How to grow your company culture from day one

Company culture is formed from the very start of a business's lifecycle: so how can you ensure you get it right from day one?

A great company culture does it all: recruits talent, retains talent, and makes your customers happy. Vend’s culture has done all these things, including winning them workplace awards, and attracting passionate employees and customers across the globe.

But for a fast-growth startup, knowing your company’s culture is amazing is not enough. You have to know how it is amazing in order to maintain it as you grow, and transplant it over international borders, across time zones, and into other, well, cultures.

Company culture in the early days of a startup is pretty much the perfect chicken and egg scenario. You’re building a company culture at the same time as defining your people practices, and each one is shaped by the other. So where do you start?

Looking back at the Vend journey it’s fair to say we started with an intention. To employ responsible people and let them get on with it; to expect the very best from people; and to have a bunch of good times along the way. Seeing as we were building *all the things* at once, it was so important to have a context for making decisions – whether they were big ones like how to pay people, or small ones like what to wear to work.

Having a clear intention and vision of what Vend could grow into allowed us to take the necessary steps throughout the business to build the trust, transparency and inclusivity that define our culture today.

Here are the steps we’ve taken to keep our culture torch alive as we open new offices around the globe.

Define what creates your culture – and build it into your processes

As I mentioned before it is trust, transparency and inclusivity that define our culture at Vend.

By trusting people you give them the freedom and confidence to solve problems in a way that suits them, be proud of their results and accountable for their output, and not be terrified of making mistakes. Fear stifles creativity and innovation. As does micro-management. Trust also gives people room to manage their own time and get some work-life flexibility – which goes a long way to reduce stress.

Transparency for us means constantly sharing information. We share the good the bad and the ugly. A startup is very high risk. When you try something new you may or may not win. This is unnerving for a lot of people, but by constantly sharing and being open, bad news is motivating rather than demoralising.

>Related: Building businesses with a start-up mentality

Inclusivity means everyone at Vend is equal regardless of their role. We have layers of management, of course, but no closed doors. Anyone can talk to anyone, and work with any department or chime in on any project. People gain a deep sense of belonging and feel very loyal.

For example, when we completed our last capital raise we had to be very careful not to leak the news too early. But even though we were a team of 60+ and quite a lot was at stake, we shared the news with the entire Vend team. Because that’s what teams do.

Everyone knew the awesome details ($20mil! Peter Thiel investor!!) and knew not to share them outside the company. And no one did.

Develop a solid onboarding program

We have a very specific onboarding program we run every 2 – 4 weeks, depending on how many hires. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the exec team or a marketing assistant, everyone goes through the same program all together.

Our onboarding includes spending A LOT of time on the support desk, getting to know our customers and product, and sessions with each of the department heads learning everything about the company. How we get customers, how we make money, how we ship product, what our brand standards are…  The whole shebang.

“Seed” culture in new offices with people

Every new Vend office is established by one or two long-term Venders. This usually involves sending these wonderful people halfway across the world to a new city. They transplant our culture and share their knowledge with new hires. And it works like magic. Travel from one office to another and it always feels as if you’re coming home.

>See also: Are entrepreneurs actually cool?

Implement communication technology and habits early

We use a few different platforms to communicate internally, including Yammer and Hipchat. We introduce new hires to these spaces right away, and require them to introduce themselves.

We also include a buddy project in our onboarding, called “Vend Friends.” Each new hire is assigned a Vend friend in their office, and a few overseas. These Vend Friends take the new hire to lunch or Google hangout from overseas and take them on a virtual tour. The result is new hires immediately have a network of friends and contacts at Vend.

Don’t pick favourites

I don’t mean people. Every office space needs to be as amazing as the others – and consistent in terms of design. Each office is full of people who are as vital to the company’s success as any other. If you put them in a space that isn’t on par with the others, they quickly begin to feel like second class citizens – and rightly so.

Recruit for cultural fit

Given the choice between choosing a technical expert who doesn’t really ‘get’ us and someone who fits right in but needs some upskilling, there is no debate – cultural fit always wins.

Getting the right cultural fit is about values. Is the person you’re interviewing respectful to others? Do they listen well? Are they passionate about and driven by similar goals?

Mel Rowsell is head of employee experience at Vend

Further reading on entrepreneurs: Five business giants who bombed first time round

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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