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What Would Twitter Do? Lessons On Culture From 5 Top Start-ups

How Airbnb, Twitter, Skillshare, Buffer and Squarespace create and maintain great company cultures.

Sujan Patel

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What do the world’s top start-ups all have in common? They’ve mastered the art of company culture.

Brands from all over have attempted to mimic “start-up culture” – the collaborative, fun and enriching atmosphere that makes employees want to come to work each day. But fostering a start-up culture is not as easy as it sounds, especially as your company grows.

Having a strong culture, however, is the key to success and cannot be neglected. In fact, research from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick showed that happy employees are 12 percent more productive than the average worker. So it truly pays to have a strong company culture.

But what exactly does a strong culture look like? And more importantly, how can you build one? Follow these five tips from successful start-ups:

1. Keep employees engaged

At Airbnb, employees are kept in the loop on major company happenings and big decisions. This gives them a sense of ownership and purpose in the company, which in turn fosters engagement. According to a Gallup survey, 51 percent of the American workforce is not engaged. But having engaged employees is highly beneficial.

As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote on Twitter, “A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur’s job is to build the foundation.”

Engaged employees create a more positive work atmosphere. And, with happier employees, as well as increased productivity, your company will have happier customers and boost sales.

Related: To Change Your Company Culture, Change Your Conversations

2. Focus on the company’s purpose

Employees want to feel that the work that they do matters. That’s why Twitter’s purpose-driven environment works so well. Its focus is on creating a collaborative, team-oriented space that helps employees come together and see the value of what they do.

In an article on Medium, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote, “Start-ups have a unique ability to create a culture of compassion that helps us improve; and in so doing, we are more likely to make a difference in the lives of others.”

In 2014, Twitter’s employees were named by Glassdoor as the happiest in the country. Much of that happiness can be attributed to the company’s culture, where employees feel that their voices matter.

3. Be proactive

Culture doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s something that needs to be nurtured and tended. Without culture, your company will have no legs to stand on.

On his blog, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne wrote, “There’s no right or wrong with culture, it is simply a combination of [the] natural personality of the founding team, in addition to proactive work, to push the culture in a desired direction and to maintain certain values.”

Since the beginning, Buffer has made culture a priority. At each stage of its business, it’s assessed its company culture and made changes based on the company’s growth. As your company grows, you must also scale your culture. And that will almost certainly mean that the culture for a three-person team will look very different from the culture for a 20-person team.

Related: Strong Company Culture Fattens The Bottom Line

4. Stick to your values

In essence, your culture is your people. Without great people, you can’t have a great culture. That means you need to define what you want your culture to be like from the beginning – starting with whom you hire.

In an article on Medium, Skillshare CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn wrote, “Because the best cultures derive from actions people take, it’s imperative to define expectations around optimal behaviors, which set a foundation for a value system.”

To ensure all new employees fit in with their culture, Skillshare developed specific hiring guidelines based on its core values. This allowed the company to build a team focused on common goals so people would be able to work together successfully.

5. Show appreciation

Not every employee needs to have fancy benefits like free lunches, yoga classes and snacks – but perks like those don’t hurt, either. Squarespace offers some exciting benefits for its employees, including flexible vacations, catered meals, relaxation spaces and occasional guest lecturers. The company was even named one of the best places to work in New York City in 2013 by Crain’s New York Business.

Employees appreciate being taken care of, but that’snot the sole reason they want to work for a company. Squarespace also boasts a flat organisational structure, which means there is no hierarchy or levels of management. This creates an open space for employees to collaborate and make their voices heard as well as gain access to the company’s leadership.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

In his more than 10 years as a marketer and entrepreneur, Sujan Patel has helped hundreds of companies boost online traffic, sales and strengthen brand reputation online. Sujan is the VP of marketing at When I Work -- an employee scheduling software solution for small businesses.

Managing Staff

Day Zero And Your Employees – What An Entrepreneur Needs To Know

With Day Zero pushed out to 2019, entrepreneurs in the Western Cape are still left with one concerning question: “What will happen to my business should the water supply still run dry?”

Jose Jorge

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Depending on their reliance on municipal water, entrepreneurs could potentially find themselves without the ability to generate revenue in the absence of water. During this time, they will still be expected to pay staff a salary, creating a potentially untenable situation for certain businesses.

It is imperative that entrepreneurs in the Western Cape region start early discussions with their employees to find possible solutions that can be implemented should Day Zero actually hit. CDH provides the following possibilities to consider:

To pay or not to pay, that is the question

The duty of the employer to pay remuneration continues as long as the employee tenders his or her services. This is also the case where an employee is prevented from working, due to an unanticipated or unpreventable act such as a natural disaster.

Related: SME Survey: Day Zero Warning Hits SMEs Hard

An employer would have to pay its employees that tender work even if it cannot provide them with any work. Fortunately for employers, labour law recognises certain measures that can be taken to minimise this burden. The two most common are short-time and the temporary suspension of payment of remuneration. It is also important to note that these two measures can only be implemented if all parties concerned have agreed to it.

Short-time is a system of work that is used for periods when there is little or no work. The system recognises that paying an employee for periods when he or she is not working places undue strain on the financial position of the employer and the employee.

Employees may either agree to short-time in a contract of employment, or an employer may enter into a collective agreement regulating short-time with a union representing the affected employees.

A temporary suspension of payment of remuneration may be implemented when there is some prospect of the work situation improving in the near future and the employer being able to provide the employee with work. This may be implemented as an alternative to a dismissal.

Where there is no agreement to these alternatives an entrepreneur will have to engage with his or her employees, explain the company’s position and attempt to secure an agreement in this regard. If an employer is unable to do so, he or she may have to consider retrenchments.

Can you retrench employees as a result of Day Zero?

This is a difficult question. An employer will have to consider whether employees’ inability to work will be for a prolonged period.

There is no way of knowing how long a drought will continue. With the unpredictable effects of global warming, the weather has become increasingly difficult to forecast. The World Wildlife Fund anticipates that if the Western Cape region receives the same rainfall pattern as last year, the drought will continue for six months.

Related: Why Innovative Employee Benefits Are Your Competitive Advantage

The Labour Relations Act, No. 66 of 1995 allows an employer to retrench employees for ‘operational requirements’. Operational requirements are defined as requirements based on economic, technological, structural or similar needs.

In order to establish that an ‘operational requirements’ dismissal is substantively fair, an employer must determine that genuine operational requirements exist. If the anticipated consequence of the drought is that a business may not be able to continue with its operations – without access to municipal water – this would constitute an operational requirement.

In conclusion, CDH advises entrepreneurs in the region whose business is heavily reliant on water to consider entering into working arrangements with their employees for the duration of the drought. This will ensure that the entrepreneur and the employee are both in agreement regarding available options should Day Zero occur. It will also help provide a sustainable alternative to retrenchments.

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Managing Staff

10 Corny But Undeniably True And Inspiring Quotes About Teamwork

As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.” He ought to know.

Blake Snow

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With two games remaining, my daughter’s soccer team is in second place. They’ve won nine games and lost only one – to the team in third place.

Although that team doesn’t not have as many star players as our side, they beat us on the admittedly widely held but elusive principle that sharing the ball leads to more goals (and better defense) than impressive dribbling or individuality.

In other words, their 11 played better as a team than the three remarkable players on my daughter’s team. Granted, the third-place team probably dropped more games than we did because playing as an effective team in consecutive games is harder to do. After all, it’s easier for a few great players to show up to every game (as we have mostly done) than a reliable team.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

In any case, my daughter’s “club” will square off against the first place team this weekend. I suspect they’ll lose unless they listen to Michael Jordan: “Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.”

The same is true in business and life in general.

If we want to “win championships” in both of those, we have to get others involved, pass more, risk failure, allow teammates to learn from their mistakes by letting them commit them and putting the needs of the group above our own selfish aspirations.

To that end, I encourage you, my daughter’s soccer team and everyone else interested in winning to consider and internalise my 10 favourite quotes on the importance of competing as a team. Some are a bit corny. All are true.

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Managing Staff

Your Team Will Succeed Only If They Trust Each Other

Trust is difficult to establish, hard to maintain and easy to break.

Angela Kambouris

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Bureaucracy exists were trust doesn’t. Excessive process and micromanaging exist because people don’t trust each other to do what’s right and what’s needed. In a digital era where social tools make you more visible and accessible, you make personal and business decisions based on trust daily.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, often identified as the benchmark of trust measurement, recently identified that there has been a “loss of trust: The willingness to believe information, even from those closest to us.”

Trust is difficult to establish, hard to maintain and easy to break. In business, trust is one of the most valuable and complex of all your assets. It solidifies your relationships with all people and leads an organisation to thrive. As Richard Branson often says, “Learn to look out for your staff first, and the rest will follow.”

Let me share with you eight principles that determine whom and how you trust in the workplace.

1. How people handle failure

Within an organisation, when people trust each other, their energy is invested in minimising damage and getting on with it.

The involved parties take responsibility without prompting and lead the conversation to see how the problem will be avoided in the future.

A recent Google study, Project Aristotle, was founded on the premise of understanding why certain teams in the workplace struggle while others thrive. Researchers determined that “psychological safety” is the key to building and fostering successful team.

Related: Daily Practices for Cultivating a Positive Work Culture to Support Your Business

When people don’t trust each other, blame and shame runs rapid through the tapestry of the organisation. Taking responsibility embraces your vulnerability and leads people to move forward together.

trust-is-like-a-flower2. Accumulate trust deposits

Trust is like a flower. Once we step on a flower, it’s difficult to revive it. When you think about trust within a workplace, we know that when members trust each other to execute, teams are inherently productive.

When we want to create and build upon an environment that fosters trust, then what we say we will do, we do. We genuinely are curious and listen.

We are honest in how we provided feedback, without the sugar coating. And we don’t engage in gossip, eradicating the “I shouldn’t be saying this, but…” conversations. When we are visible and transparent in the workplace, we create a platform that invites shared thinking from all.

3. Work together to solve pain points

Most projects take more than one person to accomplish. Trusting colleagues is about letting go of the urge to be a lone ranger. Your team members have to be trusted to accomplish their tasks so you can complete yours.

Autonomy is only possible where there is trust. When you trust, you don’t expend much of your time and energy watching your back. Your energy is directed towards productivity and innovation.

Horst Schultze, one of the founders of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels, epitomised what it meant to be a trust-building leader.

Every employee was provided with an induction to the organisation, coupled with extensive training and a $2000 discretionary fund they could use to solve a customer problem without checking with anyone. He honoured his people by collecting their stories in making a difference for customers.

Related: Team Building Without Time Wasting

A team with high trust inspires its members to retain trust through excellence. Time is spent on identifying and breaking through road blocks, inspiring people to share more and working together to resolve pain points.

4. Small actions over time

Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character. You are trusted because of your way of being, not because of your polished exteriors. Building a culture of trust in the workplace occurs one step at a time. It is the small actions over time.

As a leader wanting to build trust, talk about what you want, not what you don’t want. Lend your voice toward what you want to bring to make it happen. When you operate from a place of trust, you demonstrate a commitment toward trust.

You show others what can be by promoting the ideas, talents and contributions of those you work with. Focus on what people can do and help others succeed. Step toward trust from where you are.

5. Sharing stories

Trust can grow rapidly when someone shares with you something touching that happened earlier in their life. You start to build a shared empathy.

When you want to create trust in teams, initiate conversations or invest in team games that help you tell stories you want to tell.

You control what you want to share with colleagues that can break down the divide between people and teams and lead to more empathy. Sharing stories is one way to connect and build trust.

paul-zaks-ted-talk6. What can mice teach us

A study at NYU Langone showed that when mice were given oxytocin, they started caring for the other mice’s babies as if they were their own. The oxytocin hormone enhances bonding, and even after the mice’s oxytocin receptors were shut off, this behaviour continued.

Oxytocin, the trust molecule, can teach us a lot about working together as a team and building great working relationships leading to more trust in the workplace.

Related: Making The Team ‘Work’

The best way to build your team’s internal trust is to be transparent about the overall vision and progress of the business, showing people how and why their work is important. Leaders must provide guidance, schedule check-ins between colleagues, and make room for conversations that strengthen connections.

7. Monkey see, monkey do

Our brains are wired to place survival as the top priority. In the workplace, any person who can demonstrate that they can reduce or eliminate threats to other’s survival is deemed trustworthy.

When we watch someone else, our brain is activated in the same way that the brain of the person you are observing is activated, effectively through what is called “mirror neurons.”

This means you may unintentionally transfer your own feelings of distrust to others. The trick is you can’t fake trust. You must believe that your colleagues are trustworthy to transmit this signal to them. In return, their brain will start feeling trust towards you as a result.

8. https://cm.g.doubleclick.net/pixel?google_nid=adaptv_dbm&google_cm&google_scEmotions impact trust levels in the workplace

There are many ways to treat your colleagues well, but one of the most important initiatives is creating a culture that makes it safe to make mistakes and openly debate and discuss issues without fear of retribution. Your colleagues will trust your ability to help them grow if they know that failures will be treated as teachable moments.

In a time of crisis, how you act in difficult times is the greatest measure of your integrity. Don’t wait to talk about a mistake that happened until everyone finds out about it on social media, and don’t sugarcoat what happened. Take swift action to right a wrong. Taking responsibility preserves trust.

Atlassian, a global software giant, built a culture where articulating why certain decisions are made is important in how they have built trust.

Related: 4 Strategies To Build Trust – Through Trusting Your Team

An “open company, no bullshit” value within the company has provided teams with access to information as quickly as possible, allowing employees to share and express their opinion without feeling they are going to get judged or pulled down. The company supports an environment where individuality is celebrated.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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