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How to create a positive company culture

With a notable rise in startups amongst many emerging markets, here are the strategies that help create a positive company culture.

Company culture is integral to the success of any business. It affects everything from increasing productivity and engagement, to raising morale and overall improving business performance.

While company culture may be hard to pin down or identify, it surrounds us all the time. It is generally defined as the shared set of values, beliefs, and attitudes that drive a business, both internally for employees and externally as part of its public image. The more well-defined a company culture is, the better it is able to attract and retain top talent.

According to research by Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that a distinct work culture is important to business success. That’s why founders must pay attention to building a positive and strong work culture that not only supports employees, but enables the business to grow and thrive.

Be Intentional

Every organisation has its own culture, whether it is deliberately cultivated, or developed organically over time.

Albert Malaty - Managing Director of Cairo Seed Program at Flat6Labs, the region’s leading seed and early venture capital firm - believes that it's important for founders to take the intentional approach to company culture. “What a lot of founders fail to do is actually set the culture from the very beginning,” Malaty tells StartupScene. “When they don’t do that, the culture just manifests, depending on who they bring into the organisation, and that becomes a culture. It becomes what the people make of it, and what they make it into. So, it’s actually imperative that culture is instilled from the inception of a business.”

Hossam Soliman, HR veteran and founder of HR consultancy firm DEXPERT, adds that culture has to be suitable to the type of business the startup is in. For example, a startup operating in the energy or renewable sector will most likely have a different type of culture than a startup operating in the media or automotive sector. 

“What kind of business are we in, and what kind of culture can we create that suits this type of business?” Soliman says. “It’s important to know who my target clients are. For example, I can’t create a culture that is serious while my clients are of a young age, or vice versa. We have to be able to speak the same language.”

Focus on Purpose and Values

Founders also need to take time to focus on the core values of their startups. Having clear company values helps ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and vision, instilling harmony and shared commitments. 

“Your value system is the integral part of your company. That’s what everything that you’re doing is driven under,” Mona Seleim, experienced culture advisor, tells StartupScene. “It’s a huge investment that needs to be done, and I’m not talking about monetary value. I’m talking about time value. Invest in it in the beginning, spend a lot of time on it, and it will pay off for you afterwards.”

So, what type of values should startups focus on? While there is no shortage of values available, Seleim states that the two most important values for most organisations are trust and transparency. Having trust and transparency enables businesses to not only attract and retain the right talent, but also foster open communication, which strengthens relationships between employees and their employers, and increases loyalty.

“If you have trust and transparency, you have the real version of what’s happening on the ground,” says Seleim. “The CEOs need to challenge the leaders, they need to challenge the teams to be as truthful and honest as possible, because when they’re not truthful and honest, and when things are hidden, that’s when they make the wrong decisions. And making wrong decisions can be the downfall of a company.” 

Put It to Practise

Once values are decided upon, they need to be put to practise. This doesn’t mean that they should be included in mission and vision statements, or on marketing materials. Rather they should be integrated seamlessly into an organisation’s culture, communication, and way of behaving. 

Seleim recommends having cultural ambassadors, or people who are keen to make an impact in the office environment, to work with the leadership team or culture advisors to create an action plan, embedding core values into business practices. “What you do is that you take each value, and you see how it’s reflected into your calendar. How is it reflected into your everyday practice? And how is it reflected in your language?” Seleim says. “Your language is indicative of your value system. So, how are you speaking? How are you using language in emails? Are you hash tagging it?” 

The key is to incorporate these values into everyday practices and with time, it will become part of the team and part of the organisation. “Eventually, you will have a fully-fledged culture that will almost be self-activated through the people,” she says. “So, the leadership will have very little to do with it. They can touch base with it, they can refurbish it every now and then, but it’s part of the people’s everyday life. It changes performance and productivity, and the outcome of the entire company.”

Even as companies start to adopt new ways of work - whether that’s remotely, in-office, or with a hybrid system - employees still want to be engaged and have a sense of belonging. And while the ways of communicating may have changed, relying more on digital tools, like Trello, Slack, Google and so on, culture still remains integral. “At the end, you are investing in people, and you want them to be at their full productivity,” Seleim says. “So, you need to provide them with the right environment and resources to be at their best.”

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