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3 Common Reasons Startup Cultures Fail




A while back I wrote an article called Signs of a Toxic Culture (and when to leave). This article touches on the areas that can help avoid the toxicity that some start-up cultures face. I'm a strong believer in how a culture curates the success of a startup and the humans that work there.


All right, let's dive in...


Lack of Alignment

To be aligned means to be in sync or on the same accord. It doesn’t mean that all the opinions or suggestions need to all be the same, but they do need to roll up into one common theme that shows unity.


When there is a misalignment with the vision, values, or goals, things take longer to achieve. As we all know #startuplife is a marathon often fit into a sprint. Moving constantly at high speed will inevitably cause burnout, resentment, and poor business sense as the company tries to scale.


A great way to ensure alignment is to have a standard guidance system that universally agrees with everyone. This guidance system has to be at the forefront of any decisions or strategy that involves enlisting others. This, paired with accountability and open respectful communication, will help align everything from the top to the bottom and all the important areas in between.


Lack of Humanity

We don’t always associate humanity with the workplace. But in order for a culture to survive, it is key. Without it, our employees feel underappreciated, overworked, and undervalued things only go downhill from there.


The great part about humanity is that it costs the employer nothing. Well, nothing monetary.

Humanity does require an exchange of time, energy, being present, and removing ego. It takes looking at the human in the best light you possibly can and making decisions that reflect that.


For example, take the person that you adore or love the most. Think about how you speak, treat, and respond to them - with humanity. That is how each employee should be treated, regardless of political agenda, spiritual views, sexual identity, age, marital or parental status- I mean, the list goes on.


Humanity itself is a loaded topic that I could go on and on about, but I will say this. You must treat your own self with humanity first before you can do it for others. This means being kind to yourself, limiting or stopping the repetitive negative self-talk or the “rehearsal” (where you replay or rehearse what you should have done or could have done differently) of all the mistakes that you have made, and giving yourself grace.


Lack of Leadership

You probably knew this was coming. I want to address something around leadership that isn’t usually obvious.


Think of a great leader past or present. What is one thing that allows them to stand out above the rest? Their values. Great leaders have a strong set of values that are aligned and powered by humanity - plain and simple.


Values will make or break anyone, but especially a leader. Within most startups, positions of leadership are usually awarded due to past accomplishments, tenor, or reputation. Not to say it’s not earned, but there is something very special about a person on the path to true leadership. Those type of leaders strip ego and look at what they truly value.


Side note about ego. Ego is fickle; it shifts as easily as the wind. It’s not a stable foundation to rest anything on.


It is easy to spot when a leader is in for power or for humanity. The truth is, everyone is a leader in some fashion. What differentiates strong leaders from the rest is their value system - how strong it is and how well aligned it is to their purpose.


People who are aligned sync better on everything. Impossible tasks seem more possible and everything seems to flow more gracefully.


Humanity is the core of everything and should be included in the workplace. This is not to make the environment “soft” or to distract from the business that needs to get done. It means business is done in a way that treats people how they are meant to be treated.


Lastly, leadership. There are thousands of books on how to be a good leader that offer practical step-by-step guide on what to do. All of that means nothing if your values are motivated by ego or power and not aligned with purpose.


I do hope this inspires you to think about the culture you are creating and how these three areas affect it.


Thank you for reading!


note: the view express in the article are my own and come from my experience as a culture consultant for startups.


About Culture Circle

Humanity. Ubuntu. Efficiency. These key values create the foundation for inclusive and healthy workplace cultures. U.S-based Culture Circle, founded by Charisse Fontes, is the only Black-owned, Woman-run Culture Consulting Agency that transforms the employee experience through the lens of anthropology and humanity. Connect with our tribe here.

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