COVID-19 dramatically accelerated the pre-existing trend toward distributed workforces. While the core principles in this guide hold true in any mode of operation, the tactical execution of great org health should adjust if your team is fully or partially remote. Here are a few key things to bear in mind:
Alternatively, the Microsoft product suite can cover most of the above. There are pros and cons of going best of breed vs. single vendor.
Here are some of the best resources on managing remote work (bookmark these!):
When starting and scaling a business, work often commands more than its fair share of hours and mental real estate. Home health matters, and it affects performance. Get to know your direct team’s spouses / significant others. Include them in the ride. Help them see what this stressful, against-the-odds journey is all about, why you are working so hard for so little near term pay. Encourage your teammates to share life updates, even as pedestrian as regular weekend recaps. EOS incorporates this in its regular check-ins, for example: each person starts with a ‘business best’ and a ‘personal best’. Home life, especially spousal relationships get little airtime in the startup zeitgeist despite the critical importance. Categorically ignoring life outside the office becomes toxic and counterproductive. Encourage people to bring their full self to work. It will foster deeper bonds and help everyone make it through the tough grinds.
If you can answer each of these with an honest and firm yes, then you are on track to building a robust, lasting culture.
As new faces multiply, it gets more difficult and more important to keep a pulse on what it’s really like at all levels. Talk to trusted confidants and lean on your cultural founders. Be visible. Open your door for regular office hours (you can learn just as much as you teach). Are people leaning on your core values in meetings? Do they feel both empowered and challenged? Use every exec meeting to collect feedback from the frontlines of each department. Is your leadership team still drinking the Kool aid? Are their people? Just beware that your managers are most likely going to add positive spin on reality. Ask new employees after their first week what they think your culture is like. Ask them for advice: “if you were me, how would you improve the culture based on your first week”? New employees are great subjects for this.
As you get into Series B and beyond, it might make sense to implement a software tool that helps you keep this pulse (more on this in a later post). Software can augment but should never fully replace personal check-ins.
Beyond good listening, strong culture requires constant tending and reinforcement. Just beware of getting too dogmatic on anything but the mission (even values can change, though it shouldn’t happen often). Remind your exec team that – by nature of their positions – they are culture setters and they need to model how things should be done. Publicly recognize individuals with specific stories of how they embodied your culture code.
When something breaks down (e.g. the wrong people are quitting, you’re failing at your top priorities, an employee does something that truly shocks you), dig several layers deep to get to the root cause. Where did the breakdown happen and what does it say about the strength of your culture? Was the person in question not effectively trained during onboarding on how people talk and act? Did they see the same behavior in their superior(s) and conclude it was okay? Usually, there is something more systematic at the core. Think about the cultural system first and don’t hesitate to terminate individuals for clear cultural violations when necessary. Pruning is part of good hygiene and it also sends a clear message to the organization. As the military adage goes, when you see something below standard and do nothing, then you’ve set a new standard. The same goes for culture.
There are a lot of ways to systematize your culture feedback loop. Ultimately it comes down to what works best for you. However you do it, it needs to become a part of your everyday thought. Make it one of your core mental compartments, right in there with growth strategy and product.