How to go beyond swanky offices and karaoke nights to build a startup culture that helps retain your best talent

How to go beyond swanky offices and karaoke nights to build a startup culture that helps retain your best talent

Tuesday May 10, 2016,

5 min Read

The most successful companies are built on great people, and how well they are able to hold onto good talent. In no other sphere does this hold truer than among startups. Because of the high demand for top quality talent, and the associated high attrition rates in startups, most companies struggle to hold onto the crème-de-la-crème of their workforce. And while there are several factors that contribute to employee job satisfaction, one of the most fundamental factors is company culture.


At the very onset, it is important to define what startup culture is, and when I say 'define', I mean going beyond just dictionary definitions. Startup cultures are defined by the leadership of a company and the people that work for organisations. Companies slowly adopt the collective conscience of their leadership, and so, in a sense, they become an extension of the personalities of their founders.

Competitive founders tend to birth startups that are progressive, and CEOs that tend to over-analyse data to come to decisions will probably create slower moving organisations. If a CEO is enthusiastic about technology, you'll have a company that is all about leveraging the latest innovations in tech, and so forth. Startups and their cultures, and the very identities that they embody, also come to be defined by the mission they set out to achieve. A startup's culture in the early days becomes its guidebook, and eventually grows to represent the identity by which it is perceived.

recent Forbes article that summarised the findings of an employee engagement study conducted by Tinypulse hypothesised that “employees who give their work culture low marks are nearly 15% more likely to think about a new job than their counterparts.” In most organisations, a good corporate culture encompasses a healthy work environment in which employees are treated with respect, and provided with compensation and benefits that demonstrate respect and caring.

Most startups are in a race to provide the best perks in the market to their workforce, believing that this is what will retain talent. However, these companies need to realise that culture goes beyond this - simply because you are more than just the perks you provide. Perks get very old, very quick. Here are some of the things that I believe truly make a startup’s culture stand out.

The philosophical edge

Employees love to revel in the knowledge that they are a part of something bigger than the salary package that they take home. Just ask anyone who worked for Apple or Google during the companies'inception. The knowledge that you are changing the world or creating something that is potentially earth-shattering is profound. For good talent, it’s the reason why they will wake up to come to work every morning. Companies that build a culture around this - a culture that gives an employee that feeling of playing God to a whole new generation or demographic of people, are companies where employees tend to build careers at.

The thinking cap stand

Startups are known for being places where employees get their hands dirty in different fields of work. Although managing the donning of ‘multiple thinking caps’ can be difficult for an employee, startups that give their employees the freedom and the resources to do this have an edge over others. Employees enjoy exploring new avenues, and adding new skills to their skill-set. And a company that enables its employees and encourages their learning and growth as a part of its culture is definitely one that pushes the boundaries of cool.

No red tape

Red tape is the death of all productivity and progress for an organisation. Companies have learned this the hard way, and today, several of the cool startups encourage their employees to think out of the box and push the limits of creativity for ideas and solutions. In an ecosystem that is built on good ideas, no matter how unique or niche they may be, startups need to see the value of clearing the path for its employees to simply think, innovate and create.

Another aspect to this is adopting a flat organisational structure - flat structures are more conducive to ideation, discussion, and rapid development and execution, which is exactly what startups need.

Perks and the works

This comprises the likes of flexible work hours and vacation days, no dress code, free food, an ever-buzzing workspace et al. Some startups will go above and beyond this with weekly jam sessions, movie and karaoke nights, gaming zones, outings and social events. However, I’ve placed this right at the bottom of my list for a reason - solely because of the point I made in the beginning of my article. You might attract talent with perksbut you will definitely not retain the best talent with it. While your workforce appreciates the perks, your company’s culture will be defined by its values and identity, not by the perks you offer.

Today, even some of the bigger companies such as Samsung are opting to emulate the culture that startups have made popular, just to make sure they don’t lose their best talent to startups. Additionally, adopting a startup-esque culture ensures that they accelerate innovation like a Silicon Valley incubator and also give internal teams an outside-in perspective on the business.

In summary, the culture is never the only factor that will make or break a startup, but it is certainly one of the most important. The companies that can retain their best talent will always be the ones that are willing to push the boundaries to give their employees a culture they are proud of.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)