Slides. Ping pong. Work from home. No offices. Free beer. This is how we often describe startup company cultures. Descriptive nouns often hiding what they really are -- benefits or perks; cool stuff we get. THIS does not a company culture make. Founders are always asking me how to create culture. And entrepreneurs are always writing about it. But no one's actually ever defined it. What is startup company culture?Want a culture that sustains? Want to built a culture that impacts your business? Don't start with perks.
Culture has existed as long as America itself and our nation building efforts. We weren’t one nation—we were, in fact, eleven regional nations from east to west competing for land, allegiance and superiority. We know how the story went: resulting in our Declaration for Independence. But what’s hidden in that story are the cultures—how they form and why they sustain.
Once-upon-a-time startups Zappos, Hubspot and Netflix have made company culture popular. They’ve created manifestos, preached core values and shown that culture actually impacts business. But cultures don’t just happen. The same regional nations that eventually became the United States we know today had specific cultural attributes that defined who they were and why they lasted.
Strong cultures have clear values that are easily defined. And those definitions are both consistent and known by everyone who is a part of the culture. The modern day Tea Party is a perfect example of this—whether you agree with them or not they are exceptionally clear about what they stand for and owe the rise in their movement to this.
It’s one thing to have values and define what you stand for. But strong cultures also have rules and hold members of the tribe accountable to those rules. The El Norte culture occupying much of the Southwest in the 1600s and beyond followed a Spanish tradition of crucifying one of their own each year for Lent. As horrific as it sounds, it was a part of the Spanish culture they were trying to maintain in the Americas and they followed it religiously.
Culture requires vision. Today’s American Indian tribes are united in their culture and preserving tradition. But that’s not enough to keep them sustained. For cultures to survive there has to be potential, a continued vision for growth and prosperity -- which is why casinos and other business ventures are so important and can make or break a tribe.
Leaders have to live and model the culture. When John Smith first arrived in Jamestown, he had the colonists work in the field for six hours each day. They hated this and it led to the demise of the culture. They didn’t respect their leader and turned on him and each other when things got bad.
Without a sense of pride in membership, culture means nothing. Just consider the Fourth of July. The fireworks, the flags, the feeling of being a part of something and claiming membership to something not everyone can—that’s culture.