Best guiding principle for establishing a startup culture where employees "bleed the company's colors"?


We've all heard tips & tricks for establishing great work cultures, but executing on it isn't easy. If you could only give one tip, what would be the thing that would rally the entire team around the company, almost like college football fans "bleed their team colors"?

Culture Employees

asked Oct 10 '09 at 10:59
Craig Daniel
223 points

17 Answers


Eat meals together. Preferably daily.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 12:13
Joel Spolsky
13,482 points
  • One of the few who gave one tip. And I agree with it. Thanks for answering. – Craig Daniel 14 years ago
  • "An army that eats together, fights together". I thought that was the quote but I can't seem to find it now :-/ – Richard Green 13 years ago


A few things:

  1. Honesty. (Otherwise, who cares?)
  2. Consistency. (So momentum builds.)
  3. Cockiness. (Be sure of your culture and never waiver.)
  4. External. (Show the world how awesome you are, then you're proud to be a part of it and unwilling to break that image.)
  5. Emotional. (Admit embarrassing things, say what needs to be said. People love and respect it.)
answered Oct 10 '09 at 11:45
16,231 points


Be willing to hear suggestions (actually, encourage it), accept constructive criticism.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 12:48
4,815 points
  • I don't think this is going to help at all. Obviously it's good think, and sure you should listen your employees but that's something else. It doesn't make them to be proud of the company because their boss listened their idea. – The Dictator 14 years ago
  • I disagree with you, listening to what your employees have to say show that you cares, people tend to contribute more and be more loyal with companies that listen and put in practice employee's ideas. Give them the opportunity to express themselves and who knows... maybe their ideas will be better than yours, and if not, it will at least give them confidence that they are not just another number in the employee roster ;-) – Ricardo 14 years ago


I think there are three things here: where you want to go, the path you're going to take and how you're going to get there.

  • The BHAG is the goal
  • The path you're going to take is your strategy & tactics
  • How you're going to get there is the values

You need to communicate and demonstrate these again and again and again.

The values might include honesty, or they might not. Enron had a tremendously strong culture - their employees 'bled for the team colors, but integrity wasn't one of those colors.

The important thing is to figure out what is important to you, stick to it and demonstrate it. Do not compromise. If honesty is important to you, then be honest. Hire and keep honest people, and fire people who - no matter how smart they are - are not.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 17:57
Neil Davidson
1,839 points


Make their contribution count: ask for their opinions, actually listen, do something about it, tell them how their contribution made a difference.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 17:41
Elad Kehat
441 points


Assume you have (at least the start of) a vision and a passion (that is infectious).

If you back that up with honesty and trust (both ways), then those that get it will form your loyal core and it spreads from there.

Conversely, lack of that can destroy years of building the culture in a matter of months.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 11:15
Cade Roux
196 points
  • Yes, I think transparency and trust are must-haves...thanks for answering – Craig Daniel 15 years ago


Get the right people on the bus and the wrong ones off.

Help & make sure they progress through the ranks, working all over the business and leave to go to better things. It's a marine thing!

answered Oct 11 '09 at 10:00
Ronnie Barker
313 points


Whether you own your own venture, or are a middle manager in a huge conglomerate, there's really only one way for you to develop that kind of loyalty and engagement among your employees: devote at least that same level of care to them, as individuals and as a group.

If you're not the kind of person who can do that (not everybody is, to be fair), then hire somebody who is. If you would like to be that person, but aren't sure how to go about it, then find resources (warning: shameless self-promotion ahead) like my blog (see my profile), or one of the great books on the subject, such as Peopleware.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 12:38
784 points


I think it depends on the leaders and managers in the company.

First, don't treat them like kids. Tell them what is expected (be detailed), give them room to grow (encourage them to fail), give them the tools to do their job (like 4x 24" LCD monitors) and get out of the way (stay in your little corner/cubicle!) Reference: First, Break All The Rules book.

Don't point to them that you're the single most important dude in the company, because they don't like that. Since they also want to be the single most important dude in the company. So give them that chance to earn that, nurture that and stay that way.

However, don't encourage this kind of competition at the expense of others. Of course, focus on your rockstars, and have your rockstars focus on their fans. :)

I think as with all kinds of companies, the employees' jobs are to produce great products and services, and the manager's job is to produce great employees.

So going back to the no. 1 guiding principle, in my opinion, focus on your people. Treat them well, give them sustainable lifestyle, where the only thing they want to be doing is eating together (twice daily: lunch and snacks), discussing solutions and making your customers happy.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 13:13
201 points


If you don't follow the advice of Joel, Markjee, and Scott, usually a culture will form on its own - though it might not be the one you want. In those cases, its usually one or two very outspoken individuals whose ideals spread through continuous contact with others. So whatever you do, figure out what you want, how to get it, and start early.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 13:20
Van Nguyen
482 points


I really loved this management book - First, Break all the Rules. They studied top companies and did a thorough scientific study with Gallup polls to determine "what works".

That was an excellent book. I believe it was there that I read my favorite management tool - an anonymous comment box.

The manager said it was sometimes very difficult to read the comments, but he read them, re-evaluated and made changes as needed, and notified his people of the process.

Transparency and bravery are great management tools.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 13:55
315 points


Well the opinion in Harvard Business Review, from many years ago, is that you need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).

When everyone "gets" exactly where the company is headed (aka the BHAG), then it becomes easier to get everyone "bleeding the team colors".

answered Oct 10 '09 at 14:32
Julie King
871 points


1) Shared Vision -> People want to be a part of something

2) Community -> Extend from 1), and like Joel said, eat together. It's more than a punch card job. Give them reasons to want to contribute to the success of a company and not let anyone down. Show you care about the individuals making up the organization and they'll care too.

3) Passion & Personality -> Excitement is contagious. So is negativity. Bring your personality to your company and find ways to make that a good, contagious thing. If people see you believe in the idea, they likely will too. Look at any CEO at a renowned company and I think you'll find that the company itself reflects the way they operate. That can be anything from the hard working fun of Richard Branson and Virgin to Jack Welch's no BS, efficient style formerly of GE.

answered Oct 11 '09 at 08:27
Jason Evanish
83 points


Equity - with ownership comes responsibility and rewards.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 13:20
Jeff O
6,169 points


Treat everyone the same, but different.

Let me explain. You have to understand what your team is good at and nurture it. Conversely, their weaknesses need to be developed. You do that by being fair and consistent in your interactions. You don't play favorites. You cater your management approached based on the person you are dealing with not some one size fits all approach.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 23:50
Jarie Bolander
91 points


Give a shit about them.

answered Oct 10 '09 at 23:57
744 points


1- Rent a nice office in a cool part of town. Your staff may spend more time there than at home so they'd better like it. Make it a place they are proud to show to their family and friends. A lot of their professional confidence will come from feeling like they work at a successful business that can afford a fun and cool place to work.

2- Give people second chances. Some of my very most loyal (and capable) staff were given second chances. Nothing beats feeling like your "boss" cares that you learn to succeed. They are now lifelong friends.

3- Keep the hierarchy flat; make it a team of equal peers.

4- Never hire a prima donna, whose cockiness drives other employees out. No one likes a jerk, so fire them, your staff will respect you for keeping the team unified.

5- Keep a jar of colorful M&Ms in a visible place for the occasional treat. Of course limit consumption if you can to maintain a healthy staff!

6- Go out to lunch as a company at least once a month (on the company) and have a good time. Make sure it is a nice restaurant. No fast food.

answered Jan 8 '10 at 04:14
Chris Dansie
491 points
  • Great suggestions. Thanks a lot for taking the time to write – Craig Daniel 14 years ago

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