Business advice and education, Startup Advice

Three ways to give your startup a culture kick

Dr Marcus Tan /

Startups are often associated with long working hours and small wages, but that’s far from true.

In the millennial age, I’d suggest that startups need to look beyond ping-pong, bean bags and free food to unearth what motivates their key talent demographic, millennials

With millennials (or Gen Y) set to become the most dominant generation in the workforce, it’s safe to assume that the majority of startup employees fall into this category.

Working with millennials offers a new and interesting challenge for employers. For one thing, they look at the job market with a totally different perspective to their Gen X and baby-boomer predecessors.

Where Gen X and baby-boomers may have been lifelong servants to one organisation, the employment world no longer works this way.

Instead, millennials look to explore different jobs, in new industries, at a rate of knots.

In fact, it’s estimated that your average millennial will change jobs every three years.

Simply put, for startups to survive, they must foster a culture that aligns with the motivation of the talent they’re trying to attract.

Since we founded HealthEngine over ten years ago, through a process of trial and error we’ve identified these as: working with purpose, an environment where learning is actively encouraged,and a flat hierarchical structure.

It’s what ensures we remain a great place to work while also attracting the brightest and best talent in the country and from overseas.

We’ve taken a look at what each of these mean in real terms.

Work with purpose

The most talented individuals aren’t just looking for a job. They want to challenge the norm, and do work that is meaningful to them.

Many startups are founded on the principle of changing the world for the better: that can be by making it easier to save funds for your first home, or helping small businesses find office-space in their first few years of conception.

Whatever it is, no matter how big, for startups to retain the best millennial talent, there needs to be purpose to their work.

Clearly, the mission of your startup isn’t going to get everybody excited.

But to give your startup culture a kick, your employees need to be passionate about your vision. This is particularly important to discover in the hiring phase.

When a company’s culture is aligned with its values, it attracts those who feel comfortable in that culture, which in turn helps companies to motivate people, leading to a higher level of employee engagement.

By taking what I would term an ‘authentic’ approach, we have been able to build a culture of highly motivated individuals who believe passionately about the work that they do, which one of the greatest achievements of our company.

Yearn to learn

Increasingly we’re seeing people becoming focused on enhancing their personal development.

It goes back to the premise that this isn’t just a job, it’s about bettering yourself.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital report, 84% of employees said that learning is a key priority when looking for a new job.

This focus on learning seems appropriate, as learning opportunities are among the largest drivers of employee engagement and strong workplace culture — they are part of the entire employee value proposition, not merely a way to build skills.

For me, it’s important that startups share knowledge in both directions.

I’m not your average tech startup CEO — for one thing I’m not at all technical — I’m a physician by trade.

Every day I’m learning more about the tech ecosystem from my colleagues. It’s one of the many reasons why I love coming into the office every day.

No hierarchy, no problem

Very few people want to work in a company with a strict hierarchy.

Research has shown that reducing hierarchy can lead to more satisfied employees, and some companies have concluded that flatter structures work better in terms of output.

Due to their size, startups generally live by a flat structure.

This will help obtain talent, but maintaining that structure as you grow — while it is challenging — is a game-changer and one that will help you to retain good people.

We employ a flat business structure at HealthEngine, which helps ensure employees can work alongside colleagues who have different backgrounds and experience.

Not only does this help build the company culture, but also helps with enhancing skills across the company as employees have the opportunity to learn from their peers with different professional backgrounds.

If startups can make all of these part of their culture, their talent should stick.

If their talent sticks, that’s the first step in establishing a business built for long-term success.

Dr Marcus Tan is the medical director and chief executive of HealthEngine

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  • Bill

    Im still waiting for my Christmas Cards from the ATO to say thanks Bill for the hundreds of thousands of $$$$’s that you have paid over the 15 years that you have been in business.
    Must be lost in the mail too I guess.

  • Bina Brown

    Good on you Dennis! Keep up the good fight for small business!

  • Alysia Bazzani

    This happened to me 3 years in a row, where I only received the second invoice which included the late fees. The original invoices never arrived. After the 3rd year, I was furious and after may failed attempts, spoke to a representative and they said that it wasn’t their problem and that the invoices had been sent out. I am sure there is a glitch in the system where the first invoice isn’t sent. If only there was a way to prove it!

  • Deborah Fowler

    I had the same thing happen to me. I had the late fee which I paid on the day I received the invoice, and then the extra late fee because the late fee invoice had been received after the date I should have received it. I rang & said that I had not received the first invoice. They said that it was my fault & that I should have a note on my diary. I understand that my bill was paid late & there may have been a penalty, but 2 penalties was hard to take. Note I’ve paid every year for 20 years on time!

  • Yes, the late fees are a rort. How on earth can they justify the high rate of the late fees? I will say though that since I was made to pay them, I’ve never let it happen again so I guess the method behind their absolute madness pays dividends in more ways than one.

  • jota6689

    dennis, you need to understand that you are dealing with public servants and their mind set is so far removed from that of small business – a public servant has never been in business and simply does not understand the business world and more to the point they just DO NOT CARE. Further, government does not give a stuff about forming or maintaining relationships with their ‘clients’. They hold their taxpayer ‘clients’ in contempt. That will only ever change if their real employers – the taxpayers – revolt and tell them you are not getting paid this week because ‘you are not doing your job’.

  • P

    By far one of the most frustrating elements of dealing with AUS GOV. and No one wants to assist with these exorbitant fees, that even the banks couldn’t get away with. Outrageous fees !!

  • Free Advice

    What Public Servant bullies are too stupid to understand is how much profound damage they are inflicting on the morale of those who no longer believe they “serve the public”, and who they brazenly rob at legal gunpoint.

    It’s time all businesses close for a week to make this loud and clear.

    Short term pain for long term gain?

  • R R

    Had a similar experience. My accountant sold his business to another and the registered address wasn’t changed by him. I had few entities but it was one that didn’t get changed. I paid invoice immediately when it finally got to me. Complained to gov but none of what I explained was on their list of exceptions. As a percentage the fines are huge. They complain about banks and others ripping of consumers yet they do the same. Highly hypocritical.

  • John McMahon

    My business was fined when we paid by credit card ON TIME (just) but the transfer of funds to ASIC happened after the deadline. Most payees accept or agree that payment occurs at the time the credit card payment was made – NOT ASIC!!! Law unto themselves – great being a monopolist!

  • A past employer

    Yes, I have to agree with the complainant that there is no recognition for long term good behaviour or the occasional glitch. There are very few reasons why anyone with half a brain would take the risks of going in to a small business these days.

  • temphi

    While this is quite unreasonable, it pales in comparison with the Centrelink robo debt scandal.

  • Free Advice

    We are all trying to be polite, aren’t we? Why do you think anyone cares about this?

    All these complaints are symptomatic of our society tumbling fast into a totalitarian state system.

    Countdown started from 9/11, when governments found out they could do anything they want.

    We were terrorised – paralysed for over 12 months as corporate and bureacratic psychopaths raped and pillaged the citizenry.

    Face it, we lost.

    Dominic, nice to see you fanning the dying embers with a follow up article.

    Any thoughts of approaching our masters for signs of human compassion?