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Open Source Startup: Codifying Company Culture

Welcome to Chapter 8 of Open Source Startup: Codifying Company Culture. For a table of contents, head over to the Introduction here

Company culture. It's both the most frustrating, fluffy, intangible element of your business - and the thing that will sink you quicker than a bad VAT month. Startups are hard enough. Rather not spend your time with the wrong people following the wrong mission in the wrong way.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to culture besides talking about it. Choose a model, choose a template and talk about it. Then talk about it with every new employee. Then talk about it monthly. And keep talking.


Here are a few tips and templates to get you started.

Start with WHY. The famous Simon Sinek talk is a useful (and tough) process to go through. It forces you to think hard about why you're doing what you're doing. If you take the process seriously, it's also one of the best bullshit tests for a crappy vision or product.

Understanding your WHY is the basis of your culture. It's why the people you hire will buy into your vision, why they'll believe your company is going to grow - why they'll stick around.


Don't worry if you don't get to answers right away - this isn't easy.

After you've had a stab at why you're doing what you're doing - then have a go at writing down a few of your values and what they look like in real life. You're aiming for WHAT YOU VALUE and then how those values MAKE YOU BEHAVE.

Again, not easy, but a valuable exercise. Avoid ticket-to-the-ballpark values like integrity and honesty. You don't get to play if you don't have those base values. Strive for something that sets you apart.

Here's an example of the forgood culture slide, one we're not scared to tweak and iterate to keep relevant.


Values at the top. Behaviours and descriptors at the bottom. Keep sweating this and you'll be well on your way to codifying and managing your culture.

A local employee engagement company has developed a free tool called ValuesCreator. Give it a try if you're looking for some inspiration...

While it's not technically a template, I wanted to give you full access to the forgood Culture & Vision Deck. It's something we show to every new recruit (that makes it through to final round interviews) - and something we have plastered all over our walls. It's not perfect. It can be a little introspective. It sometimes needs a little extra context. But it's a codex for culture - and that's better than rolling the dice and letting your culture develop by itself.


Of course, this is all based on the famous Netflix Culture Deck case study. If you want to see a real culture deck (100+ pages) and explore some other famous attempts at codifying culture - start here.


Disclaimer: The information in these posts work for us. I cannot guarantee that it'll work for you. Consult the right professional to make sure.

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