Josh March, CEO of our portfolio company Conversocial has been thinking hard about company culture for the last couple of months and today he put up a great post describing the journey he has been through, and published the Conversocial company culture presentation (embedded below). I think they had around 7 people when we invested and one of the attractive things about the company was how committed everyone was and how much they liked working together, and it’s been great to see those strengths maintained as the company has grown to over 30 people.
I’ve blogged about company culture from time to time and regular readers won’t be surprised to read that I think it is a very important topic. I observe that great companies almost always have great cultures and that that investing early on in having a strong culture smooths the growth path for many high performing startups.
Here are some tips, generalising from the Conversocial experience and what I’ve seen elsewhere:
- If company culture is going to be a management tool should be articulated early in a company’s life. Once there are more than 30-40 employees there will be a culture already that is hard to change –either one that management has chosen to help them succeed, or one that has arrived by default is most likely less helpful.
- The culture as articulated should reflect the culture and values as is and not be too aspirational – i.e. the primary purposes of articulation are clarification, reinforcement and onboarding new employees.
- The CEO and management must live and reward the values or they will be ignored.
- A good test of whether a culture is meaningful is that it says as much about what people won’t do as what they will do (this is also a good test for company strategies). Anodine statements like ‘Be the best’ are empty because nobody wants to ‘be the worst’, but Conversocial’s first value ‘Put customers first’ has meaning because it tells employees not to put Conversocial’s or their own interests first. Josh says that thinking about the behaviour of people he wants to keep and promote helped him find Conversocial’s values.
- Building a strong culture takes work and half measures are a waste of time – if the CEO doesn’t believe deeply in the power of a good culture then s/he is unlikely to put the time and effort required to get results. Josh personally takes every new employee at Conversocial through the presentation below so they can see how important it is.
Good investors understand all this. They are attracted to companies that are going to scale well and a good culture helps scaling. Remember that half measures don’t count.