Nurturing A Culture of Success Posted at 0:00, Thu, 9 October 2014 in Industry Insights

Luke Partridge, Director, Asia MitchelLake, was recently invited to participate in a start-up accelerator program run by Silicon Valley-based seed and early-stage venture capital fund Garage Technology Ventures and a Singapore based venture accelerator centre providing business incubator services, iAxil. Luke provides a guest post below.

As part of the program, I was fortunate to be invited to discuss the topic – ‘Nurturing A Culture of Success’. The attendees were all budding entrepreneurs at different stages of development of their start ups but all shared a heightened level of inquisitiveness of how to build successful teams from Co-Founder down. My fellow panellists and I shared our views on what were some of the key ingredients in establishing the right framework and what to look for when it came to hiring, growing and maintaining a great business.
Whilst the focus of this discussion centred around the start-up community I firmly believe conscious and proactive thinking around How and Who you hire crosses all businesses at every stage of maturation. This topic could obviously fill several hefty tomes with content but let me share with you some of the take-aways from the session and how we saw the foundations in building the best team possible.

The following is a summarised blue print of what we partner with our clients to look for in addition to recruiting for our own business at MitchelLake. As a business owner, Co-founder, investor or key decision-maker you will be called upon to use your judgement to either advise or directly impact crucial hiring or on-going personnel decisions. Create a mutual agreement or company covenant that you will not stray from.
These agreements, or PACTS (because this acronym fits my point particularly well), will set the bedrock of success for great teams moving forward.

Personality – equally interchangeable with Passion but the holistic make up of an individual and their differing facets and emotions makes a workplace diverse, stimulating, challenging and generally a better and more productive place to work. Large enterprise spends millions of dollars in harnessing and leveraging this diversity and inclusion, not simply to make their HR policy page read favourably on their website but with a recognition that everyone benefits – ambitious employees relish the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and this variance of perspective channelled towards a business outcome will inevitably ensure the client or audience is the winner. Good ideas have been strength-tested, iterated and improved as a consequence. Passion though is the non-negotiable as this motivation and drive is infectious.

Appetite – hiring for this trait is particularly important in start-ups when the job description is less defined and whilst people will bring a level of functional expertise to chosen roles there is also an expectation that you will also need to fulfil the requirements of a business ‘decathlete’. This is an ability to multi-task, be flexible, define the strategy in the morning and pick up some toner for the printer in the afternoon, be self-motivated and selfless and also empower those around you to think in the broader context. An appetite for holistic thinking and helping drive a business forward is crucial – myopic and ‘not on my job description’ thinking is toxic and should not be tolerated.

Culture – again a topic all in its self but the founders and investors on the panel made it clear that that first hires into your business will have a huge impact on your culture and will help set the tone for future hiring. A documented understanding of what your business stands for is important but more imperative is how that is practically brought life…the ‘walking the walk’ cliché is probably the best one to use here! A former CEO of Mozilla, John Lilly referred to founders as ‘the keeper of the narrative’ but all employees should be living and breathing the story. Being conscious of what your culture is, how it evolves and how this is communicated both internally and externally is key. Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite refers to culture ‘as the glue of your business’ permeating all decisions that you make.

Talent – as your business grows, understanding the skillsets you need, at what level and when will increasingly take more of your head space. Given the pace of change within rapidly scaling businesses you should be conscious of hiring for roles that employees can grow into rather than quickly outgrow. Different businesses will obviously have a diverse range of requirements for talent but being open to contractors, out-sourcing and flexible access to expertise can help keep your bottom line more manageable and give you access to specialists as your business requires such as peak development cycles, legal, accountancy and HR services.

Systematic – this is where you can learn again from the larger businesses and the processes they have in place to streamline your hiring. This refers to a hiring methodology that is not as robotic or automated as it sounds but more to ensure you are on plan and that you have a proven model that works. Typically the timeframes are shorter in a start-up environment but best practice is as relevant for a new business as it is for a global MNC – this should include everything from on-boarding, the interview process, mapping out what your organisational structure will look like in 3-6-12 months and beyond, employees individual objectives, recruitment policy and social/celebratory plans for success and milestone achievements. If you are transparent, communicative, consistent and innovative with the above you will have built a fantastic framework to build your culture from.

As I mentioned, the above is not an exhaustive list but more what I see as crucial (and often overlooked) tenets for the best hiring and cultural outcomes. Ben Horowitz (from VC Andreesen Horowitz-fame) refers to the elixir of success as ‘People, Product, Profits…in that order’….the PACTS you take with your business partners should ultimately reflect that.

Want extra reading? Take a look at Ben Horowitz’s blog.

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Inspired by the internet boom, Jon Tanner co-founded the MitchelLake Group in 2001 and has been advising startup, scale-up and enterprise clients on leadership, executive search and talent acquisition for digital ventures and initiatives for the best part of two decades.

Whether the challenge is about inspiring change, driving growth or entering new markets, it is likely that Jon has a reference able story, insight or introduction that can help shed light on a way forward.

As Group CEO and Managing Partner of our global search practice, Jon is based in Singapore and works across our international hubs in APAC, North America, and Europe. He directly supports global clients, collaborating with the broader MitchelLake team and continuing to build our collective ecosystem of exceptional talent and partner organisations.

Jon is an active early stage investor and passionate supporter of entrepreneurs, ventures and innovation in Asia Pacific and beyond, including interests in SocietyOne, Biteable, Blackbird VC and Genos International.