Culture in a startup is always one of the most important things to develop. The future of a company depends on how well team members work together, and a seamless, positive working environment can only be achieved when the right values are integrated into the business culture.
The competition for talent in the technology world is high. Glassdoor’s 2019 “Highest Paying Entry Level Jobs and Internships” ranking shows that data scientist and software engineer roles are the most in-demand—and highest-paid at entry level—positions for graduates in both tech and non-tech companies.
Top 10 Highest Paying Entry Level Jobs in the U.S. for 2019
A cynical viewpoint would suggest that developing an attractive business culture offers an edge in such a competitive recruitment market. But this is one of the worst reasons to enhance your business culture as focusing on this alone is superficial.
Instead, your company’s business culture should be driven by an ambition to improve the day-to-day working environment for everyone at the company as a reflection of your organization’s core values and identity. Fundamentally, this identity is what potential applicants are applying to be a part of. Defining these values and this identity is a crucial part of a business’ ongoing culture as well as the hiring process.
Though the perfect corporate business culture is an ideal that can never be fully realized, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to spend time and energy consciously setting out some guideposts. But, what is corporate culture?
As Ben Horowitz states in his book What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture, “… your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there. It’s the set of assumptions your employees use to resolve the problems they face every day. It’s how they behave when no one is looking. If you don’t methodically set your culture, then two-thirds of it will end up being accidental, and the rest will be a mistake.” (Horowitz, 2019)
A culture of trust that begins right from the onboarding process helps build relationships and provides insights from both the hiring organization and the new employees’ sides of the perspective. In software development, employees don’t necessarily need to be hired because they know the tech they are going to work with.
If you focus entirely on tech skills, you will eliminate a large pool of potential candidates. The hiring focus should always be on recruiting the right person to fit in within your organizational culture. There are many ways to fill a candidate’s knowledge ‘gap’ even before a person is hired.
One option, for example, is to provide the candidate with direct feedback about the lack of technology overlap and agree a reasonable time to revisit after they’ve had a chance to begin familiarizing themselves with it. This should allow the time for the candidate to study and demonstrate that they can leverage their existing knowledge to quickly learn and pick up the technology.
Good onboarding starts with encouraging employees to reflect and self-assess their aptitude, and then supporting them as they spend the first few months learning about the business, the corporate culture, as well as the necessary new technologies.
Senior executives can use this opportunity to learn more about their new employees and set goals to guide the onboarding process. If the hiring manager micromanages and is overly influential, it will be difficult to establish trust. Self-assessment and cultural assessment skills are integral to this process. It’s also important to help new employees get up to speed by taking on tasks that are vital to business-critical workloads. While the first couple of months of learning can be expensive, it can prove invaluable in the long run.
Building trust is important for a couple of critical reasons. First, development projects now typically extend beyond the traditional short three-month period. New employees are often asked to jump into development projects in the middle of a well-defined process—which is the equivalent of throwing them in the deep end of a pool and hoping they work out how to swim alongside everyone else. Even worse, new employees don’t always understand what they will be developing or the tasks they will have to manage. This signals the importance of building trust from the very beginning to create an open feedback dialogue for both parties about any potential issues from the start. New employees need to feel they can flag an issue or ask for help and managers need to trust a new employee to be open about their way of working.
The need for trust in an organization is further amplified by the fact that development teams now consist of team members handling specific tasks. No one is fully involved in the development process from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to have a good sense of ownership over the process and the end results. They simply need to develop their skills so that they become an inseparable part of the process.
Finally, based on more Glassdoor research published in 2020, more than three-quarters (77%) of adults across the globe consider a company’s corporate culture before they apply for a job there. Furthermore, well over half of the surveyed audience (56 %) responded that company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. Employee culture is becoming a core business issue in a growing number of sectors. The below image for the U.S. alone is indicative of a global trend as per the research findings.
For this study, Glassdoor surveyed more than 5,000 adults across four countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
Trust is a component of corporate culture, and as such, it can be developed through certain processes. For new employees, onboarding becomes the process during which they make the necessary adjustments to internal workflows and processes. This is the period when employers and employees work together in building trust and reaching the same level of understanding.
At Cherre, we’ve adopted an approach to this process of cultural development that progresses from when they sign their contract, to the end of their career with Cherre. The onboarding process is simply the foundation for an employee’s ongoing career progress; as most employees, at least the good ones, want to further their career when joining your company. As a leader, we are responsible for helping them achieve that goal and we believe that most employees will reward you by working hard and achieving the best they can.
We begin by encouraging new employees to look into their toolbox of skills and experience before they start. It’s important to be supportive and open. We aren’t looking for a weakness to hammer here, we are looking for areas they want to learn and improve.
We commit to this improvement at Cherre by allowing all employees their first month for training, learning, and adjusting. This begins with an email that outlines self-training guidance and training references as well as key information surrounding the company, such as first day expectations and our core values.
Next, we let them take a closer look at the processes within the organization by setting them up with a mentor. This mentor then stays with them for the entire three months to answer any and all questions. Accordingly, the mentor should not be a reporting manager.
An employee’s first week at Cherre covers the following:
This first week then ends with a cultural feedback review that begins a dialogue between Cherre and the new employee. This review allows the new employee to provide their perspective on company culture to us—which we believe is vital since the employee can offer a fresh set of eyes on factors that we are perhaps too entrenched in the company to see clearly. This open dialogue is intended to help the two parties take steps towards aligning on culture as well as business-critical expectations.
Cherre provides learning and support for any gaps in skills and expertise that the employee highlights in their self-assessment. This training is customized to each new employee to help them get up to speed to the point where they are happy to begin contributing to business processes and internal workflows.
At the end of a new Cherre employee’s first month, we organize another check-in where they sit down and self-assess again as well as provide feedback on the onboarding process and their experience. At this point, we also introduce them to our Agile Coach and begin to filter them into our real estate domain training. This next phase is all about allowing new employees to catch up at their own speed.
As mentioned before, we believe skills self-assessment and cultural assessments are equally important and cannot be separated. At Cherre, the two processes are designed to support each other. When new employees feel the need for additional courses to improve their skill levels, they are encouraged to also work with key influencers within the company to improve their ability.
Employees are also encouraged to continue this training until they feel competent and confident in their self-assessment. Regular check-ins with their mentor, department head, and hiring managers keep this dialogue open and build trust. Again, referencing Ben Horowitz’s book, “Without trust, communication breaks. Here’s why: In any human interaction, the required amount of community is inversely proportional to the level of trust.” (Horowitz, 2019)
The tricky part in business is implementing a system that develops new employees during the onboarding process. The cycle needs to really begin with leadership defining, understanding, and communicating the kind of values and corporate culture they want to implement. The next step involves creating a system that allows those values to be absorbed by new employees. There are several things you can do to accelerate the process.
First, give new employees enough room to perform self-assessment and grow. This is a way to show trust to new team members. We opt for monthly targets that are mutually agreed on by both sides so that employees don’t feel we are micromanaging them. They do have weekly one-on-one sessions but that is for the manager to answer questions and provide support.
We have to recognize that trust is a two-way thing, and the best way to develop trust is by trusting the individual to take responsibility in their training process too. Allowing employees to recognize their skill gaps and take action to fill them is a fantastic way to start.
The process doesn’t stop there. An organization must also facilitate employee development as part of the onboarding process. Providing internal training and giving access to external courses are ways you can further develop trust among new employees. They will be more likely to ask for additional courses or recommend further actions this way.
Culture activation is the next task, which starts with leadership. It always starts with the founders. You cannot expect new (and existing) employees to behave in a certain way if company leaders don’t represent the same values in every situation. Encouraging openness as a cultural value within the organization needs to start with the management team being open.
Starting from the top is easier too. Rather than trying to change team members and struggling in the process, it is much easier to change yourself and become a part of the process. The onboarding of new employees must include sessions during which senior leaders regularly interact with the new team members directly.
Last but certainly not least, act human and be consistent. Consistency is key in the onboarding process and beyond. Consistency is how you make sure that the right values are implemented, and the right culture is the outcome. Trust will follow suit.
Building a corporate culture of trust from the onboarding process will benefit the company—and everyone in it—in the long run. If you are serious about remaining competitive as a startup or organization, the approach is worth implementing early. As Ben Horowitz puts it, “Your employees will test you on your cultural virtues, either accidentally or on purpose, so before you put one into your company, ask yourself, “Am I willing to pass the test on this?” (Horowitz, 2019)
▻ VP of Engineering @ Cherre ▻ Cloud Solutions Architect ▻ DevOps Evangelist
Stefan is an IT professional with 20+ years management and hands-on experience providing technical and DevOps solutions to support strategic business objectives.