When you’re just starting out building a new company, there are a lot of things on your mind - from funding, to really vetting your idea, to making sure you have all the technical skills needed to pull it off. You’re likely hiring employees based on how soon they can start, without a lot of attention given to their demographics or even their personality. One thing that may slip by until later down the road? Designing your culture.
As a business owner, I’ve had a few first hand experience of close calls - when I realized the culture of the company I was in charge of was turning into a place I didn’t want to work. I took considerable effort and some uncomfortable conversations to correct course, and I’m sure any business owner you ask will tell you the same.
To save you the time and heartache of fixing a culture problem, I’d like to present four steps you can take right now to help keep your company inclusive, ethical, fun, and an overall enjoyable and comfortable place for you and your employees to spend their time.
Planning is Everything
Making sure your company epitomizes the type of office environment you’ve always hoped for is no easy task, and involves significant managerial skills regardless. The best way to get a head start, however, is to lay out what your brand’s morals and ethics, as well as tone, will be before you hire anyone - or at least when you have less than ten employees.
As you get started, make sure to have a brainstorm session, either by yourself or with your cofounders and key team mates, in which you consciously decide what kind of company you want to create, from the employees’ perspective. I’m going to assume, since you’re reading this article, that you’re interested in ensuring your business is inclusive to a variety of demographics.
Some key tough questions to discuss:
- Do you want them to be professional, and wear business attire (a must for many industries)?
- Are you in an industry that is facing challenges when it comes to gender balance, in either direction? This is especially true if you’re in software or biotech, which are heavily dominated by men, or public relations and marketing, which are heavily dominated by women. The best, most productive workplaces have a mix of people from different backgrounds!
- How will you approach bullying in the workplace? Make a plan for this - it will happen. Neglecting to plan for this means you’ll likely avoid confronting the bully until you gather your thoughts, and likely lose several valuable employees in the interim.
- Do you have a plan for when an employee has a life event that requires them to take time off? This can be anything from a joyful birth of a child to an unfortunate injury or illness.
- At what point in your company’s growth will you implement a mentorship program?
These five questions will drive a larger conversation or brainstorming session for your company, which will set you on the right path towards a safe, inclusive, and welcoming workplace.
Design an Unbiased Interview Process
It’s human nature to want to be around people who are similar to us - just look at any group of friends, and you’ll usually find a trait that all have, whether it be race, religion, niche interest or social status. While there’s usually nothing malicious intended, or even consciousness of the choice, it’s important that companies fight against this common preference when hiring, or risk creating a corporation comprised of various “cliques.”
When designing your interview process, don’t be shy about learning from the greats in your industry. For example, many major software firms ensure that interview panels are as diverse as possible for the department, and keep each interviewer blind to the others’ reactions until the final discussion of whether or not the candidate will be hired.
Create a Clear Communication Hierarchy and Channel for HR Issues
I’m not going to act naive and assume that every company creates a human resources department as soon as they hire the first few employees - I know that’s not the case. Human resource departments are usually born of necessity, and not a minute sooner.
What can you do to ensure that employees don’t keep discomfort, harassment or even suggestions to themselves? Ensure that even though you don’t have an HR department, you’re clear who can receive that feedback, and that the employee will not have their position threatened by reporting. This is a simple, but heavy burden for one of your core founders or early team members to handle; when they become overwhelmed with HR responsibilities, consider it your prompt to hire a professional full time representative.
Have Team Bonding Activities
See, it’s not all dreary! An important part of building an inclusive and friendly environment is to make sure your employees are talking to each other about non-work topics. While some may consider this a waste of company time, the best managers know that when employees have a personal relationship, they’re able to produce better, faster products, and they stay at the company longer.
How have you built your company culture? What are you doing to ensure that your employees love working for you?