Crossing the Cultural Chasm

Crossing the Cultural Chasm

If Richard Branson hasn’t said it enough times, we’ll say it too.

A start up’s success isn’t just based on what it creates but the people creating it and how they treat one another.

In other terms. Culture defines success.

When people say start up culture, images of table tennis, nerf guns and cute dogs spring to mind.

But maintaining company culture whilst going through rapid growth is no easy feat.

Start ups have their own version of the 7 year itch in relationships. With 70% of start ups going through a rough patch in years 3 and 4.

We call this a cultural chasm.

But why do so many start ups face the seemingly inevitable cultural chasm?

More often than not it’s because Founders did not invest time in building cultural foundations because they were too busy getting the business of the ground and then dealing with rapid growth.

The faster a company grows, the harder it is to retain its cultural voice.

The stronger the foundation, the easier crossing the cultural chasm will be.

Focusing on culture early on will help form a backbone of the type of company you will have in the future.

It’s important to create a culture that encourages creativity but also has an element of structure so you can scale.

Here’s how to create a culture early on that will help create that perfect blend of creativity and structure:


Create a Professional Environment:

More often than not, Founders hire their friends first. It makes sense, you know them, you trust them.

Although this can be great for team chemistry, things can get awkward when work issues start to bubble up.

From the start, designate a time and place in the office where everyone can talk through their work issues in a professional frame of mind.

You’ll find that as you grow this will become more important and effective as you will be a business that holds transparency and a clear line of communication.


Provide Transparency:

You may think that your business already has management transparency but do your employees see it that way?

If they don’t, you will still run into the same problems. Perception is key.

Perhaps run a regular anonymous culture survey to stay on top your employees perception.

With transparency should also come clarity.

Although you want to encourage creativity and autonomy, it’s still important to be clear on what each person should be contributing.

An element of clear, transparent structure is shown to have a positive effect on performance.


Stay Humble:

Empower others by sharing credit for any success.

A lot of Founders also say ‘all ideas are welcome’.  But how many of those ideas are actually explored?

If you promote people sharing actually do something to show that you’re listening and you’re authentic about listening to others.


Make Yourself Accessible:

Try to have frequent and spontaneous conversations with your team.

It doesn’t always have to be about work. Get to know your team, in the long run this will create a personal, friendly and loyal environment.

Also, if people feel comfortable talking to you, you may be able to resolve potential issues quicker.

Accessibility promotes transparency.


Don’t Clone Yourself:

As mentioned before, you normally start a business with friends who you share interests, skills and personality traits.

As you grow, you start to hire friends of friends. Who funnily enough will have similar interests, skills and personality traits.

As you continue to grow your friends hire their friends who….see where we’re going with this?

How much of a culture can you really create by hiring the same type of person?

It’s important to hire people with complementary skill sets and personality.

If not, when faced with a problem you’ll all attack it the same way. Having different outlooks is healthy for performance and culture.


Ask Outsiders For Help:

Build a management team of experts to help ensure there is a culture of respect for employees.

Make sure this management team compliments your personality and gives your employees a voice to be heard.


By taking these steps and investing in your culture early on, you should give your business the cultural foundation it needs before facing growth.

As well as these steps, it’s important to always remember why you started your business in the first place. What was your original goal? Are you and your team staying true to this?

Enjoy the blissful period of a small start up but just be prepared and understand that your start up culture will have to adapt as you grow (and in turn, so will the ‘early adopter employees’).

Research shows that if you don’t invest in culture early you’re more likely to lose those first few employees.

To avoid this, take culture seriously early on and set expectations for your early adopter employees.

Remember, no Founder can outrun the cultural chasm but you can cross it by focusing on culture from day one.

We work with high growth start ups to ensure they hire the best staff for their companies and their environments. We work with you, on site, as part of your team. We’ve helped to build teams for Google, Skype, Spotify and more. If you’d like help building your team, get in touch here .