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Building Culture in the Workplace for Startups Without Breaking the Bank

As we enter the coming decade, having a fun and unique workplace culture is something that can make or break a startup company. Generationally, as the young workforce tilts from Millennial to Generation Z, companies have to adapt their culture to compete for the top talent. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. job openings outnumber job seekers by 1.2 million. Simply said, companies are fighting for talented entry level employees. This competition for human resources is especially salient in the tech industry, a field that founded the creation of fun workforce culture to both attract and retain valued employees. Even today, 8 out of 20 of Forbes "Top 20 Best Companies for Corporate Culture" reside in California, the birth place of the U.S. tech industry.

So that raises the question, how do startup’s with a limited budget build and encourage an enjoyable and inclusive workplace environment?

Encourage employees not to take “Work” too seriously

This does not mean that we avoid professionalism; yet at the same time, I encourage joking around, friendly jabbing, spreading of funny work related content, and work parties, as long as all of this is held within a reasonable predetermined boundaries. For example, this past summer after managing 40 interns, I incentivized the idea of holding "The Roast of Forrest Ludwig" on one of our last days together. Why? I did this for same reason that political figures go on satirical talk shows; to appear approachable, and relatable, while not taking my leadership style too seriously. Without my employees, I would not be a part of a successful startup.

Encourage Mistakes

We are all human and mistakes are going to be made. Unless these individuals are Stone Cold Steve Austin or Tom Brady, most of their mistakes derive from from nervousness or unclear expectations from their boss. From growing up playing sports and my career in sales, I lay out clear job expectations and encourage employees to understand their weaknesses. What is the best way to understand your weaknesses? MAKE MISTAKES. As a manager I hold a meeting after every workday to encourage my team to boast about what they did well, but more importantly reflect on their growth edges - the skills that they need to improve. I am more concerned about the learning curve and the progress!

Don’t Micromanage/Babysit

Micromanaging and/or babysitting an employee is one of the worst things you can do as a manager. Simply put, micromanaging reflects poorly on the trust between manager and employee and breeds an environment of fear. Babysitting treats an employee like a child, rather than an adult who is ready to grow skills and competencies. A coach, mentor, manager, etc. can only model sales skills so much before it’s time for the salesperson to go out and learn to perform successfully. Thus, I encourage employees to ask questions and ask for help. Then, I expect them to listen to the advice and take personal responsibility for their own growth.

Encourage Healthy Competition

Human’s are naturally competitive. It’s the survival instinct in us all and is the reason behind why sports exist, countries have boundaries from one another, and why Apollo 11 touched down on the moon. Competition can bring out the best and worst in humankind. However, in the workplace, competition can spark productivity if executed correctly. If you are a fan of the hit NBC TV show “The Office,” then you have probably seen the episode in which Dwight competes against the company website. Although we don’t really get a sense of the cast’s everyday sales numbers, this episode demonstrates the exceptional effort of Dwight to not let a machine beat him in selling paper. All that being said, with whatever budget your company has for incentives, use it strategically with incentives within competitions. Try these strategies to promote a fun and motivated work culture.

The beautiful part of building of a startup is that you have the opportunity to build your own culture. I’m immensely proud of the culture I have helped create in my own situation and seeing the employees flourish in it’s benefits. If anyone is looking into starting their own company or even improving a current culture, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. The idea of creating a fun and relaxing workplace culture will be key to attracting human resource talent of the Gen Zs.

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