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Date posted: 23rd April 2024

23rd April 2024

Guest Blog: Essential workplace culture books for startup founders

Guest Blog: Essential workplace culture books for startup founders

This guest blog is written by Inspiring Workplaces awardee Rachel Pipan, Co-founder, Maneuvre (Communications, PR and growth strategy for emerging tech, web3, AI, agritech, longevity, and more).

One tech company founder made waves in 2009 when he loaded an expansive slide deck about his company culture’s “freedom and responsibility” to Slideshare. Now viewed more than 17 million times, it was replaced in 2017 with a 10-page (and more concise) “manifesto” detailing the company’s approach to management and company culture. The founder was Reid Hoffman, and the company was Netflix. Founded in 1998 purely for DVD subscriptions, by 2009 the company was in startup mode again. Two years earlier, it had pivoted to online streaming – making the need for extraordinary people to come onboard more important than ever. Netflix was successful in doing this and the rest, as we know, is history.

Reid’s slide deck-turned-document reflects one of the lessons founders often forget: Your workplace is your product, too. You are the lead architect of your company’s culture, and it is up to you to craft an environment that will support your vision. It is tempting to think that simply by building a company that does something extraordinary, you will attract and retain extraordinary people. This is not the case – which is why it is crucial for every founder to dedicate some of their visionary energy to this task. By crafting an inspiring workplace, you can more easily find and hire extraordinary people.

As an advisor to startup founders and their companies, I see the same characteristics appear on many ideal candidate “wishlists.” A visionary founder often wants to hire whoever is best for the job, no matter where they reside. They want their people to understand them and follow their lead – yet at the same time, they need them to take direct criticism and redirection in stride. Even if the company isn’t entirely remote, they need self-starters: people who know themselves and can manage their days without monitoring. And perhaps most importantly, founders need employees who don’t need too much face time – it is far better if the team can take instruction by email or Slack as they jet between investor meetings, conferences, and sales pitches. By recruiting enough of these “rockstars,” it should be possible for a good workplace environment to grow organically. Right? Not at all. In fact, the decision to create an inspiring workplace starts with you, the founder. How you act, how you manage, and how you communicate (not just with employees, but with customers, service providers, and investors) shows your team who you are (ideally, that you are a responsible and reliable leader). Yet, finding time to develop these skills while facing down other pressing responsibilities (raising funding, developing product, building a customer base) is incredibly difficult. So here’s our reading “crash course” for every founder on how to start building your leadership skills. From there, you can start building a good culture.

How to Work Across Countries Well: “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer

If you want to hire from anywhere (or fundraise from anywhere), you have to recognise that you will be communicating with different cultures, communication styles, and context. Meyer provides a practical guide to understanding and bridging cultural gaps in an easy-to-understand format, including charts, which serve as a handy guide for understanding why the way you communicate should be influenced by who you are communicating with.

How to Work With (Nearly) Everyone Well: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

While you are the founder (read: employer), you do in effect work for your team, your investors, and your customers. If you haven’t had such a public-facing role before, Carnegie gives timeless advice on how to build genuine relationships and communicate in a way where people feel heard. It is a good primer on how to make “it” (the conversation, the sell, the pitch, or the 1:1) less about you and more about them.

How to Give Feedback: “Radical Candour” by Kim Scott

One of the easiest missteps to make as a new manager is to be too indirect. One of the easiest missteps to make as a stressed founder is to be too callous and direct. It is difficult to navigate the “safe zone” between these two realities, but Scott gives an excellent framework (and good  anecdotes) on how to create a transparent culture where you can have hard conversations that still deliver results without demotivating your team.

How to Communicate in Text Better: “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White

An easy and quick read, this book merges grammatical reminders with style advice. It’s unconventional, but packed with good reminders on how to communicate in writing well. If you’re going to be a Slack and email manager, knowing how to communicate in writing is critical.

Cover of the book “When” written by Daniel Pink

One of the must-read books for founders, according to Inspiring Workplaces awardee Rachel Pipan.

How to Get A Grip on Your Schedule: “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel H. Pink

A manager (or founder) without self-awareness is a crisis waiting to happen. One of the best things you can do for your company, your investors, and your team, is to figure out now what your ideal timing is. Optimise your work schedule to align with your best decision-making processes and productivity, and communicate it to your team. It will improve everyone’s morale, including your own, if you know how to protect your time. Pink’s insights can help founders make smarter choices about when (and when not) to act.

It is easier to change the world with a team of inspired people – not just an inspired idea, or product. Building a strong culture might be the most important thing you do as a founder, so here’s a quick tip: don’t wait. Start shaping your company’s culture from day one and create a strong foundation that will be able to support the growth, challenges, and evolution your startup will inevitably face.


About the Author

Rachel Pipan is a communications advisor to CEOs and founders in the emerging technologies sectors. Developing and deploying deeptech communications, PR and marketing strategies since 2015, she is the founder of Maneuvre, a communications firm specialising in emerging technologies including web3, biotech, AI, and others. Under her leadership, Maneuvre was awarded as a Top 50 Workplace in Europe and globally in 2023 and a Top 50 finalist for Europe in 2024. She was also named one of Inspiring Workplaces’ Inspiring Leaders in 2023. She is also the founder of Nice Work, a newsletter and movement helping high performers find balance and boundaries in the workplace.

Bibliography

“The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
“Radical Candour” by Kim Scott
“The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White
“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel H. Pink