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  • Northzone News
  • 17 September 2015
  • 11 min read

Northzone CXO Breakfast: 11 things you need to know about company culture

Last week, I joined 26 entrepreneurs, Limited Partners and Northzone Advisors Assia Grazioli-Venier and Ed Zimmerman in Stockholm for Northzone’s first ever CXO breakfast.

The topic for the day was company culture and hiring, and I was delighted to moderate a lively discussion with Katarina Berg, VP Global HR, Spotify and Niklas Jungegård, CEO, Sqore, offering interesting insights into what is a key issue for all companies as they scale.

These are the eleven things we learned from Katarina, Niklas and the companies around the table about developing a great company culture…

1. Passion may be purpose but culture is contextual. Find the value and metrics that matter to your company and your industry. There is always something to be passionate about – even in finance or big data – such as the stories of the companies you are helping.

2. Find your EVPs. Talent is scarce and European businesses can’t compete financially with Valley companies for developers. Instead, you have to find your own EVP (employee value proposition) and use it to attract talent.

3. Adopt a manager SLA. When you grow to a size where the founders can not sustainably have direct contact with all staff, the senior managers become the key culture bearers. And it only takes one bad hire for this to fail. A manager SLA (Service Level Agreement) which starts with the employees determining the success factors of being a manager, can help. Recruit, train, evaluate and deploy on these criteria. Success is measured by how often everyone in the organisation see the behaviour or the skillset in action.

4. Diversity for the right reasons. Do it because you know it’s what will keep you in the top spot, not to tick boxes. Work on bias-busting using apps like Textio, or using Sqore for recruiting. Bring in people that are impressive and reflect your diversity goals. Be consistent and committed to it.

5. Avoid sugar rushes. The key question is: does it help your core business. Focus on the things that motivate people: come to grow and learn with us. People are too smart to have their loyalties bought with free soda.

6. Cherry pick strengths. Internationalising has positive impact on culture, and you can cherry pick strengths across your markets. For example, Americans can teach Swedes about processes, efficiencies and audaciousness.

7. Culture isn’t a one-way street. As you grow, find ways to engage your remote offices – it’s just as important that discourse emanates from them as from the HQ.

8. Choose communication tools carefully. Every company with more than two employees has an internal communications problem. Skype and Slack are great but there is an overwhelming choice. Streamline.

9. No you can’t have a pony. There has been a culture in start-ups of saying yes to the requests of employees, and companies now have to learn to say no. Remember that constraints can be good, they breed innovation.

10. Value your Alumni. Attrition is normal. Like in marriage, you go through periods of evaluation. Be clear on who you are as an organisation and where you’re going, and leave it up to the individual to make the ultimate decision.

11. Building a start up is like being married. It’s fun at first, but it’s vital to give employees purpose and to care about their professional development, because the fun will stop. No company founded in the last five years has been through a crash, and there’s nothing like tough times to teach you a valuable lesson in what the important values are.