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 leadership style should every entrepreneur try to adopt?” is written by Sanjay Beri, founder and CEO of Netskope.
I owe a good part of my entrepreneurial spirit to watching my parents’ hard work and success throughout my childhood. My mom worked diligently at everything from Avon (AVP) to Amway to ultimately build her own successful real estate business, and my dad started from scratch at a YMCA in Canada to ultimately build a great family and career. From a young age, I witnessed first-hand that entrepreneurial success is about being scrappy, but more importantly, your journey needs to be deliberate. There aren’t shortcuts to success.
My early career started in the IT shop at Microsoft after high school, moving on to engineering positions across North America at Microsoft (MSFT) and Newbridge, all before graduating university. I gravitated toward cultures that focused on building and innovating, but were without the shackles of bureaucracy and politics. It was in those formative years that I realized just how important building a deliberate company culture is for your happiness and success.
Calling on what I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of business, focusing on building a deliberate culture above all has been key:
Hire for the team, not the individual
It’s easy to look to an individual’s pedigree and experience and think you found the one—only to find out he or she isn’t the right cultural fit. Throughout my career, I have seen teams (including my own) learn this the hard way, often hiring people who at first appear an excellent fit for the job, but end up not actually fitting in with the rest of the team.
Hire people with exceptional talent, but also those who will be advocates for your culture and play well off of one another for a well-rounded team. Any day of the week, I would choose a person who is a 10 on the culture scale with regards to collaboration, transparency, resourcefulness, and lack of an ego—even if he or she were only an 8 on domain knowledge. Leaders are often blinded by resumes and overlook red flags that indicate a candidate’s vision may not be aligned with the company’s future. As a CEO, I want high-energy, independent, driven employees, and I’ve made sure my hires reflect those values. Make sure you filter for those traits that are important to you, and your company culture will come together.
Foster company culture from the top down
While some aspects of culture may happen organically, ultimately it’s up to the leaders to cultivate and reinforce it with everyone, from interns to the most senior leaders. Once you’ve defined a vision for your culture, make sure everyone on your team is a culture advocate, from new recruits to veteran employees. Every aspect of communication and behavior—from company-wide meetings to the tone set in corporate events and employee interviews—should broadcast your culture and shape the vision you have for the company. Make sure your employees (especially senior leaders) are advocates for your culture and incorporate it into everything from weekly meetings to interviews with potential employees.
Innovate from the bottom up
If you want to foster creativity in a young company, the last thing you want is layers of people treated differently who feel they have to filter ideas up through the ranks. At Netskope, we didn’t want a stodgy, old-fashioned environment, so we ditched the executive offices and created open spaces that encourage daily team discussions and interactions. No one has a cube and my desk is in the middle of the others to ensure I’m as easily accessible as everyone else. While it’s an increasingly common trend among companies of all sizes, we do it because it works.
Although a small change, this reinforces our culture of openness and transparency that enables people at all positions within the company to percolate ideas up, lending their unique experience and providing fresh perspectives. Some of the smartest, most impactful people in a company aren’t necessarily the ones on the company website or with the manager title, so make sure you create a culture that fosters, rewards, and encourages that mindset.