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Struggling With Your Startup Culture

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Though culture is difficult to define and even harder to quantify, startups use culture as a key lever to improve overall business performance as they seek to differentiate themselves from other startups in the hyper-competitive age. Organizational culture is one of the best tools at the disposal of startup founders to make a dent in the market. Cultural change is transformational in nature, which requires the startup founders to invest time and resources over a period of time. Whilst there may be many challenges in making a cultural transformation, the big rocks include the following.

    • Ineffectual Leadership – Minimal involvement by top management can diminish company-wide enthusiasm for change and lead to slower implementation. And in case the company lacks role models of change, an inconsistent change vision plagues the effort.



  • Ineffective Behavior Management – Poor alignment between rewards and expectations can present an ambiguous change message and discourage change behavior, leading to anxiety and disengagement among employees, which gives rise to resistance.
  • Poor Timing – Attempts to complete change implementation quickly may lead to a total rejection of the change initiative, or you may have a premature satisfaction with the success of change implementation

To overcome these challenges in your startup, you can adopt a structured cultural transformation process where it prepares you for change implementation and monitors it thereafter.

– Prepare for Change

  • Solicit employee feedback on organizational culture– Start by Involving the entire workforce in assessing the existing organizational culture, Employees are more likely to believe in and support new company values if they are involved in the development process. Organizations can use a wide variety of tools for obtaining employee feedback such as surveys, focus groups, and employee interviews.  Surveys are the most commonly used cultural assessment tool as they can be easily administered to a large segment of employees.
  • Define new culture and identify gap areas – The next step is to identify new values and assess current organizational compatibility with them, appoint a new value-creation team of senior leaders, headed by the COO, CEO, chairman, or President to determine new values based on the employee feedback. Ideally, the number of team members should range between 20 and 50. HR and value-creation team should jointly design a change implementation plan focusing on values that are ‘low’ fit to the existing culture.
  • Use a collaborative style to build commitment – Using a collaborative change style eliminates employee resistance in the initial stages of the change process. Make sure you leverage the CEO and other senior executives to motivate employees to participate in the change process. Involve the company-wide workforce in the change process through consistent feedback, cascading workshops, and meetings.

– Implement Change

  • Design an organization-wide communication strategy – Leverage communication channels that are highly visible, yet scalable, such as videos and town halls, Initiate cultural change with live CEO presentations to demonstrate senior leadership commitment. CEO and senior executives should communicate internal and external factors that led to the change. Ensure executives, managers, HR, and communications relay the new values consistently.
  • Empower managers to act as value ambassadors – Provide managers with resources to discuss the organization’s new values with their direct reports. Create brochures/cards for managers that clearly outline the format value discussions should follow. Senior managers should use these brochures/cards with their direct reports and encourage them to cascade it downward. Managers should spread these discussions over a series of meetings to reinforce value statements. Managers should model the behavior expected from their employees.
  • Translate values into actionable behavior statements – To embed new organizational values, outline employee attributes, behaviors, and actions that demonstrate value adherence, behaviors should vary for different levels of seniority. Employees should be able to demonstrate these behaviors in their everyday work.. You can also undertake training programs to help employees adapt to new behaviors and reduce skill gaps associated with new values.
  • Reward employees for adhering to new corporate values – What gets rewarded gets cemented, link employee values and behaviors to performance appraisal system and reward and recognition system. Employees feel motivated to embrace new values when they see a clear connection between value adherence and career progression.  You can offer recognition to work teams and individuals who demonstrate company values; these may be in the form of certificates, trophies, cash awards, and gifts. During performance reviews, encourage employees to describe how they exhibited company values in accomplishing various tasks.


– Monitor Change

  • Identify change resistors and implementation challenges – Use a company-wide survey to assess the effectiveness of change implementation and identify change resistors, customized surveys and scorecards are the most commonly used tools for measuring change progress. Encourage employees to provide honest and candid feedback by ensuring the confidentiality of results. To preserve confidentiality, and encourage participation you may use external vendors to conduct cultural assessment surveys.
  • Engage change resistors and correct implementation failures – Conduct meetings and training sessions to engage change resistors, showcase how new behaviors, approaches, and attitudes have helped people improve performance. Identify mistakes made during the change implementation phase and take immediate action to correct them. To prevent implementation failures, continually monitor gaps with the new organizational values and proactively alter cultural implementation activities.
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