In start-ups, the corporate culture is usually already determined in the early phase and particularly embodied by the founders. But aligning your culture gains importance when you become a scale-up. But how do you do that?

Definition of culture

Kevin Goldsmith, former VP of Engineering at Spotify defines culture as follows: “Culture is the manifestation of the shared values of the organization as represented by the actions of its members.” So culture is really the way you serve your customers, the way you deal with problems as a team or maybe just the way you treat each other in the workplace.

Capture

Culture is already spontaneously present without you ever describing it. So why is it important to define your company culture from the outset? Because then it’s easier to maintain your values and processes when you start to scale. After all, as your team grows, you need an organized way to bring employees into that culture. That way you’ll maintain the start-up vibe no matter how big you get.

A well-defined corporate culture also ensures that:

  • You attract top employees more easily
  • your team becomes more productive
  • You can innovate more easily

According to our alumnus Jonas Deprez, CEO of Daltix, it’s best not to wait too long to build your culture. It can save you a lot of trouble’‘. The start-up provides real-time data for retailers and suppliers and grew in a short time from an entrepreneurial duo to a 23-strong team, with offices in both Belgium and Portugal. “Think carefully about which people you hire and what you want to evaluate them on. A business is primarily a group of people and you want to grow these people. Human resources are so often underestimated today. So think about your culture from the time you start growing.”

Values

Values are at the core of your culture and are explained using a few key words. For example, in an old culture deck of Netflix we read the story of American energy giant Enron. ‘Integrity’ was one of this company’s core values, but management ended up going to jail for fraud. So the core value hadn’t sunk in with everyone.

Make sure that everyone – including the founders – in your team knows your company values and propagates them. Also attach advantages and disadvantages to it, such as whether or not you will get a promotion. In this way these values get a real value within your company.

Carrying out what you stand for is also important for Daltix. “For our values we have the acronym ROSAS: responsible, open-minded, smart, agile and share. But the challenge is how to make those values live. It’s very easy to put values on a wall, but actually processing them is another step.”

Processes

Once your values have been defined, you translate them into processes and ways of working on the shop floor. This anchors your culture at the local level, throughout the entire company. So culture gives structure to how you work. Spotify, for instance, defines their processes in 6 principles:

  • stuff gets done
  • it gets done well
  • people are happy
  • leaders provide direction and guidance and GET OUT OF THE WAY
  • success is celebrated
  • failure is used as a way to learn

These 6 principles provide concrete guidelines for organizing technical work. Everyone at Spotify embraces failure so they can learn from it, managers are not micromanagers, and neat finishing is key.

How’s this for Daltix? “Once your organisation grows, people have to propagate the values, but it is important that people follow standards. It is best not to wait too long with this. For example, establish processes when you are 15. It is very important to define how you handle projects and how you give people feedback, for example”, concludes Jonas.

Culture decks

Want to know more about how best to capture a culture? A lot of big start-ups have a culture deck. This is a long presentation that explains the company culture in detail. For some inspiration, take a look at the culture decks of Netflix, Spotify, Valve and Zappos. Good luck!