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Eight rules for a kick-ass company culture

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Mitchell Harper

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Opinion: Building a company culture takes focus.

It's easy to misinterpret company culture as just window dressing - add a few Xboxes and a foosball table and, voila!: company culture. But start-ups ignore this vital building block at their peril.

A good company culture can make the difference between success and failure.

Creating a positive culture that suits your company or start-up isn't easy and takes pig-headed focus. In fact, most companies don't know what their culture is and why it does or doesn't work. Most importantly, it's not just about keeping up appearances or looking like a 'cool' place to work. Yes, the office needs to be fun, but what is at the core of successful start-up company cultures?

Based on my experience at the helm a fast growth start-up, instilling eight simple rules is all that's standing between you and the company culture you want.

By following these rules, we were able to improve already high retention rates, find amazing talent faster, increase productivity and ultimately become the fastest growing e-commerce platform provider in the world.

A comfortable team is a happy team

Like I said, it's not about the number of Xboxes you have or whether or not there are beanbags in the meeting room. It is, however, about providing your team with the best environment you can, so they can get their job done. Paying a few hundred dollars more per employee for ergonomic chairs, an extra display and a healthy selection of snacks in the kitchen isn't going to break the bank. In return, you'll see increased productivity and happier employees, which means faster growth and less attrition.

It's a mission, not a mission statement

Above and beyond any other advice you read about company culture, this is the most important: every person must understand your company's mission, not just your mission statement. That doesn't mean you forgo a mission statement altogether, what it does mean is that your mission statement can't be empty. Beyond mere words, employees must know the goal of your company and how they can help to achieve it. If you give people purpose, they will give you gold.

Getting to the core of core values

Put simply, core values are the set of principles a company runs by. They should be established and implemented from the top down, so everyone from your CEO to your interns know why, not just how, your company runs. A company's values should reflect the personality of the company and what you're trying to accomplish. Similarly to your company's mission statement, they should be brief and easy to remember.

Our number one value is: be honest - always. What this means is that if at any time someone isn't following our core values, they're immediately breaking the number one rule. It's that simple. Core values aren't just about singing Kumbaya around a campfire; they should dictate who you accept into your company and how each staff member conducts themselves while they're there. Any departure from your company's core values should be taken seriously and immediate action should be taken.

We also have massive stickers in both of our offices on all of the walls that list our core values. It helps team members remember them and shows visitors how serious we are about adhering to them.

Let free speech reign

Sometimes the best ideas come from the most unlikely places, so it's important that your team members are able to express themselves. Ensure there's an official channel for people to submit their suggestions. Even if their idea wasn't acted on, people should at least know that it was considered.

Celebrate the wins

If you have a positive company culture, no doubt your team members will go the extra mile. And when they do, it's important to recognise their efforts. Every time we bring on an additional 1000 clients (every few weeks) we order cupcakes across both of our offices. It's a small gesture that celebrates the milestones on the road to our larger goal, namely being the number one e-commerce platform in the world.

Trust your team

People want to do a good job, so if a team member wants to try something new or take a different approach, why not give them the space to do it? At worst, they fail. At best, your company is closer to achieving its goals and you've empowered your staff in the process.

Avoid the creativity-killer that is micromanagement by giving your staff increasingly complex projects to complete on their own. This shows employees that they have the capacity to improve and grow while giving managers valuable insight into the ability of their staff.

Attitude over skill set

When hiring, attitude trumps skill set every time. No matter how brilliant a potential team member is, if they're incompatible with your company culture you need to keep looking. This may hurt you in the short term because it may take longer to fill a role, but long term it means you have a team that works well together and shares your enthusiasm.

Put your company culture on display

Being loud and proud of your company culture will help you in two very important ways: it attracts talented people to your company and is a selling point for potential clients. Put videos and photos on your company's website and Facebook page that display your company and staff at their best. Avoid dull presentations and stick to genuine messages about what it means to work at your company. If a client likes what they see, it can make the winning difference between you and your competitors.

Mitchell Harper is co-founder of BigCommerce.com

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