Five Things: Building Culture Panel | Lincoln Startup Week Recap

Every workplace has a culture, whether it's intentional or not. Building the right startup culture can drive team retention and engagement. Check out these tips from startup people leaders during Lincoln Startup Week.

Startup Culture Panel

Nebraska Angels and Enterprise Legal Studio hosted a panel on Building Culture for Lincoln Startup Week. The panelists were Firespring Founder and CEO Jay Wilkinson, CompanyCam VP of People Lauren Conger, Pet Friendly VP of People Michael Struthers and Better Culture Co-founder Brett Hoogeveen.

Here are five takeaways from the panelists:

1. Culture drives retention, which lowers costs. Turnover is a costly process. It requires time and money to recruit, hire and train new employees. There can also be a loss of institutional knowledge when experienced employees leave. The tech industry faces high turnover rates at around 13%, according to the panelists. Generation Z is the least likely to stay at companies for an extended period with an average tenure of two years. 

A strong organizational culture is a key factor in retaining employees. Investing in company culture not only fosters a positive work environment, but also contributes to financial savings that can be reinvested elsewhere in the company.

2. The most productive cultures take a human-centered approach to work. Encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work and fostering personal connections contributes to longer tenures. Surveys show that someone is more likely to stay at an organization longer if they say they have a good friend at work. Being surrounded by people who are living their full, authentic lives inside and outside of work results in a more positive and productive culture.

3. Culture can influence founder burnout and engagement. Founder burnout poses a significant threat to business success. Surrounding founders with a supportive culture and great people can increase engagement and mitigate burnout risks. Financial investment in training and education is a crucial part of building that supportive culture.

4. Accountability and trust are key. Building a positive company culture involves holding people accountable. You create accountability by transparently clarifying roles and expectations. Trust is built through shared experiences, so creating opportunities for team collaboration reinforces trust and prevents siloed operations. Accountability and trust start at the top. Leaders must align actions with stated values to avoid discrepancies.

5. Building a culture takes intentionality. Every company has a culture, whether chosen intentionally or not. Companies need to actively choose the kind of culture they want to have. Values play a pivotal role, and discussing both positive and negative experiences related to values helps shape a genuine company culture. Leaders should continuously evaluate and evolve company culture as the organization grows and with each new hire.

Recognizing and addressing toxic behavior — even if it’s from highly skilled team members — is essential for maintaining a positive team dynamic and preserving overall optimism.

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