In the beginning, all that matters (or should matter) is building a great product. However, as your company grows rapidly, culture starts to exert its powerful effect on employees by steering them to act or to behave in a certain way when the path is otherwise unclear.
Growth is always great for business owners but can sometimes be unpleasant for employees. They may be expected to work longer hours, take on new responsibilities, work with new suppliers or clients, or, most challenging, start thinking about the company as a whole in an entirely new light.
A strong company culture is the key to holding your team together in the face of fast growth. Culture refers to an organisation’s shared expectations, values, and beliefs. It’s basically the environment – not just physical, but also psychological and emotional – that your employees work in.
When a company is growing fast, it is very vital that your employees feel they are in a nurturing work culture in which they can communicate, collaborate and thrive. Building this kind of environment requires deliberate culture development, but with these culture building tips, you can achieve that.
Build around your goals
Figuring out what objectives you want your culture to accomplish for your organisation during your period of fast growth is one of the first culture building tips you should consider. Maybe your culture goal is making sure that no one quits their job while you go through this expansion period, or maybe you want to see your team improve in specific areas such as customer service or brand representation.
Whatever your goals, it’s important that you identify them right from the start and then zero in on the specific habits and practices that your staff needs to adopt to achieve them. Not only do goals focus your efforts, but they provide a way to measure how successful your culture building efforts are.
Give value to your values
One of the most daunting hurdles companies face in building culture is making the employees actually care about it not just pay it lip service. Yes, a “Hang in There Baby” poster to promote resilience is cute, but ultimately this is just a symbolic gesture. Culture is about infusing your values into the work your employees do every single day.
You need to weave your desired company values into the fabric of every step of the HR lifecycle: recruitment, on-boarding, performance management, training, rewarding, and even separation. These are the areas where you need to direct your culture building efforts because they have a direct, tangible effect on the mood, thoughts and performance of your employees.
There are numerous ways to give value to your values. For example, if one of your values is versatility, assign more tasks to individual employees instead of having each team member focus on a single one. If it’s innovation, make it a requirement for employees to think of, and execute, at least one core change to their work processes every month or quarter and share their findings at an all-staff meeting. If work-life balance is important to you, then consider banning employees from logging on to work email on the weekends.
Keep everyone in the loop
Communication is one of the most important culture building tips. Communicate your values and culture explicitly and continuously, both internally and externally because unity is extremely important during fast growth. Employees must understand your culture, and why it’s important to you and to them.
From start to finish, culture building efforts should include time for meetings, exercises, and activities that encourage your staff to get together and share their experiences on the job. These facilitated conversations will help build the spirit of teamwork, resolve disagreements and help get members of your team who may be out of sync get back on track with everyone else.
It’s also a good idea to supplement those group conversations with one-on-one meetings so that individuals who are uncomfortable sharing their concerns with everyone can do so in private.
Incentivise your team to embrace change
Incentives are one of the most effective culture building tips. Until they get accustomed to the new culture, your employees will naturally experience growing pains. During this transition, it’s important to make sure your team is motivated to give their best for the new culture. At least in the beginning of the process, that may require incentives such as bonuses and extra vacation time.
It is worth noting though that simple recognition is still one of the most powerful incentives. When an employee goes above and beyond to embody your values and foster your desired company culture, mention their accomplishments at an all-staff meeting.
Individual and group morale can get a real boost from management acknowledging how hard they have been working to adjust to a new culture.
Let leadership set the tone
Great leadership is another one of the most important culture building tips. Culture is greatly shaped by how your leaders act, so make sure your leadership team embodies the type of company you want to be and the values you want to focus on most – be it teamwork, transparency or innovation.
Also keep in mind that organisational structure drives culture. The system you put in place determining who reports to who will have a great impact on your company culture.
For example, Apple famously elevated the design group in the organisation by having them report directly to the CEO. So if you take pride in being an innovation-driven company, then your R&D team shouldn’t be buried in the hierarchy.
Also consider having top executives and managers spend a few days working on the front lines with customers or directly with your product. They will have a new appreciation for what your regular employees go through on the job and will be more apt to make decisions that benefit the company.
With the above culture building tips, as your company grows fast, its culture will help keep it on track and steer hiring decisions for the people who will maintain that success and safeguard your company from spiraling into something you don’t recognise — even if you no longer know everybody’s name.