by Chris Dowling

One of the best things about starting your own business is that you get to (try to) build whatever type of company you want — including the culture. Everybody has been in organizations where the overall culture and values — or at least certain management styles — were more toxic than not, and a lack of leadership undermined employee morale and performance. So why would you want to see that in your own business?

Surprisingly, start-ups and closely-held businesses often fail to instill values and foster a culture conducive to a positive and productive working environment. I’ve seen many small businesses where the organization’s culture was defined by the dynamic and dysfunction of its founders. In start-ups, where long hours, tight deadlines and high stress are the norm — and where high-performance and passion are critical to success — low morale and high turnover can be a recipe for disaster.

In a start-up, it’s easy to place the focus on whatever the shortest path is to get things done and meet critical deadlines, launches and milestones. But if you’re not careful, you can end up with an organization that lacks a clear set of cultural values or leadership practices, and a staff that’s not motivated or empowered to do their best work. Here are some ways to prevent this:

Write it down — think about what kind of culture you want for your organization, and write down a set of cultural principles and company values you want to aspire to for your employees, customers and partners

Include the team — communicate your cultural principles and company values to your employees, and take steps to get feedback and buy-in from them

Show you’re invested — commit to actions the company will take to instill and uphold cultural principles and values

Empower your employees — allow them the freedom to perform in the roles they were hired for, and give them room to make mistakes and learn from them

Foster accountability — establish standards of trust and independence among employees, and strive to weed out those who consistently fail to live up to it

Hire carefully — when hiring for key roles, especially those in management positions, make sure have you a clear understanding of a candidate’s leadership style and skills, and that they align with your desired values

Walk the walk — strive to embody the values you want to instill in your organization in your daily actions and communications

Celebrate success — take the time to recognize great work and contributions

Taking the time to define, communicate and instill your start-up’s cultural principles may seem like a luxury compared to launching, marketing and selling your products and services. However, if you don’t take the time to do it up front, you may not get a second chance.