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What Can Corporates Learn From Start-Ups?

What does the future of work look like? End of 2014 we were invited to author a chapter in the German book „Arbeitskultur 2020“ (Springer, 2014). Dr. Karl de Molina, the initiator of the book, asked us to answer three key questions in our chapter:

In the next three weeks, I’ll publish a post per question – hope you’ll follow along.

Why are so many start-ups known for their amazing company culture? And what can corporates learn from start-ups about it?

Company Culture is about Leading by Example

Company founders naturally care about culture because it has a lot to do with how people are treated; and when you’re just starting out, those relationships with the first few people who really help you succeed matter to you. When I think back to our first team members at Beekeeper, I feel incredibly grateful that they believed in our product and idea from day one. Naturally, our interactions are based on a high-level of trust, appreciation and friendship. Our internal communication is open and honest. We all know we got a good thing going, so we all try to do our best to sustain our company culture. The result? We like to get to work on Monday mornings.

Lesson #1

Make it clear to everyone you work with that their behavior has a direct influence on company culture. Lead by example and use your company’s internal communication channels to highlight exemplary behavior. Because it really matters. Ask the monkeys, they proved this point in an interesting scientific experiment.1

Company Culture is a Powerful Competitive Advantage

Company culture is also a strong competitive advantage, especially for start-ups that depend on highly-skilled talent. Running a software start-up I can say from experience that highly-skilled talent is unfortunately also highly-scarce. So having a unique company culture and positive work environment can really help in attracting and retaining the right kind of people. In addition, it also can greatly help you in getting referrals – a large share of our employees joined us because a current employee recommended us to them.

Lesson #2

Invest in your office environment and create a place where people are inspired to do their best work. This also means giving employees the proper tools to communicate effectively with each other. From experience, having an effective internal communication channel (yes, at Beekeeper we use Beekeeper for this purpose!) can make the life of everyone so much easier! If you’re successful in creating a great work environment, you’ll not only increase your employees’ productivity and happiness at work, you’ll also be able to turn them into devoted fans who can refer new potential hires to you. Double win!

Company Culture is a Mighty Anchor

In start-ups, you’re dealing with a high-level of uncertainty all the time: your product needs constant improvement, funds are running out too quickly, deals can fall through at any moment and the list goes on. In all of this uncertainty, company culture and the rituals attached to it can serve as a mighty anchor. For example, at Beekeeper one of our favorite rituals is the BeeBreakfast every Thursday. It’s a simple thing, but it gives all of us an opportunity to kick off the week together, check in with one another and share ideas and concerns about the imminent future. In short, company culture can offer you stability; a foundation your employees can rely on, regardless of whether your start-up is undergoing a high or low phase of the entrepreneurial ride.

Lesson #3

Invest in regular small and big rituals within your company to keep the culture alive. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming nor costly, but I do highly recommend making it regular. These rituals give people something to look forward to and help communicate the culture beyond some mission and vision statements that sometimes go forgotten in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of business operations.

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