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Why We built our Culture Code Early as a Startup

Shihab Muhammed

1 July 2020

6 min read

It’s “NOT” about “Culture fit,” but about complimenting your culture that defines success…

Back in 2009, when Netflix introduced their Culture Code Deck, they shook organizations all over the world by their roots, & has been viewed more than nineteen million times.

People, including you & me, have made these vague statements about “Culture,” or “business culture,” or “brand culture” at least once.

Now, what exactly are these culture codes? And why do we need them? How are they important?

Having a foosball table at one corner and a couple of bean bags on the other corner would say my organization has a strong culture?

Or is it the numerous employee perks like vacations, or team building activities or access to remote working that says it?

Or, as many consider, is it the mission statement, written many years ago and widely ignored by the business, defines the culture?

In reality, all organizations have a culture, some better than others, but few actively manage it.

And as with most things in business, at the point that you define it and write it down… it becomes measurable and, of course, manageable.

Not just a code, but the personality of our brand

From Google to Hubspot to Apple, businesses of all kinds have realized, accepted, & published their own Culture codes from time to time.

Much like a child learning its social values, a culture code put in place the sooner, the better.

By the time the child has grown into an adult, or in business terms, from a start-up to a corporate, we just have to defend & nurture the culture that’s already built into the system.

Let’s take the example of a babysitter and a parent to bring in much more clarity while I explain the differences in establishing a work culture in start-up vs. corporate.

Now, a babysitter is someone who helps the child to meet his/her basic requirements like feeding, sleeping, or playing. The parent, on the other hand, has to do what a babysitter does and more.

A parent has to support the child to boost its physical, mental, social, & intellectual well being. A parent has to bring in everything to ensure the healthy & focused growth of the child. And keep in mind that a babysitter helps the child in an environment built & established by the parents.

Translating this into our point in the discussion, the corporates are like the babysitters. They already have a system in place, and all they have to do is follow it. Every other use case has been identified, labeled & kept at one’s disposal.

But as a start-up, we are like parents. We cannot stop with our teams delivering work as promised, following all the guidelines they were meant to. No, that’s the babysitter-way of things.

We are more than a place where our team gets their paycheck. We wanted that to be written & engraved everywhere. And that’s how our Culture Codes were born. Principles that we wish for our team to believe in. The Values that need to be rooted deep & reflected even when years have gone by.

Culture code design principles

Writing a 100-page thick handbook for culture codes can serve the purpose of ‘We have a grand, long culture code to abide by’ speech. But if what you want are values that your employees can hold close to and apply in their lives, think twice.

For us, the ultimate intention to have a culture code put in place is to build, nurture, & polish them into better individuals – in their personal lives, at work, or elsewhere.

Help your employees imbibe these principles by rewording and phrasing them as simple as possible. And that’s what we did while putting down our own Culture Code.

After all, there’s nothing more powerful than simplicity! We have carefully picked & articulated our culture codes that our teams can stand & preach by.

Our culture codes

6 culture codes of SurveySparrow.

How we applied our Culture Codes?

We’re growing. We have more than 20,000 trusting customers & 50+ loyal employees in the family within three years of our inception. And for us, Culture codes are not something that we just want to be documented or hanged on the walls. We want it to be the very core of everything we think, say and do.

There is an infinite number of culture codes out there in the world, one better than the other. Yet, many fail to sustain the impact & the values that they had exhibited in the beginning as time passes by. Reason? Ignorance or difficulty in operationalizing those codes in real life!

The first thing we did once our culture codes were written was to keep them as transparent and as accessible as possible. We ensured that everyone was on the same page and had a clear understanding of each proposed value. Now, we wanted these codes to be the very essence on which – we hire, operate, do performance review, and more.

To ensure a seamless shift to getting there, we started by recognizing the flag bearers for each pillar on which our culture code stood.

It was very well received by our entire team, and today, we are proud to say that they stand in the frontline, determined to keep these values forward. It’s never a one-person show, and business can certainly not function that way.

The Incredible Impacts of Our Culture Codes

Imbibing the culture codes has helped us realize that it’s all about complementing each other, being one’s strength to counter the other’s weakness. That is the impact it has had on us, as a company. Speaking of which, let us show you the 6 incredible impacts our culture codes have brought about.

#1 Ownership over transactions

The culture codes have helped us instill a sense of ownership into whatever we do. We take up challenges and work towards resolving them until we fix it. We hold ourselves accountable and never lose time in blame gaming or merely label it as somebody’s responsibility. Whatever we do, we own it!

#2 Solutions over problems

This is another incredible change that has been brought in by our Culture Codes. It’s too easy to be caught up in the confusion and chaos that a problem brings in. We, as a team, believe and train ourselves not to lose focus and stay solution-driven. Roadblocks & hurdles are going to happen, but we as a team are going to join together and find the best solution for it, no matter what!

#3 Experiments over failure

Failures are proof that you tried! We at SurveySparrow encourage & support each other to come up with their best-thought ideas and practices to help us evolve better. The go-getters and risk-takers are encouraged as a part of our culture code. With a culture code that embraces experiments, our teams don’t think twice to break every barrier to wow our audience.

#4 Execution over perfection

Perfection is attained with time. We come up with a strategy, stick to it, and then progressively work towards executing it. Perfection comes second to progression here. Unnecessary hypotheses and delays can be, hence avoided. We focus on relevant data that supports work execution and the resolution of those challenges in hand.

#5 Outcome over Action

We don’t stop with an idea or proposal, but we work towards achieving the outcomes. At SurveySparrow, our teams are ultimately purpose-driven. We do everything in our power to fulfill our duties and responsibilities to our best. This helps us produce results that actually can impact the world for better and not just random actions.

#6 Service over revenue

Being a business, profit matters. It is the revenue that keeps the organization running. But our culture codes help us keep in mind that the ultimate satisfaction doesn’t come from just money. It’s the excellence in our service that has taken over SurveySparrow, not revenue. The very foundation on which we plan, operate, and strategize is not based on how to make more money, but how to deliver an even better experience.

As years go by and we grow, it’s of utmost importance that we have values that let us all be connected and aligned to the same goals as that of the organization.

At SurveySparrow, we do not just stick to the traditional hierarchical recognition that happens here. We strongly believe that only when you have peer-to-peer recognition, you will be able to get a 360-degree view of an employee – a bottoms-up and top-down recognition system.

This lets each of us be recognized & appreciated for what we do while the strong values preached by our culture codes let us fly high yet stay grounded. Culture codes have helped us define everything that we want to pursue & ensure that we don’t chase vague goals, as time passes.

Thinking about how to write yours?

Huddle up, and note down what is not just a company, but as a committed & passionate family, you would like to achieve – what you want your teams to believe and stand by. Identify & preach the very values that you want to see in your company & your teams in 50 years from now! 

Shihab Muhammed

Founder & CEO at SurveySparrow

SaaS Entrepreneur, Growth Leader, Built and scaled multi-million dollar SaaS products. Passionate about building user-friendly SaaS Products.

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