Emergence of a culture within the startup reflects the personal values of the cofounders and executive leadership.
As a startup begins to grow, the recruitment and selection process will often reinforce the personal values of cofounders and executive leadership.
Generally, great cofounders hire individuals on the basis of the the individual's fit with the mission, vision, and core values of the firm. However, this can go quickly astray if cofounders outsource or assign recruitment to HR professionals or worse, agencies.
The business model of the agency often trumps culture alignment: getting a "good enough candidate" pays the bills.
So your question, how does a cofounder begin defining the emergent core values of the company?
I propose that you start with an end in mind and work backwards from that end: what kind of culture will best serve your ideal, most profitable customer?
So as mentioned above, that will relate to your value proposition and its larger expression: satisfied customers.
In our work with cofounders of high-growth startups, we have found one surefire way of defining core values of a company culture.
We start with an essential question: "In the individual and collective response to how we attract and serve customers, what really pisses you off?"
Each instance represents a core value violation: pure gold! You just have to mine the pure gold nuggets sitting in the stream at your feet.
For example, in one of our discovery sessions the following came up: "It really, really pisses me off that we lie to customers about when we will have something done, especially if the customer would accept a longer date if week simply explained why."
Core values? Truth. Clarity. Certainty. Collaborative discovery of what works for both the customer and us. Sincerity (making promises that we intend to keep). Fair exchanges of value.
Yes, you can do this as an off-site retreat. However, I have found it's much more practical, effective and powerful to ask the question at the end of each day, "Hey guys, what sucked today? Where did we not come through for a customer? Let's start with just a no-drama description of what happened: who, what, how much, where, when and, possibly, why.
Again, in our work with scaling startups, we have found that core values as surfaced through a structured violation assessment works.
However, when you alloy core values with your genius talents and God-given gifts, you have the foundation for a sustainable high performance culture based on accountability and self-expression.
So, you might ask, how does one discover gene's talents and God-given gifts of an organization?
In a manner similar to deconstructing core value violations, you start journaling things that went well. Things that just fell into place. What small miracles and gentle graces did we experience today?
This reflects the individual and collective experience of "flow", being in the zone and, more importantly, following hunches and impulses as they all arrived in kind of a jazz-like improvisational response to a situation.
I submit, that establishing flow, being in the zone, and high-tone improvisation defines the real entrepreneurial work of building a high-performance culture.
This starts with a presupposition that being in the flow is the baseline setpoint or mood of the firm.
So that then begs the question how does one is an entrepreneur and leader get and stay in the flow, demonstrating to the "kids" that papa bear got it headed in the right direction?
Well as our uncle Walt used to say, that's a story for another day!