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Kyle Lagunas

Developing Company Culture in Successful, Growing Start-Ups

  • 27 September 2011
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

In recent years, the most successful companies have focused less on perks and more on offering their employees something better: a connection to the company. Three prominent start-ups - Groupon, Zynga and Dropbox - are each cultivating lasting company cultures, and Kyle Lagunas took a look to see what's working and what's not. Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advice. Focused on offering a fresh take on points of interest in his market, he's not your typical HR guy.

Hire the Right People and Let Them Do Their Jobs

As online storage provider Dropbox's CEO, Drew Houston, can attest, hiring the right people for your organization is the most important step in building your company culture. Since day one, Dropbox has focus on hiring fewer, but better people. Offering a flexible schedule and giving employees the ability to choose what projects they'll work on, Dropbox puts their people in the driver's seat of their careers.

This looks like Adhocracy Culture in the Competing Values Framework. People get the space to organize work in their own way, enjoying professional freedom.

Share Ownership

Each and every employee at Zynga (developers of Farmville and Words With Friends - my newest addiction) is expected to follow the same core value in every endeavor: "Be your own CEO: Own outcomes." CEO Mark Pincus explained to Fast Company that he "wanted to push the ownership and decision making to the [employees]... and empower them to go for it, to take risks and make mistakes." By empowering his team with this core value (and commanding them to "Move at Zynga Speed"), Pincus' company is poised for great success.

Again this looks like Adhocracy Culture with a nice dose of entrepreneurship on the inside of the firm. At least, if people who are accountable and own their outcomes, are also allowed to own their "learning moments" when there are no desirable outcomes - and don't get punished...

What else is important? When the start-up grows new challenges evolve.

Keep People Connected

One of the biggest challenges Dropbox faces in growing is keeping people on the same page. Where the team was once small enough to fit in one room, things became more difficult as the team got bigger. Houston said: "As we grew larger, we had to start deliberately trying to figure out how to get the right info in the right peoples' hands."

When looking for tools for enhancing communication in the workplace, many businesses are adopting enterprise social networks such as Yammer. These web-based systems give users the ability to view official company announcements, share important information, and communicate with anyone in the company. Connecting people is of course more than simply implementing a social media system in the enterprise. It's all about the Clan Culture Type where people know each other, participating in decision making and collaboration. Leaders who act as mentors and coaches are needed to support employees.

Lead the Onboarding Process

The culture at Groupon can be a little jarring for newcomers. In an interview with Vanity Fair, CEO Andrew Mason says he still tries to make his company feel like a start-up. "As we get bigger, instead of being like most companies, conforming and becoming more normal, we want to become weirder." Mason knows getting onto the Groupon brainwave is vital to these employees' success. So, he meets with a group of new employees every two weeks, provides an overview of the company, and gives them a chance to ask him any questions directly. This is a mentoring kind of leadership style that matches with Clan Culture.

Interesting enough, the dominant culture types that we recognize with these successful start-ups in their growth, match very well with the Competing Values Framework. From research it was found that companies tend to start in the Adhocracy Culture quadrant and when they survive their start-up phase and grow, they move on to the Clan Culture quadrant. Moreover, these two culture types both value flexibility and discretion, giving individuals some space to improvise, experiment, socialize, deviate, differ, innovate and grow...! This is what people long for, not just those working at fancy Internet start-ups.

Thanks Kyle for sharing your observations with us.