3 Habits for Building a Sustainable Culture

Kenny MacKenzie participated in Wavefront’s Venture Acceleration Program to grow a startup he cofounded, Vandrico. Through leading the company as COO, Kenny shares his knowledge on how to grow an organization by starting with a healthy culture. 

Scaling a startup is one of the most challenging endeavours in business. The skills and habits that enabled you to reach this stage probably aren’t the same as the ones that you will need to successfully scale. Here are three habits that you can start exercising right away that will help you build a strong and scalable culture. 

Habit #1: Build a cadence of clarity 

Why you are doing what you do, how you want to do it, and what you are trying to accomplish, need to be communicated over and over again in a consistent rhythm. Make sure that your purpose, your values, and your objectives are known by everyone in the organization at all times. If people start joking that you sound like a broken record, then you know you are on the right track.  

Why your organization exists, and the values you want to maintain while it does, generally don’t change. These are meant to act as constants in the decision making equation, and to help you distribute decision making across the company. Figure these out now if you haven’t already, and take the exercise seriously. Defining the purpose of your company and the values it stands by will be some of the most important long-term decisions you will make.  

Time-bound objectives and the actions taken to accomplish them, are best developed through team collaboration. These are always changing and therefore it is essential that everyone in your company is kept up to date. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) provide a good framework to help you organize a hierarchy of company goals so that your staff can focus on accomplishing them. The OKR method is used by Intel, Google and many more fortune 500 companies.  

Consider using the One Page Strategic Plan (OPSP) by Gazelles to keep your why, how and what organized and everyone in your company on the same page, literally 

Learn More:
Read The Metronome Effect by Shannon Susko for learning how to build the cadence.
Read Scaling Up by Verne Harnish for more on OPSP and lots more valuable advice on scaling. 

Habit #2: Hire very, very carefully and fire quickly 

An employee who is missing one of the core values will be like a misshapen cog jamming up the gears, especially if they are in a leadership position. To keep team cohesion, ensure that everyone you hire shares the organization’s core values. This means really digging into learning about your applicants and understanding what their values are. If they don’t fit with the company’s values, no matter what credentials they have and how much you need to fill the role, it isn’t worth it. If your gut is raising a red flag, listen to it. 

Anyone who doesn’t share the values will make decisions that are against the grain of the rest of your company. This can confuse or frustrate your best employees. Clarity of values and a rigorous hiring process can help build trust across your company because they all share the same filters for making decisions. 

If someone who doesn’t share your values does make it onto your team, get them out as soon as you realize it. The longer you wait, the worse it is for everyone. If you wait too long your best employees may grow frustrated and leave. This is what the three month probation period is for – use it. 

Learn more:
Read The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni to learn more about keeping values consistent. 

Habit #3: Protect your employees like they are your family 

Up until this point you may have had to focus most of your attention on your customers. As your company enters a period of growth, it’s essential that you switch your focus to your employees and put them above all else. Employees that feel well taken care of and are given clear direction will make great decisions. They will take care of your customers, and happy customers mean happy shareholders. 

Once an employee passes their probation and becomes integrated with the rest of the team, it is your job to make sure they feel safe. This means from time to time you may need to make personal sacrifices for your employees. It also means that when your employees make mistakes – and they will – that you don’t cut them loose or make an example of them. Instead, coach, mentor and grow them to make better decisions (just be aware not to confuse value-misalignment with human error). 

Employees that feel safe will trust the organization and will trust each other. Trust is the foundation of teamwork. If trust is missing in your organization while it tries to grow, it will become inefficient and riddled with politics. People will begin to make decisions that are in their own best interests instead of the organization’s. Prevent all this by leading by example every chance you get and make sure your employees feel supported and safe.  

Learn more:
Read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek to learn more about being an effective leader.
Read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni to learn more about fostering teamwork. 

Looking for help in scaling your business? Consider applying to one of Wavefront’s acceleration programs!

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