Three elements of building a winning startup culture

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Desh Deshpande

By Desh Deshpande

(Editor’s note: This is Part-6 of the weekly video column with philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande, with excerpts from his book “On Entrepreneurship and Impact.” This column appears every Monday.)

“To win in the marketplace, you have to win in the workplace first” –Doug Conant, Campbell Soup

Desh Deshpande

Corporate culture is generally defined as the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices.

While culture operates in an invisible fashion, it’s influence in producing results (good and bad) is unquestionable.

Building a winning culture should be a priority for all leaders – irrespective of the size of the company they are leading. If they don’t design it well, a culture will get created by default. Most often, the culture that gets created by default is not pretty.

Here are three elements of building a winning startup culture.

  1. Egoless:

Let me warn you that this is easier said than done. You have to create an environment where ideas don’t have authorship and people love solving problems without worrying about who solved the problems. In reality, we all know that it takes more than one person to solve a problem. This kind of a mindset will automatically make the work environment fun and rewarding.

A side benefit of this is that nobody will continue to defend and pursue a mediocre idea.

  1. Cohesive:

A startup is like a team of people in a canoe. A canoe moves and gains speed only when everyone is working in cohesion.

Granted, this involves making certain compromises such as striking the right balance between “quality” and “time to market.” Once a decision has been made whether everyone fully buys into it or not, they have to support the team. Without cohesion, there will be lot of activity, but not much productivity. Following the canoe analogy, without everyone rowing in the same direction, the canoe simply treads water and never gains speed.

  1. Listening

It is common for startups to change direction based on marketplace feedback. This feedback can come from customers or prospects or from one or more initiatives from the competition. You can change direction ONLY if you and your team are “listening” to feedback without being biased. You will face an uphill task in making progress if you are not open and willing to change in the face of feedback.

Most importantly, leaders have to set the right tone for the culture with their actions instead of simply talking about the need for a better culture.

(About Desh Deshpande: During his entrepreneurial career spanning over three decades, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande has built several companies. He has injected his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship into a number of social impact initiatives in India, the USA and Canada. He has been recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments by many institutions including being named co-chair of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He currently also serves as a Life Member of the MIT corporation. He resides in Boston together with his wife, Jaishree.)

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