Editor’s Note: Chuck Longanecker is the founder of the Web2.0 consulting firm, digital-telepathy, based in San Diego, Calif. Chuck wrote previously for Found|READ about how to optimize your “startup life” in Run Your Company From The Heart. This piece, on how to recast your startup’s culture, is the second in a series.
As a founder of a small business I have developed an unconventional style of leadership. I am known as the BareFoot CEO, mostly due to my disdain for wearing shoes at any time in the beautiful San Diego climate, but also as a reflection of the business environment that I strive to create for my team.
Building a authentic and cohesive company culture is not an trained skill, but instead it is a process of peeling back the layers from your prior experiences to exposure your natural way of leadership. Many of us old folks (30+) in management positions have spent time in the heyday of both corporate and Web 1.0 culture. There is a reason that we decided to leave the security of a “I dare you to fire me” corporate position for the rising and falling tides of the entrepreneurial career.
I’ve personally paid my dues with the corporate culture throughout my career and it never really fit my tastes, let’s be honest – I hated it.
But, in retrospect, I have learned to have gratitude for my experiences. I believe that the structure, process, hierarchy, emotions (or lack thereof) and professional discipline that the corporate culture imbued in me raised awareness to my personal leadership style, the importance of company culture and the respect for the human side my employees.
In the early stages of leading a company, we all feel a bit like Steve Carell of The Office. We do the best we can for our employees, emulating our past experiences and leading in a way that those inspirational books tell us to. However, the result of those efforts usually leads to that painful silence of blank stares of indifference. It took 7 years and many, many failures for me to start to understand how to truly nurture a company culture. Only until you are truly honest with your own experiences, can you start to build the framework of a culture that your employees will eventually complete.
Here are a few things that I learned along the way:
Partner With Your Team
I created what I thought was an amazing company environment only to be disappointed with my young staff’s lack of appreciation. I blamed it on their lack of corporate experience and knowing how bad it could be. But it wasn’t until I partnered with them to rebuild our culture by redefining our values, services and clients that we found our stride. If you are a private corporation, consider an employee stock ownership plan.
Embrace Your Hidden Company Culture
There is a hidden culture within your company that only needs exposing. You and your employees decided to work together for a reason. This synchronistic connection creates it’s own culture.
Learn From Your Negative Experiences
If you had an negative experience in a previous position, do not subject your employees to the same experience. The idea of putting in countless hours as a rite of passage to proceed to the next level of an organization is BS. Embrace smart and effective work, not just hard work.
Challenge Your People – Encourage Them to Make Mistakes
I always promote my employees when they are about 85% ready. This shows that you have confidence in their potential and elevates their game to the next level. That next 15-20% of growth can happen in a few weeks with the right guidance.
Be Patient, Be Vintage
It takes time for the company culture to bloom. Think of it as a fine wine. You have to cultivate the soil, grow, press, ferment and settle the grapes. Most importantly let it age and allow the vintage to shine.