Having a healthy company culture is a vital aspect to a company’s success. However, a company’s culture can get lost in the shuffle when it is in the midst of rapid growth. Here are the key aspects for management to ensure that a company’s culture remains positive throughout the changes that growth inevitably produces, writes Rafael Lourenco, executive vice president at ClearSale.
A healthy company culture is an asset that attracts talent, helps you retain the people you hire, nurtures new ideas and provides meaningful work. This type of culture is also rare. Nearly 2/3 of corporate cultures are classified as either toxic or deficient, according to research by LearnLoft. If your company has a positive culture, it’s worth keeping. But how can you do that while your organization is in the middle of rapid growth?
The first step is to reflect on why you want to grow quickly and whether it will benefit your company. I say this because I’ve seen firsthand that the challenges of fast growth are huge, and I don’t believe it’s the right choice for every organization. Without careful planning to maintain culture, "the organization can quickly fall apart” during rapid growth, according to startup consultant and researcher Jordana Valencia.
The company I work for had about two dozen employees when I started a decade ago. Now we have about 1,500, and our culture is still the foundation of our success. But I won’t say it was easy. Keeping our culture alive while we grew our workforce to 40 times its original size required a serious commitment of time, effort and money. Depending on the resources you can dedicate to growth and culture management, and the strength of your company culture now, you may decide that it’s better to rethink rapid growth in favor of more organic, sustainable growth over a longer timeline.
Once you know which growth strategy you’re going to pursue, it’s time to address the challenges of balancing growth and culture. These challenges confront all growing companies, but they’re especially important for fast-growing organizations because they must be managed quickly.
Challenges to company culture during growth
As a leader, a C-level executive, or an entrepreneur, you must plan on spending a good portion of your time on maintaining the company culture. It is relevant, it is important, and it can’t be delegated, regardless of how quickly your business grows.
One of the biggest challenges is the shifting ratio of new hires to experienced employees. With each hire, the percentage of team members who are new to your company culture grows. You need a plan in place to teach large numbers of new people your culture quickly, so it doesn’t get diluted or ignored.
Another major challenge is making time for the corporate culture even though it doesn’t have any short-term impacts. Rapid growth requires a short-term focus in many ways. You may have new production or distribution problems, more difficult customers, and a lengthening list of ways you want to improve your product. In those circumstances, stopping everything to sit down and discuss the culture is immensely difficult. That’s why upper management can’t delegate the work on corporate culture issues. You must be prepared to lead by example. Remember that the culture is defined by what you allow/tolerate.
Finally, you must apply your culture goals to your hiring process, even if you feel pressured to hire new people as fast as possible. It won’t be easy to turn away good candidates who could fix your short-term challenges but who wouldn’t be a good fit for your company culture over the long term. However, you must make those hard choices if you want to emerge from the rapid-growth phase with the DNA of your culture intact.
Related to hiring for culture, you’ll need to think about when to hire leadership from outside, something many fast-growing companies do. Hiring outside leadership will change your corporate culture in some ways, and that’s not an easy decision to make. If you do need to bring in new leaders, take your time and look for the best possible fit with your existing culture.
Keys to preserving company culture during growth
With the major challenges of balancing growth and culture in mind, it’s time to look at solutions. At my company, we’ve invested a lot of money and energy into not only communicating our company culture and history, but also formalizing it. We’ve implemented three practices that any growing company can use to preserve and strengthen their company culture.
First, we created routines and rituals that serve to perpetuate the corporate culture. This is important to keep elements of your culture alive when new people are pouring into the company. It’s also a factor in creating a top-performing culture, where “words and phrases are powerful and are used all the time to the point where they become habits,” according to researchers at LearnLoft.
Next, we decided to use our corporate culture as an evolving framework for everything else. This gives any new hires at the company a clear idea of what the corporate culture is. When you have a clearly defined cultural framework, you can build your business around it—another best practice that researchers recommend. Hiring, training, collaboration, mentoring, and communication can, and should, all fit into your cultural framework.
Finally, we invested in creating a department that focuses on meetings, internal communication, and the employee development. More than two percent of our revenue is spent on initiatives coordinated by this department, which is separate from HR. Instead, it’s all about helping our company live its cultural values of clear communication, freedom to innovate, support for career development, and personal growth.
Keeping your company culture alive during growth periods is like any other business goal you want to achieve. You must be intentional, persistent, and willing to invest time and money to make it happen. When you set the example of making your company culture a priority, the rest of your company will follow.