As any entrepreneur knows, one of the biggest challenges in scaling your business is trying to hold onto the culture that enabled your company to take off. Whether your aggressive growth trajectory is driven by investor demands, the need to protect your market share from encroaching competitors, or a personal desire to make an impact with your product, the pressure to grow, if left unchecked, can become all-consuming.
If you want your company to scale successfully, it’s imperative that you don’t let growth distract you from your company’s core values and traditions. According to Stanford Business School professor, Lindred Greer, creating and maintaining a strong culture is critical for employee morale, and often companies themselves, to survive the startup phase.
Here are five ways to preserve your company’s culture during periods of rapid growth.
1) Use Your Core Values to Drive Every Major Decision
Maintaining your culture always starts with your company’s leadership. Research shows that when leaders act on organizational values and are transparent with their people, it creates a strong manager-subordinate relationship and boosts worker engagement - both of which are critical for a productive, close-knit culture.
For example, here at Prialto, our core values are:
When our leaders explain decisions, they’ve made, and when they give employees feedback, they use our values to justify their opinions. By being transparent about how our values influence their decisions, our leaders continuously reinforce the importance of our culture.
2) Be Extremely Selective in Your Hiring Process
To maintain their culture, many companies heavily emphasize fit in their hiring process. While picking people with similar personalities
Researchers at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley analyzed over 10 million internal emails from a five year period to assess culture fit over time. They discovered that cultural adaptability - not fit - is a greater indicator of employee success.
The reason for these findings is because very few candidates are a perfect cultural fit and even some people that seem like a good fit often struggle to grasp or dislike the nuances of your culture and end up being poor matches.
To identify your candidates’ cultural adaptability, the researchers recommend asking them questions regarding how they’ve adapted to new environments. Candidates who have a diverse range of experiences - for example, they’ve successfully worked in multiple industries or a variety of locations - are likely to be highly adaptable.
3) Quickly Instill Your Culture into New Hires
One of the biggest challenges of retaining company culture during growth phases is that you have to quickly hire many people. Since everyone in your company is so busy, it can be tempting just to give new hires a quick tour of the office, show them how to access the tools they need for their job and immediately set them up with projects. However, if you do that, you miss out on the prime time to indoctrinate them into your culture and risk setting them up for failure.
It’s estimated that 20% of employees turnover in their first 90 days because it’s not a good fit. Your on-boarding process is critical for retaining new hires and making them productive members of your organization.
Here are some ways to indoctrinate your new hires:
- During their first couple of days, give them a presentation about your company’s values and provide specific examples on an individual and institutional level.
- Assign a couple of employees to stay close to new people during their first couple of weeks and teach them your culture’s nuances.
- During the first six weeks or so, praise them every time they act on your values.
- Incorporate your company’s bigger picture into the instructions and constructive criticism you give them.
The more you can immerse your new hires into your culture during the first 90 days, the more likely they are to be successful in your organization.
4) Celebrate Employees Who Demonstrate Your Values
Many companies fail at thoroughly indoctrinating their employees because they don’t take actions to reinforce their culture after the on-boarding phase. To ensure your employees continuously embody your values you need to publicly reward them for acting in desirable ways. Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective ways to retain your culture because it shows people that, to be successful in your organization, they must embody your values.
One way we do this at Prialto is by publicly celebrating what we call “Orange Moments.” Orange Moments are when our employees go above and beyond in demonstrating our core values. When that happens, our managers send an email to the entire company to recognize the employees, and we post them on social media.
Here are some more ways to celebrate employees:
- Every week, pass around a trophy object to the employee who went the most above-and-beyond that week
- Give people shout-outs in meetings
- Have top leaders personally thank people at all levels for their contributions
The more you celebrate positive behaviors, the more ingrained they’ll be in your culture.
5) Do Morale-Boosting Activities Throughout the Week
Periods of rapid-growth are stressful for employees since they feel the pressure of aggressive goals and must cope with constant change. Having the leaders in your company do morale-boosting activities helps preserve people’s passion for your company and prevent burnout. These activities don’t have to be time-consuming.
Here are some quick and easy ways to boost the mood in your office:
- Have a leader bring in breakfast or special treats on occasion to encourage employees to have a snack together.
- Recognize employee birthdays, weddings, work anniversaries and other milestones.
- Individually meet with employees at least once per quarter to discuss their goals and take actions to propel them forward.
- Maintain cultural traditions. Whether it’s telling jokes to lighten the mood at the beginning of meetings or purple shirt Fridays, it’s critical to keep up the small activities that embody your company’s personality.
Overall, the key to maintaining your culture in the midst of rapid growth is preserving the behaviors and activities that make your company a unique place to work.
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About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.