Company Culture Priorities for 2016

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In the Street Culture column we launched in 2015, Street Fight began looking more closely at the clever, fun, and smart ways startups in the hyperlocal industry are building culture into their organizations as they scale. No two companies we spoke with this year were the same, but many are driving their cultures along the same tracks. Based on our interviews, here are the top four culture-focused priorities for startups to address in 2016.

1) Define company values. While the main focus at technology companies is often simply the next software release, many companies that Street Fight spoke with in 2015 found success in a little bit of organization. Defining company values helped employees know why they were working, made them feel more valuable, and brought team members closer together.

At Instacart, one of the important company values is humility, said Mathew Caldwell, vice president of people. One way the company supports that value is for every employee to take a shopper shift, where they hit the grocery store with a customer’s shopping list in hand.

“It takes a lot of humility for people to go out there and go shopping and drive around the city and drop stuff off for customers,” Caldwell said. He added that the shopper shift policy results in lots of discussion between employees, and encourages them to think creatively about how to improve the product and better serve customers.

2) Know whom and what you’re looking for. The heart of every company’s individual culture is its employees. Small companies that are scaling fast and hiring dozens of people in a short time frame risk misidentifying what kinds of people they want. Cat Hernandez, talent partner at Primary, the investment firm behind TheSquareFoot, a real estate-meets-software company, said that hiring is most successful when the whole company is engaged, involving the culture automatically.

“It makes the process easier from a standpoint where employees [who are involved in the process] will make more time to interview, they’ll be thoughtful about assessing candidates, you’ll be able to change processes that don’t work,” Hernandez said.

One benefit of being small is being able to move fast. When one process isn’t working quite right, recognizing that and making appropriate changes quickly is a valuable flexibility that some larger companies don’t have.

“You have to get to a place where everyone knows what you’re hiring for, where they’re not only mindful, but also invested,” Hernandez said.

3) Let employees be themselves. Local-focused companies repeatedly stressed the importance of being flexible and considerate of employees. Jenny Harding, vice president of people at WeddingWire, pointed to a recent change to the company’s maternity leave policy, a move undertaken to accommodate a new mother. Harding said that policy changes can help show employees that they are appreciated and support their relationship with work while still respecting their lives outside of the office.

MomentFeed, a local marketing software company, leverages employee strengths across the company to help everyone understand different aspects of the business. Employee subject matter experts teach other workers about Google, social media, local SEO, and other rapidly changing topics. The employees are supported in cultivating their personal interests, and the company benefits by maintaining its organizational knowledge.

4) Find a balance. Startup employees are notorious for working long hours, sleeping on couches in the office, and taking on random duties just to “get s*** done.”

Some companies, including digital marketing company ReachLocal, began balancing that drive with non-work-focused activities and incentives. At ReachLocal, the HR department started taking notes on what its employees were doing, and then supporting the activities.

“Culture activities and things like that were happening in silos across the business,” said Amber Seikaly, ReachLocal’s vice president of corporate communications. “We started having conversations about what people were doing; we didn’t want to stifle what the different departments were doing or stop things that were already happening.”

The company began sharing ideas across departments and including updates on fun activities in quarterly meetings. Seikaly noted that culture exists whether a company nurtures it or not, and advised that complementing employees’ resourcefulness and creativity is often the best option.

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.