Many startups begin with vigor, as a scrappy bunch of enthusiastic individuals pour their time and energy into what might turn into the “next big thing”. For those in charge of the ship, it is easy to get carried away with solely the destination in mind — staying true to the navigation with the expectation that all the gears will do their job as they should. However, no longer can fledgling firms ride this wave of adrenaline without giving sufficient thought into what comes next.
Entrepreneurship is a twofold endeavor. First and foremost, it has to fulfill its vision of what it wants to do and how it is going to be done. Secondly, the internal operation — from which these works come to fruition — must be predicated on a sustainable culture. A company may initially introduce a great product into the market, but doing so at the cost of employee dissatisfaction would entail an imminent failure.
In recognition of how important internal communication is in startups, more and more people are paying attention to the phenomenon called “cultural chasm”. Cultural chasm refers to the perilous period when management (or lack thereof) causes the company culture to break down and ultimately result in productivity loss. Even for many of the tech firms that have already seen success, the cultural chasm is a subject of continuous attention. Recently, Medium reported that hundreds of Microsoft employees are using private Facebook groups to share their salaries — tied together with their experience, skills and how long they have worked for the firm. Many of the engineers have appealed for compensation based on the crowdsourced salary data, and such need for communal understanding of how salaries, bonuses, and stocks are distributed across the firm is becoming more and more commonplace.
But what has salary got to do with the cultural chasm? The so-called culture of a firm is the fabric of relations between its members. Characteristics such as transparency, trust, and motivation are all woven together to form the foundations of a functional entity. In addition to the sheer amount of communication necessary to keep the firm from rupturing apart, an equally important aspect is attending to each and every employee. Everyone has a different way or preference of communicating and it must be accounted for when managing the workforce. Some may argue that having to move away from a template such as a survey may cost a lot in terms of resources. While that is definitely true, the expenses are truly worth it.
In recent months, FedEx’s earnings have seen a sharp drop in competition with its large counterpart, Amazon. Figures gleaned from their customer feedback don’t seem to show a big difference. However, when it comes to the quality and frequency of communication with their respective employees, Amazon ousts FedEx from the spotlight. Many FedEx employees have complained that their working hours are inflexible and that decisions aren’t communicated clearly through departments at times. Many were under the impression that newcomers who weren’t receptive to the already entrenched culture had found the company to be a poor match. The main problem with the approach FedEx is taking is that it is drastically rattled by temporary setbacks, and has a low tolerance for employees who aren’t willing to follow dynamic schedules — schedules that aren’t established through consensus but through strict orders. If they were to devise an effective communication platform, it would be easier to distribute the workload among the workers across different times of the day. The crux of the issue is the inability to be accepting of various employees, each of whom has the potential to bring up new ideas and suggestions that are more than valid.
The reason why this matters so much is that employee synergy is what determines how adaptive a firm can be. A concept or an idea can become obsolete, which is natural. However, if the firm lacks the structural capacity to engage in new initiatives, other groups with disruptive ideas will have much more to offer in the end. Products and services of the 21st century have as much character as the people that produce them. At the end of the day, the CEOs and founders of an organization aren’t enough to keep the company’s head above water. For the passionate individuals who are about to dip their toes into the world of startup, I do hope they are constantly reminded of the need to look inward. Without a sustainable culture in mind, they may be boarding an already sunken ship.