There are very few entrepreneurs who launch their business in a bedroom or a basement and hope that it stays there. That entrepreneurial spirit inevitably involves a strong mix of ambition and vision, and an intent for more customers, perhaps more employees, more success.

From the beginning, a startup’s founders and earliest members create a culture, shaped by the good or bad habits and practices of those working there. Many of the best elements of a startup are connected to the sense of close collaboration of a handful of people working intensely to achieve a specific goal. But as a business grows beyond the startup stage, the scaling process brings challenges that many entrepreneurs fail to anticipate.

When these ventures begin to experience success and decide to scale, those that have the smoothest transition to a larger and more traditional entity have prepared for this growth from the beginning. One of the most critical steps they’ve taken is to launch their startup with a recognition of the need for a code of conduct specifying  how the startup’s members will interact with each other, with customers, with suppliers. Some startups call it their “rules”; others identify it as their value statement. I call it a framework for civility.

In my book Civility Rules! I explain that civility is much more than simply good manners or behavior. I identify the five core principles of civility: courtesy, humility, empathy, trust, and respect. These are values that will shape a business’ ability to attract good people.

Too many startups overlook this foundational step that should be part of their business model from day one. When you wait to create a code of conduct—a civility framework—until your business has grown from five employees to fifteen or fifty, these strategic policies guiding how relationships will be shaped can feel restrictive and risk being lost in a lengthy set of formal rules or regulations.

I encourage entrepreneurs not to wait for a future stage of growth to create an expectation for civility. Make your code clear but flexible enough that it can grow with your business, scaling it in a way that makes sense whether you are serving a few customers or a few thousand.

I’m not talking about eliminating the informal, we’re-all-in-this-together collaborative atmosphere that makes working for a startup so exciting. Civility doesn’t have to be formal or rigid. It simply is intended to support effective and productive relationships, centered in respect.

Your startup’s civility framework can be something simple, maybe even three statements that will reflect how you want to work with others, internally and externally:

1.    Listen.

2.    Do what’s needed.

3.    Fail forward by taking responsibility.

These statements are clear, easy to remember, and embody principles that can easily scale as your startup grows. They also reflect the core principles of civility I shared earlier. Listening is a way of demonstrating respect and courtesy. Doing what’s needed can be an expression of trust and empathy. Fail forward shows humility and an awareness that mistakes will be made, no one is perfect, but each setback will create an opportunity for growth and learning.

As your startup grows, you may choose to expand this initial list with more specific and traditional policies. A larger workforce will require more rules ensuring accountability and discipline. A growing customer base will need structures to nurture those relationships.

These shifts are normal. And they will feel more organic if civility is part of your culture from day one.


Originally posted on