Here’s what happens when your scaleup does not put culture first

Here’s what happens when your scaleup does not put culture first

Being a founder of a scaleup myself, I get the struggles around culture. And to make a confession here: I also thought up until COVID-19 last year that culture was mainly about drinking beers on Friday, or about me and my Co-Founder (and twin sister!) staying every Friday to show that we’re also part of the team.

Thanks to COVID-19 (because let’s be fair, it actually did bring some nice things also), I got rid of this perception of culture. I really believe I got to deeply understand what culture is about, and maybe even more importantly, what happens when your scaleup does not put culture first. In this blog, I’ll tell you all about it. 

Company culture: From an unknown concept in the 20th century to a crucial strategic pillar in the 21th century

Our grandparents likely won’t tell us about the culture of the company that they have been working for – simply because company culture basically did not really exist back then. So what has changed, that makes this such an important topic nowadays?

When reading a history book in the 22st century, the 21st one will likely be described as the century in which the Third Industrial Revolution took place. Technologies have evolved extremely fast, and this global digitalisation, therefore, has a significant impact on the way we live. Let’s think of it: How many hours per day do you interact with technologies like a laptop or smartphone?

As a result of this digital revolution, we are constantly connected. Phones aren’t switched off after 5PM, and laptops aren’t closed between 5PM and 9AM – simply because we have both a private and professional interest with these technologies. The consequence of this is the fact that boundaries between working life and private life have become vaguer. For example, we do send messages in our Equalture WhatsApp group every now and then during the weekend. And as these boundaries have become vaguer, we have also started caring more about the impact that our working life has on our private life, as well as the extent to which the norms, values, and beliefs of the companies we work for are in line with our personal norms, values, and beliefs. 

That’s why company culture matters – or to be more precise, why your company can’t succeed without the right culture. Your scaleup’s company culture is the mirror of what your company stands for and what your company believes in – and if that’s not what your team wants to see when looking into the mirror, they will eventually leave you. 

Our culture was saved by physical boundaries

When we closed the office last year, we had just doubled our team in the first week of March. And those hiring spikes are exactly the moments in which you should be extra aware of your culture and the impact so many new hires have on your culture. Add a closed office to the equation here, and the result was a non-stop fear of losing our culture. 

Ironically enough, physical boundaries not only became the biggest reason for my fear, but also the kickstarter of our actual culture. In fact, we should be extremely thankful for it. Why? Well, because when literally being physically apart from each other, culture can no longer be about beers on Friday, a typical startup office, or a pingpong table. 

Physical boundaries eliminate materials, physical environments, and events. Instead, it puts all focus on behaviour, interaction, and motivation. And that’s what culture is about for me.

What I learned about my own scaleup culture

For me, culture is about finding the right answer to the question you would ask potential hires:

‘’Let’s imagine a fully remote company where you would never see your colleagues physically, what would you then be looking for in a company?’’

Why? Well, because this answer forces you to focus on behaviour, interaction, and motivation, rather than tangible things. In fact, this question also helped me, because if you ask this question to potential hires, you should also be able to answer it yourself. And that’s how I, although it might sound super weird, got to know our own culture. 

I want my scaleup to be an environment in which there’s a healthy balance between collaboration and a bit of mutual competitiveness, as this keeps everyone sharp. An environment in which we can deal with unexpected challenges as a team, in which there’s a healthy balance between ad-hoc and sustainable problem solvers. An environment where we embrace constant change, without losing our critical mindset towards the need for change. And I want Equalture to be an environment where each and every colleague lives and breathes our mission to shape the world of unbiased hiring. 

And you know what’s so funny here? I could have amazing Fridays with my team, while missing all the components mentioned above, ultimately leading to everything but successful teamwork. And that’s why these Friday Beers have literally nothing to do with culture. 

What happens when your scaleup does not put culture first

We all know how it works in scaleups. Once you reach that point on which you can’t really call yourself a startup anymore, you know that hiring like crazy will be next, as company growth goes hand in hand with team growth. 

Here at Equalture, we also face the constant struggle of being behind on our hiring schedule, which sometimes can even lead to a fear of not reaching your targets. For example, having an Engineering team that’s smaller than desired can lead to not reaching product roadmap targets, which can eventually have an impact on sales. Or not having enough Sales colleagues to sell your product can lead to getting fewer new customers on board.

The painful truth is that we choose to achieve targets over protecting culture. Hiring quickly over hiring sustainably. We don’t put our culture first.

Maybe in the short term, this results in more human power to execute your plans. In the mid- and long-term, however, new hires will walk out the door in no time, due to a lack of culture fit, and even more painfully, the very first hires that helped you to go from 0 to 10 will leave, as they can’t identify themselves with your company anymore. And as we all know, without a successful team, you will never build a successful company. 

Dear founders, please put your culture always first. Please don’t exchange culture for hypergrowth. Your employees don’t want to work for your company because it can become the next unicorn. Your employees want to work for your company because they believe that the ‘why’ behind your company can make you conquer the world. 

How Equalture can help

Equalture is a hiring tool that uses gamification, measuring someone’s skills and personality, to help scaleups and SMBs hire the best-fits on data instead of gut feeling and biases. And one of my favourite features in our platform is the Cultural Indicators feature – with this feature you can let your current team complete our games to measure the (soft) skills and personality of everyone in your current team. And by doing so, you will get a data-driven overview of your cultural dynamics, allowing you to instantly spot whether candidates will fit with your culture.

Curious to try out one of these games? Leave your details below and start your game right away. However, we won’t tell you what we will measure only until after you’ve completed it. 😉 

I really do hope that this blog is another reminder to you of the importance of culture. After all, there’s no successful company without a successful team. And that starts with a rockstar foundation of your culture.

Charlotte Melkert Co-Founder and CEO of Equalture in Portrait picture

Cheers, Charlotte

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