We’ve all read the stories about startups making waves in their industry, and how they’re doing it from a once-destitute warehouse on the south side of town. We’re prone to conclude that these companies are sustaining high performance because they’ve broken down the (cubicle) walls that bind our ability to collaborate, innovate, and achieve our full potential.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about high performing culture develop from these stories, and many well-intentioned business leaders have tried to emulate these startups in their quest to improve their culture and performance.
Let’s dig in and dispel some popular myths about what you need to have in a high-performance culture:
#1: A “cool” vibe.
While it may seem that a waterslide snaking through your office will promote innovation, it usually just leaves you all wet. Many high-performing companies do have “cool” vibe cultures, but their sustained performance is attributed to much more than the free mocha coolatas.
Startup cultures tend to be manifestations of their founders and leaders — entrepreneurial, risk-taking, and intentionally provocative. And these outward characteristics predicate high-performance when they are founded in values of determination to succeed against all odds, an underdog mentality of never being satisfied, and a youthful exuberance that imitators just can’t match.
Don’t try to be something you’re not. Seek to understand what is truly valued in your organization and ask yourself how those values manifest themselves in the day-to-day. Are these manifestations going to help you or derail you from achieving your goals? “Cool” doesn’t necessarily mean high-performing, and trying to be “cool” when you’re not certainly won’t end well.
#2: A charismatic leader.
Another common myth is that organizations need a charismatic leader at the helm in order to inspire greatness in others. In fact, more recent thinking is quite the opposite. Highly successful CEOs tend to be those who shy away from the spotlight; those who are maniacally focused on the success of the business and who are never satisfied. If your charismatic CEO spends more time on the speaking circuit than in the office contributing to your organization’s success, you may be in trouble.
#3: A startup mentality.
While all organizations must be adaptive to meet the changing needs of the market (an attribute often associated with quick and nimble startups), this is not a prerequisite to success. It may be more challenging to turn the rudder on an ocean liner rather than a dingy, but mature organizations are still able to foster innovative thinking that keeps them competitive. It’s less about a startup mentality and more about understanding your objectives and how your organization’s culture is going to help get you there.
#4: Only leaders can create change.
Leaders can often institute change in existing systems and processes a bit more easily that others in an organization. But, I’ve met a great number of internal change agents over the years who affected sustainable change through influence rather than authority. By focusing their efforts on little victories and on influencing the thoughts and behaviors of one individual at a time, they were able to create a groundswell of support that catalyzed significant change.
Myth-buster bottom line: A culture of high performance is not necessarily a culture that seems catchy. The key is to clarify what you stand for and who you need to be. Execute on the vision of your organization in an authentic way that elicits the behaviors you and your team need to succeed.
Authenticity with who you are as a leader or founder can make all the difference for you and your organization. It helps you, as an individual, bring your best self to work each day and prevents the mental exhaustion that comes with pretending to be something you’re not. It helps others by setting clear expectations about what is and is not acceptable. It also helps set realistic expectations with potential employees as they assess the fit and alignment between their personal values and the values of your organization.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.
Your Guide to Growing Startup Culture
How do you build and grow a startup culture your employees love?
Sign up to our newsletter and receive your free guide to successful startup culture.