Company Culture in Start-ups & Work Culture in Norway


Have you heard the famous saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” by Peter Drucker? 

This alarming sentence gives a very important lesson not only for well establish companies but also start-ups.

One may consider why would a two-person start-up need to build company culture or even how it can? Isn`t it an early stage, a small size? Doesn`t it have more urgent priorities? Many questions alike may rise. 

Here are some answers on WHY startups should build a company culture and HOW they can: 

The WHY part: 

First of all, it is NOT early to start building it. The reason for that is your company culture starts when you start your business, whether you realize it or not. That is also the reason why startup cultures are heavily affected by the founders` characteristics. 

It is, also, smarter to have an intended company culture that will flourish your startup in the future rather than a left alone one.  It plays an important role in why more than half of the new ventures fail during the first two years.

Our Experience:

Our founder of Get Started, Mads Haaland-Paulsen shares his experience on the importance of building a company culture from a former intrapreneurial journey: “When we started DocMorris Apotek in Sweden, we emphasized culture building as a key element. At the beginning, I did it because my boss at that time told me it was something I had to do. I did not have big expectations about what results it was going to give. 

Our efforts to build culture consisted of including all the employees in a value process. We built a company culture around three core values. They were easy to communicate around and it became very clear to the employees what we were about. 

I was scared in a positive way by the effect it had after. We soon built a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the company and quickly became one of the most preferred employers in the emerging competitive pharmacy market. Pharmacists who were a scarce resource in the market, chose us as an employer over the competitors. For us it was a very favorable competitive advantage as we could open more new pharmacies than our competitors.”

It is your foundation! Like Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO, states culture is “the foundation for future innovation and entrepreneur`s job is to build that foundation.”

Another reason why to start building a company culture in your start-up is that, culture will be the constant you and your employees need in order to shape things in the direction you intended to, in a fast moving and chaotic startup environment. 

It keeps employees happy and productive during the crazy busy and stressful work days, whose performance is the key to your company`s success. According to Harvard Business Review article How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation, “Why we work determines how well we work. Maximize these three motives Play-Purpose-Potential for performance improvement, decrease emotional-economic pressure and inertia.

It can also bring rapid growth in a short period of time, like Jack Martin from Digital Press ties theirs as a direct result of a flourishing company culture (in the past year and a half, from 2 to 20+ employees). 

The HOW TO part:

There are different styles to define and establish culture in your company. Every company is unique so their culture. 

Darmesh Shah, Co-founder and CTO of the popular HubSpot says that “The culture of a startup is defined by three things: 1. How the founders behave, 2. Who they recruit, reward and recognize. 3. Who they release (let go).” 

Mike Burke says “define your values, hire with value fit, work for positive culture (meaning being open and treating right) and keep reviewing your company culture”. 

Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and CEO at Buffer illustrates building their company culture in road map format, from they were only two people to future growth.

Grafisk fremstilling av kulturbygging

Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi explains “what leaders can do: once a week meeting , all answering 1) Play: What did I learn this week? 2) Purpose: What impact did I have this week? And 3) Potential: What do I want to learn next week? Explain the why behind the work. And make sure everybody has space to play.”.

Regardless some of the differences in how to establish a company culture, it is possible to say that defined and implemented values with a team of people who shares and nurtures them from the early stages of your company, would provide the required culture that will play a crucial role in the future success of your company.


Developing start-up culture in Norway:

First by learning about Norway`s culture in general, values can be better decided on and a functioning company culture can be better shaped.

In order to do that in a more objective way, Cultural Dimension scores of Norway by Geert Hofstede, whose findings shaped areas like intercultural management and organizational culture, are used. His findings show that Norway has an individualistic (IDV), feminine (FEM) and low power distance index (Low PDI) culture, which is also quite similar around Scandinavia. 

These mean that “Individualistic cultures people take less responsibility for others’ actions and outcomes. High value placed on people’s time and their need for privacy and freedom. An enjoyment of challenges, and an expectation of individual rewards for hard work. There is a respect for privacy. Therefore, individual accomplishments need to be acknowledged, personal life and work life should not be mixed, debate and expression of people’s own ideas should be encouraged in organizational culture.

In feminine cultures there is a great deal of overlap between male and female roles, and modesty is perceived as a virtue. Greater importance is placed on good relationships with your direct supervisors or working with people who cooperate well with one another. Consensus and quality of life is important. Success is more likely to be achieved through negotiation, collaboration and input from all levels.

Low PDI indicates flatter organizations. Supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals. Therefore, delegating people, involving all those in decision making who will be directly affected by the decision is ideal.”

 Norwegian public and private sector , also, describes the work culture in Norway quite similarly to these:

“1. Flat structures and little hierarchy

2. Quick and informal communication

3. Focus on cooperation

4. Trust among people

5. Empowered employees

6. Balance of work-and private life

7. Gender equality

8. Risk willingness”

Nyinorge explains how these would look like in work life very well:  “The Norwegian work culture is characterized by flat structure and empowered employees. For a newcomer it may be difficult to distinguish the boss from the rest of the employees. Decision-making is often by consensus. There is a high degree of autonomy in both what employees do and how they do it, and there is generally a high level of trust that everyone contributes to the common goals and objectives. Dress code is informal in most businesses.

Norwegians are usually motivated by personal development, a good working environment and friendly colleagues, rather than financial or other quantitative rewards. Employees are to a large extent expected to work for the common good, and to a lesser extent for personal fame and fortune. However, you will still find work cultures where personal achievement is valued, especially in sales and financial services. A characteristic of Norwegian professional life is the important work/life balance.” 

Since your start-up is going to operate within such culture, it is wiser to incorporate these as early as possible in your company culture for successful future.

Vedia Eskicioglu

Digital Marketing and administration

50 til 100 AS


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