same across the business.


These four fundamental concepts will go a long way in creating a positive culture for every Startup business. Any resource (time, money, network, capital) invested in building up and enhancing these fundamentals will significantly impact on the level of engagement, depth of innovation and breadth of creativity that Startup businesses can bring to the table.