What Prince Harry can teach start-ups about culture

What Prince Harry can teach start-ups about culture
April 14, 2016 Megan Caulfield

Last week I watched Prince Harry proclaim his love for a republican and plead desperately to live a life of normalcy as a ‘commoner’. Not perhaps terribly surprising for this young prince who has courted his fair share of controversy over the years. But as this latest royal drama unfolded on a Sydney stage, it turned out Harry didn’t have the guts to go through with it. Obligation, tradition and family overruled and he fell back into line.

The traditions of the British monarchy, with all the pomp and circumstance, were on full show in the Almeida Theatre’s bold production of King Charles III. And one of the big questions it raised for me was how do you preserve what’s historically important when you need to keep pace with the world around you.

It’s a question many organisations, particularly start-ups, are grappling with. The fine balance between cultivating the culture that helped drive their initial success and growing their business.

Take the Australian tech company, Canva, for example, who started up in 2013. Their online design software now has close to 10 million users and the business is valued at $231 million. For the impressive co-founder and CEO, Melanie Perkins, she’s said that one of her top priorities is maintaining the friendly start-up ethos as the company grows. Their expanding team of 80 plus people are grouped into “start-ups” with collective targets. They’ll lunch together, enjoying the meals prepared by the in-house chefs. And they’ve recently brought the Manilla and Sydney teams together for a hack-a-thon.

Canva need to constantly reinvent but they haven’t forgotten what lies at their core. Their product is all about empowering people to be designers, and within their company they similarly empower their team to lead, create, produce and have fun.

No matter what, start-ups can’t take their eyes of their culture. It’s well evidenced that culture is critical to business success. A global PWC study showed that 84% of leaders believe this but only 35% think that their company’s culture is managed effectively.

You just have to look at poor Zenefits to see such mismanagement in action. This Silicon Valley HR and health insurance tech heart-throb is in the process of over-hauling its culture after a series of highly publicised issues including a CEO resigning amid concerns over his company’s regulatory compliance, and investigations into allegedly selling insurance without a license in several states. They’ve gone down the path of banning alcohol (cue disbelief gasps) and the new CEO David Sacks has stated that a new set of values is necessary, with “integrity being at the core of what we do.”

So how can start-ups move to the next growth phase without losing what made them great in the beginning?

It’s not about adding inventive new perks like the ping-pong table or free on-site spa services. It’s about making sure people never lose sight of the company’s reason for being. Ensuring that they feel part of this united effort is what will motivate them to continue on the rapid rise.

And if Prince Harry was to share his view, he’d probably add make the ride jolly good fun. You couldn’t disagree with that!