Culture in a Scaling Company

June 22, 2021

For many small companies and tech start-ups, culture is the main selling point in talent recruitment, but as companies grow, maintaining the culture employees love can be challenging.

At the Introduced Conference in May, Truvelop CEO Lisa First-Willis shared, “Your culture is a living, breathing thing. So as you hire more people your culture is going to shift, it’s going to adapt, and if it’s not then you’ve got a problem. There [can be] a real disconnect because those behaviors, those core values, your vision, your mission, all those things tie directly into culture.”

Business leaders need to consider the future goals of the company and what they need to get there. A business with 5 employees is going to look very different than one with 50 or 100. As companies scale, executive roles and functions need to change to provide the expertise needed in those areas in order for the company to be successful.

Shark Tank entrepreneur, author of The Five Hour Workday, and a fellow panelist at the conference, Stephan Aarstol, shared that his company changed when they hired someone who could be focused on HR, the day-to-day lives of employees with a passion for people and culture.

To really gauge how employees feel about culture, we recommend leaders ask employees directly if they have the bandwidth, either through HR performance management or one-on-one meetings. For larger organizations, that can mean sending surveys a few times a year to check in on things. Questions can include whether or not employees feel like they can take risks and whether or not the company is accountable in times of conflict.

While businesses can strive to maintain the core essence of their culture, as companies grow, the culture is likely to change somewhat to adapt to employee needs, behaviors and outcomes. Culture is ultimately rooted in the people, therefore, it is important that the company clearly defines its passion, vision and mission, and that it is embedded in the day-to-day operations so that every employee lives it and new employees understand it. When hiring new employees, it is important they understand the company culture so they know from the beginning if it will be a good fit.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, “The first step to scaling culture is to define each company value or belief into two or three behaviors that people can observe. For example, ‘respect’ can be defined as 1) being a great listener and 2) giving equal consideration to different ideas. The output of this exercise is a clear list of the top 10-15 observable behaviors that define your culture. This has two purposes. First, it ensures everyone is working from the same cultural definitions. Second, it ensures abstract values can be seen in concrete ways. Thus, employees can more easily learn, measure, and reinforce values.”

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