Purpose HR is one of the companies exhibiting at Startup Summit this year. They provide commercial, pragmatic and effective HR advice and practical support to SME and early stage, high growth and investor-backed businesses including high growth technology and life sciences startups. Today, Lisa Thomson, CEO of Purpose HR, shares her thoughts on this year's theme: "The Power of Company Culture". Get in touch with Purpose HR to learn more.
Companies are built in the image of their founders. Your early stage team who had the ambition and took the risks to build your startup at the outset will set the stamp for the culture and tone of your business as you grow, and will have unique strengths that will be your USP to success. At early stage, when the team is small, this works to your advantage as a normal part of day to day interactions and collaboration within the team.
As businesses grow and scale, self-aware founding teams who can articulate these strengths (and potential gaps!) can build these into values led business practice. Consciously embedding your values through your business and people practices will bring them to life for every member of a fast-growing team, even when the original founders are not directly involved in every hire and management decision.
It’s not enough to state it, you have to live it
It’s great to have given thought and time to set and state your values and the culture you’re aiming for as an organisation – your values and mission will serve as your compass in deciding the direction your business will take at various stages of its growth. However – I’m sorry to break it to you – having a workshop to choose some key words and putting them up on the wall and some posters won’t be enough.
Your values, mission and culture have to be embedded at every stage of scaling up, intrinsic in the air your organisation breathes. This is especially important when building your team – you will want to hire people that share your values, that will contribute to your mission and that will live your culture, as this will increase your chances of (fast) success, and minimise any potential “staff challenges”, which are draining, taking up time, energy and cost and a distraction from achieving your goals.
But worry not – there are simple and practical steps you can take to build these into your HR practice and ensure you’ll get the best value out of your people.
It all starts with a job advert and a job description – these are the first window your future team will have into your business. As such, ask yourself; do they reflect your culture? Do they put across who you are as an organisation? Do they speak your (cultural) language?
Writing a job advert and job description that are in line with your culture will ensure you attract people that are likely to share your company values. The tone is so important, simply listing long lists of technical or other skill requirements is not welcoming or inclusive and won’t help “sell” the opportunity to candidates.
The same goes for interviewing – if your interview(s) and the questions you ask and qualities you look for are consistent with your business’s personality and values, then you are more likely to ensure that the successful candidate will fit in and thrive within your culture
Malcolm Gladwell once said:
‘We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility.’
Your people’s first day, week and even month at work will set the tone for how they view and – more importantly – adapt to your company’s modus operandi. Ensuring a positive, clear and engaging on boarding process is therefore crucial to building the right foundations on which your team members will contribute to your company’s success and growth. I don’t mean handing out swag and a shiny Macbook – it’s all about people, touchpoints and the right welcome and information access to help new starts feel welcomed and get up to speed quickly.
No one wants to be sat in a corner reading a Handbook because everyone is too busy to get them involved. It was an investment of time and cost to find the right person so make sure you get the best out of their first few weeks as that will set the tone for their engagement and contribution.
Probation, Appraisals and Development
Having a robust probation process will ensure that any potential hurdles are faced and addressed quickly and effectively. They’re a good way of managing expectations, of checking in with your new team members, and – if necessary – of approaching sub-par performance or any cultural misalignment. Everyone can make hiring mistakes from time to time and it’s better for everyone involved to be upfront and honest and give an opportunity to fix things if required.
The same applies to appraisals and feedback – more than just a “tick-the-box” exercise or a once a year uncomfortable sit down with a form, these can be a powerful tool in engaging your team by setting the right targets and expectations, praising what has gone really well and approaching any edges that might need polishing.
It is important to highlight that providing your team members with opportunities for development and learning is as important as managing their performance. Even high performers can and should be further stretched and to keep adding new skills. Additionally, you’ll get more out of your people if you all grow and learn together – as an organisation and as professionals.
Culture as a competitive advantage
Finally, as startups, it’s important to recognise our limits. The fight for talent can be challenging, and the hard truth is that startups are often not able to compete with more established companies on the remuneration packages that are offered to candidates. But this too is where your culture and your values will be useful – having a positive and engaging organisational culture and values that people can really get behind can be a strong competitive advantage, especially as research shows that employees are increasingly looking for more than a salary when it comes to choosing which companies to dedicate their professional life to.