Although not something you’re able to see or touch, company culture is always there. Like a sixth sense, it’s felt. And with every new joiner, a company hires a new perspective, personality and person is thrown into the mix.
To my mind, company culture is the invisible maker or breaker of all businesses. There’s a reason why some of the best CEOs fret about their company culture – because it matters.
Just look at Uber and its recent string of scandals that resulted in the demise of ex-Silicon Valley poster boy Travis Kalanick. Company culture isn’t just some fluffy term people band about – it can be a key differentiator and a toxic company culture can have knock-on effects to both your bottom line and reputation.
This is why it always bemuses me when I speak to some small business owners who believe they’re “too small in size to need HR”. This is a myth I’m keen to bust – whether you have two employees or 200 – you’re doing HR by managing those people.
Your employees’ experience at work and what they think, feel and do impacts upon your business in multiple ways. Engaging with them in order to give them a positive experience of working for your company is HR. If you ignore this fact then you take a risk – a risk that you will lose creative and inquisitive people that can propel your business forward, that the culture you’ve sought to embed from the beginning starts to fragment and that the company you set out to build has veered off course.
People are complex beings, managing them and their performance is intrinsically linked to business success.
Due to this complexity, it’s not easy to maintain a company culture you’ve produced – as the Uber woes have shown. This is especially true as your business scales up and you employ more people. I admit, I’m often guilty of forgetting that the team is now 20 plus people – I often still have a nine-person-band mentality – which is something I acknowledge and try to improve.
To maintain the breatheHR culture, I make a concerted effort to recognise individual efforts – when it was just the nine of us in the office it was easy for me to congratulate and praise people – but as we’ve grown and I’m in and out of the office it can be harder to spot individual efforts.
Starting and running a business of your own is much like a rollercoaster, filled with tremendous highs and tremendous lows. However, the rush you get is unlike anything in the corporate world. I’d advise anyone who thinks they have it in their heart to get stuck in and get started – despite the challenges that face you.
But starting a business is a massive learning curve. You know what you’re doing and why you’ve set the business up, but everything that goes with that, all of the accounting, the property (not to mention the bureaucracy) isn’t something you anticipate will take up as much of your time as it does.
So when you’re considering your next hire, ensure the individual is not only talented but that they fit the culture you’d like to see going forward as your business grows. For instance, for us, one of our core values is to stand up proud and be accountable, both when things go great and when they don’t. It’s important that we’re proud of our efforts, learn and move on. For other companies, they might place a higher onus on competitiveness, for example. Whatever it may be, its important business owners create an environment that produces engaged and inspired teams.
It can be tempting to hire someone you’re not 100 per cent set on due to increasing demands as you scale up – but this will only cost you more in the long run if they’re not a good fit and you find yourself recruiting again. And remember, your first 20 employees establish your company culture – so make them count.
If you want to read more about the recent Uber woes then find out why it’s more than just a PR problem.
Jonathan Richards is CEO at breatheHR.