Startup Culture: Training Your Ecosystem

Startup Culture: Training Your Ecosystem

Organizational aphorisms like "Culture eats Strategy for breakfast" are fairly well known and accepted. However, they're fairly difficult to apply to a real-life startup situation because the "what is culture?" question has only complex answers. In this post, I'll try unwrap/un-warp one specific aspect of building a culture -- training your startup's ecosystem. 'Ecosystem' broadly refers to employees, customers, competitors, vendors etc.

It all starts with a simple tenet: If you train people to do something, that's what they'll do. 

To exemplify:

Customers of some software companies always wait months/years before upgrading to a new version of the software i.e. they've been trained to expect a buggy first version of every new product, so that's what they'll do.

Employees working for some bosses always leave work for the day before a deadline i.e. they've been trained to expect a huge amount of last-minute feedback, so that's what they'll do.

Many teams have a free-rider i.e. they've been trained to expect the rest of the team to pick up the slack without complaining, so that's what they'll do.

Customers of some retail brands always wait for a sale to make a purchase i.e. they've been trained to buy at a discounted price, at a certain time of the month/year, so that's what they'll do.

Closer to everyone's day-to-day: Android users often don't upgrade to the latest OS version from their handset manufacturer i.e. they've been trained to expect a significant loss of performance on their old phone with the new OS version, so that's what they'll do. 

...one could go one forever along these lines. 

But here's the actual point: Building an organizational culture that eats strategy for breakfast = Training every stakeholder in your startup's ecosystem to expect some things consistently. (Aside: Those "things" - values - constitute your organization's culture). 

The good part: There's a natural constraint on how/how many things a company can train its ecosystem on. 

For example, a software product company can train its customers to expect EITHER impeccable products, OR a 100% on-time release cycle (not saying its impossible to do both, it's just unlikely anyone can commit both). In parallel, a startup can train its employees to value EITHER time-to-market, OR perfection. In a way, once you make the choice, the company is training all its stakeholders on the same values.

Pick the 5 values most important to your startup's success, and train every stakeholder on it relentlessly, and without exception.

And you won't have to worry about strategy meddling in culture, ever.

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