“Corporate culture”. Everyone you’re going to get startup advice from will remind you how important this is, but…what is it, exactly?

It’s ineffable. It’s the ‘vibe of the room’. It’s the feeling you get talking to your coworkers about non-work stuff. It’s the decorations around the office. It’s the way your team interacts with clients. It’s the impression your customers get about how your employees are treated.

Culture can be a lot of things, and as you’ve probably noticed it’s hard to define and even harder to create and maintain. But underneath all the obstacles and hurdles, culture matters, and defining it early on can play a much bigger role in the success of your business than you might expect.

If you’re looking to open a digital agency, or you’re just starting out and looking to get on the right foot when it comes to building culture, here’s a few things to look out for and a few things to focus on as you get started:

Establish core values.
One of the easiest ways to build both corporate culture and employee loyalty is to establish values early on and make sure everyone is on the same page. Company values, particularly in the world of marketing (which, let’s face it, has a less-than-ethical reputation sometimes) are crucial for establishing your startup’s principles, values, and standards throughout every team and department.

It’s more than just stating a goal or values, too – make sure these values and standards are tangible, written down, and communicated to everyone at every level of the company to make sure everyone understands and acts by these principles. This article from entrepreneur.com also recommends to stay flexible about it and be open to change to reflect different employees, different business needs, and different times and places.

Lead by example.
Your digital marketing staff can be the best in the world, but they’re going to find themselves running out of motivation pretty quickly if they don’t see you setting a strong precedent. Take those core values we were just talking about and act on them every day, no matter the situation – your employees aren’t going to be too impressed by the size of your office if they never see you doing work anywhere else.

Even above and beyond company values, there’s a set of base leadership skills that many self-proclaimed head honchos are sadly lacking in. A recent post by cpaexamhub.com details a lot of the problems that bad bosses tend to display, such as a lack of respect for their team, poor interpersonal skills, and being a know-it-all. Before trying to lead a team, make sure you know how to work with a team.

Show authenticity.
A large number of younger workers (including those cursed millennials we keep blaming for everything) have come to expect a degree of authenticity and sincerity in the workforce. The employees of today and tomorrow aren’t content to show up in a tie and work for some nameless bureaucrat anymore, and showing that your digital startup has a human face and real, authentic goals will go a long way towards keeping your workers engaged and productive.

The physical design of your offices can affect this too. A growing number of studies such as this one reported by office furniture manufacturer myturnstone.com mention that workers are more engaged if their office gives them the freedom to work in a few different kinds of spaces throughout the day, keeping their workflow authentic, natural, and free-flowing. Authenticity can affect a lot of your startup’s early success, and it’s important to focus on.

Hire people with similar outlooks and goals.
Of course, all the well-written mission statements and flexible workspaces aren’t going to help you too much if you don’t have a team to share it with – or worse yet, a team that doesn’t align with your goals and ‘vibe’ with your company.

Sure, there’s some obvious ways to prevent this – don’t hire jerks, for example – but it goes deeper than that. A blog from Kissmetrics (a name you’re probably familiar with as part of the digital marketing space) mentions that some high-performing employees can still stick out like a sore thumb when it comes to business culture and never quite feel like they fit in. (Think about poor, poor Jerry from Parks and Recreation. Or is it Garry?) These “vampires” can keep up on performance and metrics but their sour attitude or awkward not-fitting-in-ness can start to drag the rest of the company down. Don’t just look at someone’s resume or educational history when hiring for a startup – make sure they’re someone you and your team can really vibe and get along with.

Having a good company culture is vital for any company of any size, but particularly when you’re looking to get your startup off the ground. Make sure to keep it in mind when making any big decisions in the early days of your marketing startup and everything should fall into place much more easily as you go.

Hopefully.

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