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Authors: Sahana Nazeer and Lauren Perna

In the first part, we talked about what culture is and how MIT has managed to quantify it through an interactive tool called the Culture 500. Now that we understand it, we need to know how a company institutes a vibrant culture. It all starts with, ironically, hiring. The first 20 to 50 employees serve as the poster image for future team-members; therefore, they should have strong leadership skills and the ability to adapt as the company scales.  The initial team should also be a diverse group with complementary skill sets. Culture is bound to suffer if every on staff thinks the same way.  The hiring team should assess what strengths are already present and target people with skills that will offer a good balance.

This may mean requiring that initial hires undergo a more involved interview process, i.e. behavioral-based questions with a range of employees, especially senior leadership. If a company invests in the first 20 people coming through the door, then they will not have to sell the company to the next 20 people who choose to follow them.

Paula Cloghessy, chief human resources officer at Translate Bio, echoes this sentiment. She was one of those “next 20 people” who did not need a hard sell to join the company. Cloghessy came onboard when there between 30 and 40 employees; she joined because of CEO Ron Renaud’s people first mentality. “In a biotech you are constantly in survival mode, but Ron saw the importance of building people and bringing them together early on.” Renaud’s “people first” focus is still a vital part of the company’s culture and is made evident through their branding initiatives–something we’ll talk about in the next part.

So, what about those companies who have a reputation for a toxic company culture? Is there any hope? Certainly. There are many resources online offering advice on how to turn a toxic culture around without firing the whole staff, although that is one way to go about it. Some common tactics: implementing a culture team, analyzing employee demographics, and surveying current and former employees. An important takeaway is that culture starts from the top, so if the Board or Senior Leadership team are part of the problem then that’s where to start.

Whether a company is establishing a new culture or revamping an existing one, they should make sure that the culture aligns with company goals. Once a company has established (or re-established) a good corporate culture, what’s next? Promoting it, believing it, and showing it. In the next part, we’ll talk about promoting it.