I really liked this post and wish I had read it before writing my own, which uses an eerily similar “crop” metaphor to describe culture and overall startup health. (We even used the same planting seeds picture…freaky.) Your tip about writing down your goals for company culture is a good one. Codifying what you want helps keep you on track and acts as a scaffold own which to base other decisions. It’s too easy to lose track of your goals in the startup chaos. I’d go a step further and post culture goals for the entire company to see, “little red book”-style so that everyone at the firm knows what we value and what factors should play into the decisions they make in their jobs, no matter how seemingly insignificant the decision may be.
I really identified with the “artifacts” argument. Before school I worked at a place that valued brains above polish. If they had decided to institute a strict dress code, it wouldn’t have done anything to change the way we operated and would have simply annoyed people. The interesting thing is the difference between internal culture and the culture presented to outsiders. I’ve never understood why a company needs a strict business formal dress code if employees are not client facing. The argument that it fosters a professional culture and empowers employees feels week to me. If I have to slave away at an investment bank, it’d be a little more manageable if I didn’t also have to wear a suit all night as well. Maybe that’s why I didn’t work at a bank.
When I saw this post I immediately thought of Donald Rumsfeld’s famously opaque speech involving unknown unknowns, so I had to read it. For the most part I agree with you, although I’d have liked to see some more concrete advice/rules of thumb rather than general things to keep in mind. For example, how can I “pressure test” a potential new hire? In all fairness, my post could be perceived as somewhat light on details; but it’d have been nice to see here regardless. I liked your last point about confidants. I think you’ve hit on something there that many entrepreneurs eschew for secrecy, pride, or whatever. It’s definitely easy to lose perspective and overlook glaring problems without someone to check your work. It’s also great therapy to talk it out with someone you don’t need to rely on professionally, especially if it can take a bit of the burden off your spouse or partner.