Startup Culture Step 3: Be Consistent and Predictable

Startup Culture Step 3: Be Consistent and Predictable

by kirkcoburn

We are in the home stretch of discussing three steps for building a world class startup culture.

To reiterate:

  1. Be in your calling
  2. Focus on designing and building a culture based on a code
  3. Create a decision making process that is consistent and predictable

So let us finish strong …


If you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean. But you understood more if you are the child … as we all have been. If we want that candy bar while standing in the check-out line with our mom or dad, how do we get it? Do we cry and whine until it is given in appeasement? Do we act well in the store beforehand in hopes of being rewarded? As children, we knew exactly how to act to get our way. Our primitive knowledge and learning began with the understanding that consistent behaviors created consistent results. As a parent, we understand that when our children misbehave, the surest way to curb the undesired action is to consistently redirect or reprimand. And conversely, to encourage higher standards in our children, we must consistently praise “good behavior” while evenly and predictably mirroring the same desired behavior.Startup Culture - Consistentcy

Our work environment is not unlike our homes. In fact, it is our family away from home. As the founder of your start-up, your consistency and predictability will define the comfortability and the culture of that “family”. Can you do it? My friend Doug Tatum wrote an excellent book outlining lessons from companies lost in No Man’s Land based in part upon the founder’s/leader’s inability to be consistent and predictable. Doug also has an awesome definition of culture (especially considering his roots as a CFO): “Corporate culture is a trusted decision making process.” One of Doug’s partners and author Brent Sapp states it another way, “A corporate culture is defined by the confidence of it’s members in the predictability of how decisions are made on a daily basis. So many corporate maladies are blamed on culture, including the ability or inability of a new executive to “fit in”. My favorite consultant and author, Bob Biehl makes this statement: confidence is a by-product of predictability.” This is an excellent and practical framework to understand culture.

Corporate cultural consistency predicts an environment of personal safety, hence breeding creativity. This is especially applicable in a startup where everything is constantly changing and evolving. Any place for consistencies, even as small as daily check-lists, will connote stability giving headway to creativity. When your employees aid in the company’s success, then consistent recognition and reward will build on itself; and therefore, the company culture and success therein. And if you canrecognize and reward around your CODE, your culture is not only predictable, it is also easy to understand from all key stakeholders (your employees, investors, customers, partners, and the community). And this breeds the beginning of what the best brands in the world are made from.

How to Implement
Startups need it to be easy. So here is my advice. As I stated in my last few blogs, if you Hire, Fire, Manage and Reward based upon a Code that truly describes YOU and your company, you will have in essence achieved part III of building an awesome culture: Creating a Decision Making Process that is Consistent and Predictable. This also helps you avoid one of the most dangerous startup traps: making decisions and rewarding individuals based upon loyalty vs. performance. Hiring, Firing, Managing and Rewarding based upon your code removes the culture of loyalty and replaces it with a culture of performance. Most of us start a company by hiring people we like and know even if unqualified (based upon YOUR CODE which may be undefined). As the company grows, many of our friends fail to grow. This failure in growth puts pressure on the company and you pickup the slack. Do you keep them on out of loyalty? Do your customers keep you on despite inferior performance? Start NOW or face the culture debt.

In summation of our three steps for building a world class startup culture, I want to review two well-known companies and founders whom encapsulate these steps.

Patagonia – Founder Yvon Chouinard built a company that has built a culture of building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. This not only happens to be their mission statement, it’s built into the fabric of everything they do including their people. What are the results? In this economy, Patagonia continues to have the best years in recent history.

Whole Foods – John Mackey states that there are those companies and underlying leaders that subscribe, live and continually walk in a conscious capital environment from the beginning. He uses the word “intrinsic”; apropos word. These are the leaders that believe that the purpose of business is more important than the profits of business. Hiring employees to fuel a purpose (vs. lure of profits as the end-game) requires a powerful and consistent culture. When I walk into any Whole Foods across this country, I find a consistent and harmonious theme that the people of Whole Foods are cut from the same cloth.

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