How to improve company culture — and minimize drama — in your growing startup

Hands all together in a circle to indicate a strong company culture

As your company grows, you may notice a change in the air around your physical — or virtual — office. You might hear of petty drama, rumors or disgruntled employees through the grapevine. “When did this happen?” you might think. How did attitudes change so much on your watch?

According to Chris Cardinal, it’s likely you weren’t spending enough time establishing and nourishing the company culture.

“Culture will fill the room available to it,” Chris told Hamid on AZ Tech Podcast this week. “If you’re not pumping the air into the room, somebody else is.”

It’s crucial to focus on your workplace culture as you scale. Chris says he mentally sets aside about a quarter of his time to focus on culture and coaching employees.

So, what do you do now? How do you transform your workplace back to the thriving and energetic place you once knew? Or, if you’re just starting out, what tips do you need to know to foster positive culture? Here’s the lowdown:

Preach it

If you’re starting out, establish your company’s principles up front. As you grow (or if you’re currently scaling), make sure employees hear from you directly about your culture and values, and what you expect day-to-day.

As Chris said in the podcast, toxic people and behavior are cancer in companies. Find it and address it early.

Look to the progressive and innovative companies for inspiration

As Chris said this week, Amazon’s leadership principles are the Bible for companies. There’s also Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ famous philosophy to give you ideas.

But, you don’t have to go to the billion dollar companies for examples. And defining culture doesn’t have to be too complicated. At Synapse Studios, Chris has a strict “no drama, no a–holes” policy that would be a great starting point for any business.

Lead by example

This phrase might be cliche, but in this case, it’s exactly right. Your employees really do see everything you do and will follow suit. Make sure you and your leadership team treat your people like humans, keep the lines of communication open, and solidify and follow your company principles.

Don’t encourage bad behavior

Company leaders should remove inadvertent incentives that encourage behavior you don’t want to see. For example, Chris is careful not to incentivize someone for getting a task done. In the future, they might be inclined to “crush themselves into dust” just for the reward. You don’t want people sacrificing their well-being for the company.

Be careful what you ask for

Some of the most well-known company executives, like Elon Musk and the late Steve Jobs, have what employees (at least at Tesla) have called “impossible asks,” which include insane deadlines or sky-high product expectations. Chris says that while pushing your team can be productive and build a sense of camaraderie when they make it happen, these asks can dramatically throw work-life balance out of whack and negatively impact employees’ mental health and overall well-being.

Impossible demands can also increase attrition. If work is too miserable, you might lose talented employees you’ve invested time and energy in training.

Ultimately, Chris says that building a strong company culture should be a top priority. Like everything else in your growing company, you make the rules. Start with easy ones for yourself, like be nice and don’t work your employees to dust.