Photograph by Agnieszka Wozniak — Caiaimage via Getty Images
By Eóin O’Toole
May 24, 2016

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are some tips for maintaining a successful startup?” is written by Eóin O’Toole, cofounder and managing partner at Arete Partners.

“Company culture” may well be one of the most overused and least-understood terms in startup nomenclature. For clarity’s sake, culture is defined as “the quality in a person or group that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent”—and by extension, the behaviors of that person or group. When viewed through this simple lens, culture takes on substantive meaning for startups.

The ethos of many of the world’s most successful companies and sports teams alike is that it is the soft stuff (values and culture) in teams that delivers the hard stuff (a significant competitive advantage). When your culture is defined simply as the concern for excellence, it is easy to see why.

In order to maintain a successful startup, you need to have a clearly defined culture, and that starts with hiring the right people with the right qualities. Don’t underestimate the power of your company’s culture. Both positively and negatively, your company’s culture has the potential to have the single-biggest impact on your success.

See also: This Is Why Most Companies Go out of Business

Step 1: Define whom you want to hire
Hiring the right people and building a great culture is critical not only for maintaining a successful startup, but for building a sustainable growth company. In the words of the prolific Zig Ziglar, “You don’t build a business—you build people—and then people build the business.”

This is why it is so important for early-stage companies to define an authentic culture and talent brand strategy early on—even before they hit their stride and move into hiring mode.

One of the first and most important steps in defining your culture and building your talent brand begins with introspection. While today’s CEOs need to do a little bit of everything, everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Step back and do an honest self-evaluation: What are your strengths? And, more importantly, what are your weaknesses? Then look to recruit a leadership team that offers complementary—but different—skills, perspectives, and/or personalities.

 

Fight the tendency to hire people with the same (or similar) skills as you. Actively seek out conflict. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. As stated by Dynamic Results founder Henry Evans, “No conflict = no friction = no sparks.” People with diverse skill sets and educational experiences often bring different ways of approaching issues that can lead to innovation. A culture of healthy conflict and accountability is one that fosters growth.

Step 2: Define how you want to hire
Once you have determined whom you want to hire, then you need to define how you want to hire. Many companies overlook the candidate experience in the recruiting process, to their detriment.

Every candidate for every position should leave your company feeling respected. A bad experience may cause the right applicant to turn down the job, but it often has an even wider resonance. According to a study by Harris Interactive, when job seekers had the misfortune of a bad candidate experience:

  • 42% of candidates said they would never seek employment at that company again
  • 22% said they would actively tell other candidates not to work at that company
  • 9% said they would go so far as to tell others not to purchase products or services from that company

 

Employers should follow the same advice often provided to candidates. They should want you even if you don’t want them. A positive interaction, even with a candidate who is not a match for the role, can at best lead to referrals of other great employees, and at worst is still a favorable extension of your company culture.

Culture is not necessarily about creating harmony for employees. Rather, it is about fostering an environment that evokes the qualities in your team that allow them to focus on excellence. The genesis for your company culture tomorrow is how you treat the people who interact with your company today, which is under a magnifying glass during the interview process. Focus on candidate experience and the right people will flow your way. Get it wrong and they will be pushed away.

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