Going PRO — 3 steps to startup culture


Starting a business can be trickier than tying your shoelaces one-handed — and much more rewarding when you pull it off.

But if you don’t define and embed an appropriate corporate culture from the start, there’s little chance of implementing it once you expand.

Pardot co-founder David Cummings says, ‘corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. Develop a strong culture first and foremost’.

Since we’re fond of acronyms, here’s our three step guide to going PRO (Payroll, Radical transparency and Organisational structure) with startup culture.

  1. P = Payroll outsourcing

Rather than being henchmen for management or advocates for staff, HR employees should focus on optimising business operations.

Emotionally intelligent HR staff will become the guardians and enforcers of your corporate culture — monitoring compliance at all levels.

But they’re ineffective while bogged down by time-consuming admin tasks like payroll, so set them free by engaging a payroll outsourcing provider. This type of service automates precise salary payments and ensures adherence to relevant tax regulations anywhere in the world.

When HR staff aren’t stuck behind computer screens all day, they’re free to walk the floor and champion the values and behaviours that keep the business working like a well-oiled machine.

  1. R = Radical transparency

In autocratic businesses, major decisions are often made exclusively by C-Suite executives, then cascaded down the hierarchy to be implemented without question by less senior staff.

There are potential problems with this approach. Firstly, decision-making quality is compromised by ‘group think’ — policies, plans and procedures are always scrutinized by the same people, so potential pitfalls aren’t spotted. Secondly, decisions never benefit from the input of experienced frontline staff or the collective intelligence of the entire organization.

The solution is radical transparency — an ‘ideas meritocracy’ where staff at any level are contractually obliged to constantly challenge and/or defend the thinking behind their decisions. It enables the most robust ideas to win, no matter where they originate and has been adopted by prominent hedge funds and social media agencies alike.

  1. O = Organisational structure

If your organisational structure clashes with the type of culture you’d like to embed, it’ll be very difficult to implement effectively.

For instance, a radically transparent culture might not suit a traditional top-down structure where there’s a strict hierarchy and managers aren’t willing or able to be challenged.

But it is complemented by a flat organisational structure with less layers of middle management and self-managed teams — the rationale is that people with the relevant information make the decisions, regardless of the seniority conferred by their job title.

Flat structures are popular with major tech firms and large shoe and clothing retailers as well as small and medium startups — although some companies have found them hard to maintain as they’ve scaled up.

So there are three steps to going PRO with startup culture — they could be your key to sustained success.

Which corporate culture do you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments section