I’ve spent the past decade building a company that is now the largest patient-physician platform in the U.S., and I believe one of the reasons why it was so successful was because of the company culture we put in place from the day the company was founded. This is the same reason I laid out company culture first when founding my most recent company, iBeat.
When starting a company, you have the opportunity to set it apart by building a winning and cohesive culture. Culture is crucial, and it can make or break a company. In my many years of growing startups, I’ve learned that building a cohesive culture ultimately rests on two major foundations -- a company’s mission and its core values.
First and foremost, a company must have a compelling and inspirational mission. Before you even start your company, you should think long and hard about why you’re doing it. If it’s only to make money, I recommend you go back to the drawing board. Your mission should cover both how you are of service to others, as well as what is so compelling and unique about what the team is doing that would make you want to still be doing it ten years from now.
Stating the mission.
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When crafting your mission statement, aim to be energizing, aspirational, and memorable. Don’t get bogged down with fluff and buzz words that are vague and meaningless. Get to the point. If your employees can't relate to it, then your mission statement won't mean much to your customers either. Also, make it concise. If you can't say it in a sentence or two, you haven't nailed it.
At iBeat, our mission statement is, “Empowering people with the freedom to be fearless, explore, and live longer lives.” Notice it’s not about us. It’s about how we aim to do something greater -- empower people.
An exceptional mission statement captures your brand and persona. It helps you stand apart from competitors and simplifies your strategic direction, but some mission statements -- the truly great ones -- surprise, inspire and transform. They provide purpose. They guide and help unify organizations, and they go hand-in-hand with company culture. Take the time and do this right, and it will pay dividends over the duration.
Be sure to ingrain this mission into your team from day one. At Practice Fusion, learning the mission was not only part of new hire training, but one Friday a month, we gather all new team members and test them on our mission in front of the entire company -- they're usually prepared!
Identifying core values.
Next, an exceptional company culture rests on a strong set of core values. A company’s core values are the attributes you want instilled in your team, as well as rules and guidelines covering everything from how the team treats and interacts with one another to how customers are treated. If implemented correctly, you should be able to hire and fire based on these values.
Core values form a solid bedrock for any organization and really matter to the individuals. Think about your company personality and how it will play into your core values. Are you innovative and witty or quirky and creative? Do you foster a work hard, play hard mentality? If so, create that balance of work and play. Are you a true collaborator? Then advance that behavior in your company and promote the people who get it.
iBeat has six simple and straightforward core values. They are:
- We execute without excuses.
- We are radically honest.
- We put community first.
- We are pros.
- We are operationally ruthless.
- We work to live, not live to work.
These values help us immensely when hiring but also help keep us grounded. We aim to hire intellectual athletes who want more than just a job and a salary. We hire individuals who were excited to be part of new technology that is helping empower people to live longer, fuller lives.
Delivering the message.
Once values are defined, they have to be explained and socialized. I suggest starting with a company-wide, all-hands meeting devoted to rolling out and discussing the values.
Also, bear in mind, values also need to be constantly reinforced. We do this in multiple ways.
For example, one of the first things you see when you arrive in our office is a large wall with the company mission and values emblazoned on it. We also start every new employee training with the values, and we make sure they are aware and aligned with our vision, mission, strategy and values. Additionally, we recognize employees every month for their exemplification of the values. As you scale, you can implement tools like Bonusly and gamify recognition based on these core values.
Taking the time to define a strong company mission and core values breathes life into your employees. It’s the first step in assuring your company culture thrives and survives for the duration. If done correctly, it will be the reason people join your company, and if done incorrectly, it will definitely be the reason most people leave.
Lastly, and most importantly, you need to live and die by these values if you expect them to be more than just lip service and words on a wall. If ‘integrity with no compromise’ is one of your core values, but you knowingly allow people to stay on your team that lie, cheat, or steal, then no one will take your values seriously, and the organization will be compromised.
In contrast, if you see behavior that violates your core values, and you immediately act to remove that person from your team, the rest of the team will respect that decision, as you are acting to ensure the company value system is held high.