Maxime Droux, co-founder and co-CEO of the job search platform talent.com uses his finance and MBA background to develop business in EMEA.
When a company is in transition, from start-up to enterprise, or from small to medium-sized enterprises, growth has an effect on the culture, whether it is desired or not. A growing business is good news, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. Here are some practices you can incorporate into the growth process to keep that spark of culture alive, as this is probably one of the main reasons your business is now growing and succeeding at such a rapid pace.
Decide where you draw the line.
I’ve found that founders of companies, especially startups, tend to be very close to the people they work with, often making it a point to know everyone’s name as the company grows. This is great in the early days when a company has five or ten employees. However, if you start using hundreds of them, and in different offices around the world, it’s a completely different matter.
The reality is that as a company continues to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult for a founder or CEO to be as close to their people as they would like. It’s as if a natural barrier is falling into place and the degree of separation between a company’s head, arms and legs begins to increase. The first solution is to invest in your HR team to help you take care of and bring you closer to everyone in your company.
Founders should definitely do their part to share the company culture, for example through daily employee engagement or presenting the company’s history to new employees during onboarding. But at a certain threshold, you have to look beyond what you can do with your presence. Founders must decide on key aspects of the company’s DNA that are non-negotiable and must always be maintained as the core, regardless of the local idiosyncrasies of the offices. Once those are better defined, you can turn to your HR department and cultural ambassadors to take charge of the work.
Delegate to your deputies!
To maintain a consistent culture as the company grows and evolves, CEOs and founders must rely on their leaders to take the culture to the next level. It is important for these leaders across the company to realize that they too are vital to the development of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices.
Taking the time to train cultural ambassadors will be an essential step in preserving the original essence of the company. Many of the people who have been with you for so long are already great ambassadors of their own accord, but formalizing their role or driving home that their cultural work is appreciated is an important step.
Selecting these leaders in a more formal way can boost their morale as they take on this important responsibility. How they feel and experience the company culture will then spread through the ranks.
The first step is to recruit with culture in mind. Selecting candidates that fit the hiring culture is half the battle. The second step involves setting up a solid onboarding process to ensure new potential leaders understand the culture and why the company does things the way it does. The final step is to model the kind of leadership you espouse in your company and to regularly contact your team leaders. It’s important for founders to instill the core values in your leaders and make sure they can express them in their own way. Make sure the results are the same, but the road to get there may be unique for your managers.
If your leaders feel encouraged to come to the founders with questions about how to handle specific situations, as they grow in their role, they will need less and less guidance in internalizing the cultural values and behaviors.
Manage culture through provincial partnership.
It goes without saying that the culture you start with will not survive all the growth phases in its entirety. In addition, as a business becomes more geographically dispersed, other cultural factors begin to influence the local iterations of business. It is important to respect the differences that arise in the different countries in which you operate and to ensure that each individual firm has a say in the corporate culture. Essentially, a good approach is a provincial one, allowing eccentricities to flourish and enrich the “federal” core of the culture.
The key here will be consistent communication. A challenge could be the emergence of different levels and styles of communication between groups within the company. You never want a group to feel left out, or for that one group to have special access to information because they are closer to a founder who works in their office.
So founders must ensure not only that the core of a corporate culture is clearly communicated, but also that all their different groups of people receive consistent and fair information from their leaders.
Invest in the cultural bottom line.
After all, the work never stops. Just as you invest in the growth of the company in terms of sales, new products, ambitious goals, and so on, it is important to include culture as an aspect of that growth. Working with your HR team to formalize a structure or framework to assess the health of the company culture can help keep it healthy.
First determine the most important cultural metrics you want to measure and then choose how you want to do it, for example via online surveys or interviews. Then create a system that forces you to check in on those cultural KPIs regularly. How often do CEOs consult their earnings dashboards or other corporate health metrics? Since you value culture as an aspect that drives your business forward, you should check your pulse as often as your treasury.