This article is part of DBA, a series on Mashable about running a business that features insights from leaders in entrepreneurship, venture capital and management.
To the outside observer, Silicon Valley is filled with daily catered lunches and in-house masseuses. While these elements are generally a byproduct of a fiercely competitive recruiting market for top talent, they add to the misperception that Silicon Valley is a bastion of lavish perks.
The reality is that top talent wants the opportunity to make an outsized impact and needs an environment conducive to this goal. The cultural elements that don’t make the headlines are often actually the most influential on employee satisfaction and longevity.
Venture capitalist Mary Meeker’s highly influential 2015 Internet Trends report confirms that the most important career factor for millennials is that they are doing meaningful work. As the largest generation in the current workforce, this means that the most inspiring and best-performing companies in technology, finance and nearly any other industry are those that are mission-driven.
Being able to offer a quirky office environment, not to mention a competitive salary, will get people in the door but it will not keep them there, and it will never be enough to differentiate your company in the long run. Your specific business objectives can and will change over time, but your culture, vision and values are timeless.
Your culture, vision and values are timeless.
While there’s no magical formula to realize this, here are a few universal tips worth considering for all entrepreneurs looking to foster a culture of innovation, creativity and truth-seeking.
Define your vision and core values
First and foremost, you should be able to articulate the vision and mission of the company, and clearly define the core values that serve as guiding principles for all that you do and plan to do.
At my company, we defined our core values along five principles: vision, alignment, integrity, transparency and impact. Put simply, everything we do especially recruiting ties back to these five pillars. The first and most important question posed to any new hire is whether they embrace our collective vision of a modern financial world built on integrity, transparency and impact, and can envision the specific role they will play in executing that.
In some cases, it may even be worth quite literally spelling out these values on your company’s website. Like most fast-growth companies, we look for highly motivated individuals willing to wholly buy into a broader vision, and it’s worth stating directly at the beginning of the interview process as a baseline for all potential hires.
While your core values and vision may seem inherent and inferred at inception, it’s all too easy to lose sight of them as your company grows. Your values need to scale with your company, otherwise you risk surrounding yourself by a disparate, disconnected group that will lack focus and ability to execute in the medium- and long-term. Leadership accessibility is key to ensuring a continued atmosphere of transparency and accessibility.
Once you have your core values in place, it’s important to keep them front and center with employees. This goes beyond an ornately framed poster in your lobby; you should reflect these values in communications to your teams and customers, and make sure they consistently play a role in business decisions.
Core values should provide the framework for a multitude of decisions
Core values should provide the framework for a multitude of decisions, from identifying new target markets, assessing clients and prospects, and evolving a product offering.
For example, we put the principle of transparency into practice with our regular “ask anything” meetings in which all employees are given an open forum to voice any questions or concerns about the direction of the business. We make sure alignment is carried out through weekly team-building activities and after-hours sports leagues, and make a point to bring in regular speakers for educational seminars that help the company stay united on a shared vision.
It’s also crucial to continue to communicate that these values extend to all aspects of the business. If you’re announcing plans for a new product or campaign, let your team know how it’s reflective of your broader value set. If you can’t credibly do so, it may be worth reconsidering those plans. Or perhaps you opted to pass on a prospective hire because they didn’t fully embody your core values; don’t be shy about sharing your rationale with others when making that call, as it’s going to influence future decisions on prospective hires, and in turn the overall culture that takes hold at your company as it grows.
Diversity is still an often overlooked element of establishing a strong workplace culture that enables you to attract and retain top talent. Shaping and scaling a world-class team requires integrating and empowering a diverse group of perspectives and backgrounds.
Gender diversity is one big focus for us; while recent years have seen the rise of organizations like Girls Who Code and the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, the tech and financial worlds are still disproportionately dominated by men, despite the rise of high-profile executives like Sallie Krawcheck, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. In fact, in our industry, only 23% of women are certified financial planners. Chief Investment Officer Magazinereports that just one-in-ten senior money managers are female.
Having women in prominent leadership positions can be a major factor in establishing a culture that is more supportive for other women a sentiment that has been reinforced to me by a number of members of my own team. Companies can set themselves apart and retain that competitive edge by having more of a focus on recruiting women, and also extend the conversation on gender diversity to the whole company.
Encourage open conversations about the topic
Encourage open conversations about the topic during which men and women can share articles, posts and personal experiences. Starting that conversation is a huge step toward establishing a more balanced, healthy workplace and one capable of recruiting top talent from the broadest possible talent pool.
In an industry dominated by advanced algorithms and endless strings of code, it’s refreshing to find a formula that is not rocket science.
It’s easy to casually define your values in the early days, but it’s the entrepreneurs that formalize and expand upon them and make them the driving principles of growth that will ultimately find the most success in establishing a truly great workplace culture.
Innovative companies face the constant challenge of empowering passionate people to do great things, and keeping them inspired and aligned with the company’s vision and values. If they want to do so with beanbags, a ping pong table and lots of free snacks, more power to them.