Here’s How You Get Everyone To Buy Into A Great Company Culture
21 May 2020
"Creating a healthy company culture helps attract and retain highly motivated and engaged employees. It unites them around a common goal: your mission." - Christopher Abbass, Founder & Co-CEO, Talentful.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has said that one of the driving forces behind the success of religion was its ability to control large parts of humans’ lives. He draws attention to the fact that everything in the world — economy, countries, capitalism — is a common myth. And if we all collectively believe in these myths, they exist. These common myths keep us together and enable us to work together and keep systems, governments and rules intact, even when we don’t know each other.
Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, said that people could only maintain 150 stable relationships effectively, and more than 150 people would require restrictions or rules to sustain a stable, cohesive group. This is known as the Dunbar number.
Harari’s view — based on the Dunbar number — is that the importance of having common myths increases when you have groups of 150 or more.
As a company begins to scale past 150 people, it becomes harder to create unity and keep people on the same page. Creating a healthy company culture helps attract and retain highly motivated and engaged employees. It unites them around a common goal: your mission.
In the tech sector, going from startup to scale-up — from 10 to 50 people to 500 or more — you need to create a culture (common myths) that can get the buy-in of those 500 new people. Like any good religion, you need a strong leadership team (disciples) and a mission that wins the hearts and minds of everyone on the team to ensure your common myths take root.
Creating Your Culture
Think of the bigger picture of what your company is doing: making an app, creating a mobile banking platform or using artificial intelligence to make sense of data for the healthcare industry. Then ask yourself: Is there a more transformational agenda beyond the product? To scale with purpose, the answer needs to be yes.
Let’s look at an example of a company that scaled fast but is also making systemic change. Waymo is creating self-driving cars. But Waymo also isn’t just building self-driving cars. It is changing transportation on a global scale by preventing deaths, decreasing traffic and helping reduce environmental pollution.
That’s the kind of narrative that your leadership team has to build. That narrative isn’t about what’s right in front of you, but how it will impact society and the legacy you’ll leave behind.
To create a following and grow your common myths, you need to build a compelling message that your people can aspire to and be inspired by. To carry this mission throughout the company, you have to have the right leaders in place.
As a founder, it’s a little crazy to think that one day you wake up with this idea to build a company, and you just automatically assume thousands of people will blindly follow you down your path. As your company grows, you can’t rely on that assumption. A founder’s relationship, which started as more of a one-to-one, with intimate knowledge of all employees and activities, evolves. As a company grows and scales, the founder’s relationship becomes less personal across the business.
This is why leadership teams are critical. A strong leadership team can be the difference between being able to scale or not being able to.
The flip side of this is that a good leader takes time to grow. You can’t hide them away and then pull them out when you’re ready or they’re ready. Relationships take a long time to grow, and trust takes a long time to build, so if you are going to scale, you have to get ready before you scale.
Here are four strategies you can adopt on your path to scale.
1. Implement leadership coaching. It makes a big difference for the leadership team to be coached together at the start. Invest in a leadership team at the beginning. My leadership team used a coach from day one. We knew we had weak spots, so the coach allowed us all to see those, and we were able to plug our weaknesses collectively.
2. Hire for potential. To scale, you have to get the right people in the door early. It isn’t just about getting people jobs; it’s about finding the right talent to transform a whole sector. Many companies go out and hire with very arbitrary standards when they get to a specific size, basing candidates’ potential on their previous achievements over their potential to grow. Just because someone has achieved something before doesn’t mean they can do it again in your environment. The best strategy is to optimize for potential. Look for someone curious and coachable, and make an investment in their development and support. This will increase their retention, generate loyalty and reduce your costs in the long run because it keeps attrition down.
3. Develop a mission (common myths) people can get behind. The mission is so important as a founder; you live and breathe it every day. It’s what you live for. But at the same time, it isn’t as important to everyone else, so create a mission that is more than the product — that creates a bigger purpose for the company. Create your common myths that form a company culture everyone can get behind.
4. Create disciples from the start. Like religion, a good leader and leadership team take people on a journey with them. They make a conscious effort to do this because it won’t happen on its own. You have to become an inspirational leader — someone they can respect and learn from. Commit to the purpose of your company and the mission, and you will have a cult following.
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