Culture is everything. It makes us feel connected. It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. Either in society or companies, culture is what bonds a set of people with values they all believe in.
From a business standpoint, culture is also what can make or break a company. Which is more important in startups: a startup is a cult, a religion. A startup needs to have true believers, people who trust a company can make the impossible possible. And companies with a well-defined and strong culture are the ones that are the most likely to succeed.
Take Amazon. New hires must read the leadership principles, a set of core values every single employee must follow. All Amazonians operate, breathe and live by these principles. If you do not embrace them, you will not only have a hard time working there but will ultimately be let go. There are simple, actionable rules everybody must apply in their daily work. For example, no slides are presented during meetings: all meetings start with a 1, 3 or 6 pagers document that all employees must read before the meeting. Efficiency at its best.
Take Coinbase. Two years ago, its CEO made it clear that Coimbase is a mission-focused company and that activities that do not help or support the company’s mission will not be tolerated. At this time, this document made waves and a huge backlash ensued. But today, employees know what is the mission of the company and what is expected from them. And new employees joining Coinbase know exactly what to expect and what rules will be used to evaluated their performance.
Take Shopify. Less than a year ago, Shopify CEO also made it clear that political discourse is not welcome within the company. More importantly, he emphasized that the company was not a family but a team. The team must play at its best and when a player is no longer an A player, they must be let go. This clearly shows how employees are evaluated and what rules they should follow.
When culture is not defined or weak (e.g. no reinforcement), others will define the culture for you. There will be no common understanding of working rules and chaos will slowly but surely ensue.
Keeping a strong culture makes sure that everybody (1) knows the rules of the game and (2) will follow these rules, which is better for the company operators and the employees. For the company operator, it ensures that every single employee or contractor shares the company vision and is dedicated to making the company successful. For employees, it ensures that they are not wasting their time working in an environment they dislike. Some people may not like the culture and ultimately leave, which is a short-term issue and an opportunity to have new people with better alignment with the company values.