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Culture Shock: Lessons We’ve Learned about Building a Strong Company Culture

20th Mar 2024
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Suralink provides professional services firms with a single, secure platform to collaborate with clients, exchange documents at scale, and track the progress of engagements. 

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When one of our leaders started at Suralink in 2019, they were employee number eleven. They’d come from a much larger organisation, so the change to a startup—and everything that entails—was a bit of a shock, to say the least.

When they joined the company, the founders had done an amazing job of creating a positive and supportive atmosphere. But then, like virtually every other company around the world, Suralink went remote when Covid-19 hit.

And the company kept growing. And all of a sudden, the team was forced to face a few fairly obvious truths all at the same time: it’s easy to build and maintain a culture when there are only eleven employees. It’s easy to get to know each other and learn about each other’s lives and working styles. But, it’s much harder to maintain those relationships as the company continues to grow and employees aren’t seeing each other face-to-face every day.

With that in mind, we want to share a few lessons we’ve learned as we’ve endeavored to build a supportive, inclusive, and positive workplace culture.

 

1) Culture is Everyone

Your company’s culture belongs to every team member. It sounds trite, but it’s also true. That aforementioned leader was the first executive to join the Suralink team outside the founders. And for the first few months, they weren’t as busy as everyone else on the team. So, with that extra time, they decided to start supporting company culture.

Then, everyone pitched in. We created a culture committee made up of employees from a variety of different departments, and encouraged all employees to share ideas for culture and team-building activities. We created our corporate values. We encouraged employees to recognise each other on a daily basis. We started our yearly in-person summer workweek.

We didn’t (and still don’t) always get it right. There have been more than a few culture fails. But we hope we’ve built a culture where each individual employee feels like they are both the creator and the owner of that culture. Because the responsibility of a truly powerful company culture is a responsibility that belongs to everyone.

 

 

2) The True Meaning of Good People

The second lesson we learned (and we’re sure it seems gratuitous), is to hire good people. In this context, we don’t mean talented people (although that’s certainly important as well). We mean good people. People with integrity who are team players, who want to contribute to a healthy culture, and who want to participate.

There’s a saying that culture starts at the bottom, i.e., that the executive team shouldn’t be responsible for the company’s culture. In one way, that’s true; your company’s culture belongs to everyone (although it's virtually impossible to build a healthy culture if your leadership team hasn't bought in). But for a good culture to thrive, it must be driven by good people. And who is in charge of hiring good people? Executives, managers, and leaders.

Generally speaking, people tend to hire people who share their core values. So, if your firm has executives and managers who are genuinely good people—meaning they have integrity, they’re honest, they care about their employees beyond wringing every drop of work out of them, and they’re compassionate—chances are good that they’ll hire other people with those same qualities.

This isn't always as easy as it sounds. It takes dedication and time. And sometimes, it means passing on a wildly talented person who you know doesn't share those same values. It also sometimes means taking months to hire instead of weeks. But, in our experience, it's always worth it.

Fostering an amazing culture was relatively easy when we were a startup. We’re long past the startup days now, but the lessons we’ve learned from that time period have continued to serve us well as we’ve tried to grow and maintain that culture.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a magic key that will unlock the type of culture you’re looking to build. But by bringing your employees into the decision-making and culture-building process, and hiring the right kind of people, you’ll certainly be one step closer.