Scaling Your Business Without Compromising Your Company Culture
The goal of any business is to grow. Whether you’re the president and CEO, the marketing director, or a data analyst, the end goal of all that you do is to grow the business. And if this is the case, then growth is always good, right?
The short answer is yes. But growth does have some negative consequences, especially if you don’t manage it well. One such disadvantage is that growth will change your company culture. As you bring in more people, and as each person becomes increasingly focused on their specific set of tasks, culture can fall to the wayside, left to develop completely on its own.
Sometimes this works out. Organic culture growth is good, and it’s inevitable. But if you’re not careful, then culture can develop in a way that will harm the company, forcing you to engage a costly and time-consuming rebranding process.
Here are some things to keep in mind to help you manage growth and not sacrifice company culture.
Have a Plan
The first thing to remember is that you are not helpless when it comes to cultural change. Sure, there are some things that will happen on their own, but management does have some degree of control.
One way to exercise this control is to define your vision, mission statement and core values. These will help set the tone for the type of company you want to be. Let’s go into a bit more detail about each one.
You must always remember that your company exists to solve a problem or satisfy a need. This is why you are useful and why people give you their hard-earned money. Your vision is the abstract idea you have of the world where you’ve solved this problem for everyone who suffers from it.
Typically, when you work out a vision, the simpler the better. Let’s take a look at an example from one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, Google. Their vision is “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.”
Now there are two important things to think about here. First, this is impossible. They’ll never be able to provide access to all the world’s information that quickly. But the second thing is that this doesn’t matter. This is what they’re working towards, and that’s what’s most important. As Google has grown into a company essentially the size of a country, they’ve stuck to this, and it has helped them form a company culture that truly sets them apart from the competition.
Think of your mission statement as the practical version of your vision. To stay with the same example, Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
As you can see, this is far more realistic, and it helps keep the company centered on what makes it unique and successful, no matter how large it gets.
And it’s worth mentioning these core ideals have not changed throughout the company’s history. The language has been adapted, but the meaning has stayed constant. The founders and leaders of Google had a plan, and by sticking to it they were able to preserve the best parts of their culture and expand upon them in exciting and beneficial ways.
Another component of your cultural development plan is your core values. These define you as a company, and they differ from the vision and mission statement in that they are more inwardly-focused.
Obviously, you’ll share your core values with your customers, and they will be a big reason why they choose to do business with you, but these are more for your employees.
People need to know what is expected of them, and your core values will help you communicate this. They help regulate decision making and behavior within the company, which will make it easier to manage cultural change as you grow. Check out this talk with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to learn more about why core values are so important and how you can figure out what yours are.
Brand Inside and Out
When we think of branding, we typically think of it as business-to-customer. A brand is something that distinguishes you from the crowd with which people can form a connection. However, to make sure you preserve your company culture as you expand, you need to remember that your employees are also an important audience.
The messages you determine from identifying your vision, mission statement and core values need to be directed inwards as much as outwards. People need to be conscious of the fact they are actively contributing to the creation of company culture. This will not only make them more motivated—people like feeling as though they are a part of something—but it will also help encourage them to take actions that support your overall cultural strategy.
Another important thing to do is include your employees in this process. As you’re developing your plan, and while you’re implementing it, solicit feedback from employees, and do your best to incorporate it into your strategy. This will increase employee buy-in and make your efforts at preserving and building culture more successful.
Use Culture to Recruit
Your employees will inevitably play the most important role in helping you achieve your cultural goals. As you scale, new people will come in with their own value sets and ways of doing things. It’s important these align with what you consider to be most important to the company, and the best chance you’ll have at doing this is in the hiring process.
It’s tempting to bring in people who have the most relevant experience and qualifications, but cultural fit needs to be high on your priority list if you hope to preserve your culture as you scale. Consider working with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to help you market your employer brand and recruit the right candidates.
But there are other things you can do. For example, make sure you include information about company culture on all communications to prospective clients. Job announcements, social media posts and your company website need to consistently communicate who you are as a company. This will help attract people who are a good cultural fit and repel those who are not.
Interviewing for Culture
You’ll also want to make sure you’re looking for cultural fit during the interview process. While you can’t outright ask people about their beliefs and values, you can certainly ask questions that will reveal them. Some good ones to consider are:
What would your ideal company look like? How would it work?
If you were CEO, how would you run your company?
What do you like to see most from the companies you work for?
Hypothetical situations are also very revealing. Asking how someone would react in certain situations will uncover some of their core ideals.
Cultural Change Starts With You
The most important thing to remember is that you are not powerless when it comes to cultural change. Careful planning and thorough analysis of who you are as a company and who you would like to be will allow you to not only preserve your company culture, but expand upon it in a way that will make your company much stronger.
About the author
Jock is the founder of Digital Exits, an online brokerage service. He has started, grown and sold several companies, and this has given him a wealth of experience about what works and what doesn’t when starting a business. Since he believes strongly in entrepreneurship, he likes to write about his experience to help others.