One Friday morning, Richard Brock, the founder of my first startup came to me. He had an idea to add a feature to one of our major software products. I told him it was a really good idea and it would make the product more competitive but it would take a few months to add. After all, adding this feature would change every program in the system. He would not hear my lame excuses.
Instead, he spent the entire weekend modifying every program in the system to add the feature. On Monday he came to me and said, “Make these changes. Recompile the programs. The new feature is added. I’m selling it starting today.”
Brock had a sense of urgency second to none. He instilled this ‘get it done now’ value into our company culture because that’s who he was. In addition, he would work the hours. His work ethic was unassailable. He was there when he needed to be there and did what needed to be done when it needed to be done.
As the founder of your company, the culture of the company is you. Who you are every day, in every situation with the people around you sets the culture in place. What you believe and how you behave is how the company will believe and behave.
Company culture is a reflection of the founder’s personal rules, social rules and community rules. Here is how it played out in our company.
Your Work Ethic Sets The Tone
I was in San Diego installing software for one of our new customers. My plan was to be there through Thursday night and then fly to Denver to get married. On Wednesday morning I showed the customer some of the reports from one of the systems. He said the reports were missing a key feature. Without it, he wasn’t buying the system. He wasn’t going to pay us.
I worked non stop through the night from noon Wednesday to 5 PM Thursday, to add the feature. I showed the customer the new reports, he paid me and I flew to Denver to get married.
Richard’s personal rule of ‘do it now’ was reflected in my decision and behavior. In fact, it made it automatic.
How You Reward Effort Matters
Our company played racquetball for fun, competition and exercise. It was a great way for us to build deeper relationships and stay healthy at the same time.
We were also struggling. We were working crazy hours, not making money and sacrificing time with our families. As I look back, it was a very difficult time in my life as a newlywed.
One day Richard and I were at a racquetball center and he saw me admiring an expensive gym bag. He saw that I didn’t buy it and he knew it was because I didn’t have the money. When I got to the office, he presented the bag as a gift. He told me we are working too hard not to enjoy some rewards.
I never forgot that gesture. In fact, I realize now how it defined our culture. It revealed itself in compensation plans, reward trips, company celebrations and awards to employees. If you worked hard and got results you were rewarded.
Your social rules as a founder sets this part of the culture. This isn’t something you just decided is a good idea. It is you. A rule you live by. How you interact with people every day determines how employees interact inside and outside the business.
Your Priorities Are Their Priorities
Community rules set the bar for what is is right, wrong and fair.
Early in the life of our startup, our founder published the ‘golden rule.’ He talked about it and he taped a copy of it to the wall in our computer room. This was our community area and gathering place as it was the biggest room in the office.
“The Golden Rule: He with the gold makes the rules.”
The implications were clear. The founder was in charge and what he said goes. He had the gold and he made the rules.
It also impacted the way we we treated customers. They had the gold and they made the rules. If a customer wanted something we were all over it, right away.
This community rule set our culture and helped us succeed. Our priority was the people who had the cash, the gold. It kept us practical and focused. This impacted our strategy, tactics and product development. This culture did not change from the day our founder posted it in the computer room. In fact, this is a part of my community traits to this day.
Your company’s culture is the differentiator for your company in the marketplace. It makes your company unique. It determines how things get done, how your people interact and defines right from wrong. And this culture could not be easier to put in place and maintain. After all, it is the rules you live by as the founder.