11 Creative Ways To Transform Your Startup’s Culture

By Luke Ryan

“Culture” was Merriam-Webster’s 2014 Word of the Year. While it seems a bit odd that words are given accolades, the fact that this word was the winner comes as no surprise.

According to Fortune, business leaders are focused on workplace culture to draw the best talent and to make lists like the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

More business than ever before are blogging about their successes and failures in this arena. This trend in transparency is showing that it’s less about ping pong tables and free beer. Strong cultures focus on providing meaning, building relationships, and seeing employees as whole human beings. Try these 11 strategies to transform your business from the inside out:

1) Question Fridays

At 15Five, asking questions is the central pillar of our product and our lively culture. The entire team gathers together for 15 minutes each week on Question Fridays. Our unofficial VP of People and Culture asks a core question that everyone answers:

 “What would you study if you could go back to school?”

 “How would you spend the next year if money were no object?”

This simple ritual is a fun way for our globally-distributed team to learn about each other and builds an incredible amount of trust via candid communication.  (Zapier also provides a great example for building culture on remote teams).
Startup culture is about supporting a group of people who share a similar mission and values.

2) Create Your Mission

Be clear about your WHY and only hire people who share in that belief. Best-selling author and speaker, Simon Sinek shares some sage advice in his TED Talk: “I always say that if you hire people just because they can do a job, they will work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they will work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.”

3) Stand In The Place Where You Work

Did you know that sitting increases your risk of death by up to 40%? That’s a compelling statistic that might just make you jump out of your chair. A great way to encourage healthier employees is to use stand-up desks. At 15Five we invested in Varidesks and everybody has embraced the chance to do some standing throughout their day.

4) H2O Yeah!

While you’re thinking about health consider some quality drinking water. Our startup’s libation of choice is Castle Rock Water. Dehydration cause people to call-in sick more often, and eat more sugary snacks. As a result, they cannot process information as quickly as others and are less productive. Who would have thought that hydration can solve so many business problems ?

5)  Team Retreats

Buffer is a great example as they hold international retreats three times a year, with a commitment to getting their team together in a new location every 5 months.  And our team highly recommends Sayulita, Mexico as a retreat destination. We held our first international retreat there in January and emerged with more team-cohesion, excitement, and clarity on our 2015 goals. (And some great surfing skills!)

One way to start caring for people is to replace threats of being fired with greater accountability and support to do their greatest work and become their best selves.

6) See-Through Culture

Another, more radical, culture standard Buffer has implemented is salary transparency. It is a topic that has been hotly debated but if you are committed to treating your employees like human beings and rewarding effort and experience with a fair reward, why hide it?

7) Personal Development

Follow the lead of the Change Collective and implement a personal development budget. The gave employees a $3,000 budget to choose their own adventure. Make it as easy as possible for your people to seek out conferences, courses and seminars that they believe will enable their learning and growth.

8) Read All About It

About once a month, our CEO sends a message for the entire team to purchase and expense the latest book on money management, organizational development…etc… You can take it one step further with your team and Unlimited Kindle. Books are one of the fastest paths to learning and growing. Why not consider supporting your team’s growth and saving some trees with unlimited Kindle downloads?

9) Be Supportive

Consider stewarding people as opposed to managing them. How do you do this? You simply care for your people. This is a concept from Bob Chapman’s Truly Human Leadership. One way to start caring for people is to replace threats of being fired with greater accountability and support to do their greatest work and become their best selves. This is the WHY that 15Five is built on.

10) Embrace Freedom and Flexibility

MetaLab empowers their employees to be happy with flexible hours, remote working and unlimited vacation. These types of values are now becoming the norm in the startup world. So long as employees are clear on their objectives, why not grant them the autonomy to achieve them within their own frameworks of how they choose to do their best work?

11) Sleep Tight

Encourage sleep as a competitive advantage. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, is an avid believer that top performers require 8.5 hours of sleep each night. While some people work best at non-conventional times, discourage all-nighters among your employees. Help people track sleep with apps like the Jawbone UP and let them know that a good night’s rest is valued at your startup.

Startup culture is about supporting a group of people who share a similar mission and values. That support can apply to their physical well being, professional growth, their sense of authenticity and achieving objectives that take the group to greater levels of success than they ever imagined.

Luke Ryan is the Director of Growth at 15Five, web-based communication software that elevates the performance of managers, employees and entire organizations by initiating weekly conversations that quickly uncover achievements, challenges, and risks. Follow Luke’s tweets about growth marketing and workplace culture @iamlukeryan.

Image Credit: Ed Schipul

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