You've been building your business. At first it was easy - just you and a couple of amazing first hires. You were all friends, and you just "got it". There was no need for policy, procedure or anything other red-tape to get bogged down in.
Well, that was then. Now it's a different story. The business has grown, and so have the head aches. You have encountered your first not-so-great hire. Your compliance risk has increased. Things are more complex, and frankly not so easy.
So you buy an off-the-shelf HR pack with all the policies and procedures to keep you safe. Now you'll be right. Welcome to how to screw up your culture.
I see it time and time again with my clients. And it makes sense on the surface. You have a problem with a staff member and so you write a policy about it. Before you know it you are guided by policies and rules, and the culture is taking a back seat.
So, if you want to screw up your culture do these things.
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1. Focus on the day-to-day vs the long term.
Instead: Bear in mind and plan for the culture you want for the long term. Don't just focus on the immediate problem you need to fix now. Steven Covey's First Things First is an oldie but a goodie. To get wins on the board, you should be focussing your time on the important but not urgent, i.e. looking ahead. Of course you need to do things daily, but it is the spirit, intention and strategy that guides these which will help you build success.
2. When you have a problem person, write a policy.
Instead: Create a working environment in which your high performers thrive. Making policies based on the lowest common denominator is a recipe for disaster. Remember that there will always be outliers, deal with them individually. Don't mess up the experience for everyone else. There are few people that wish acting on a poor performer or poor cultural fit later rather than sooner. When your intuition tells you something is up, listen to it, make a plan and have a conversation.
Create an environment in which your high performers thrive.
3. In fact, write policies to cover all your bases.
Instead: Work on behaviours not policies. If you feel things are going off track, work on your leadership and that of your influencers. When my kids are going off track, I counsel thing, talk to them, role model the right thing. I don't write them a new rule for the fridge. We all know that rules on the fridge don't make a long term impact and it's the same with your policies. Sure, we all need policies. But write them for the culture you want to build, not just the behaviour you want to stop.
4. Focus on what not to do.
Instead: Focus on what you DO want, not what you don't want. If you want people to keep their head in the game, focus on that, rather than not wasting time on social media. You want an environment that empowers people, with a feeling of "do" rather than "don't". This can be a tricky one, but generally if you have a don't in your language then keep thinking and talking it over until you get to a do. You may have don'ts of course but keep them balanced with dos.
5. Trust people will just work it out.
Instead: Keep your expectations crystal clear. In a fast moving situation it's easy to think that you don't need job descriptions. And sure, a detailed description of every miniature is unhelpful. But a concise description of how the job helps the company win, the key tasks and clear KPIs are essential. Keep it short so that it can be flexible with the company needs. In fact in a fast moving situation, clear job descriptions are more important than ever. I recommend revisiting them every 3 months or so for a sanity check - is it still relevant?
Keep your expectations crystal clear.
6. Don't worry about your own leadership
Instead: Leadership is vital, especially in a fast moving situation. Whatever you do effects not only you, but your leadership team and the wider team. Not to mention the effect that you have on investors, current and future. Not only that but everyone is watching you. If you say to people "we value transparency" and then you talk about things behind closed doors - people will do what you do, not what you say. In this way you as a leader have the most impact on culture than anything else. So take an interest in leadership from day one. I recommend reading "The Leadership Challenge" by Kouzes and Posner. It's been around for years and it's a great read.
The name of my business is Wisdom at Work for a reason. None of this is rocket science. It's applied wisdom. Solve problems with a culture AND compliance focus.
For more information on any of the points above get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @melrowsell on twitter.