How to Scale Culture in a Fast-Growing Company
Alex Margolin| Jun 28, 2017
A strong, positive organizational culture is a powerful tool for growing and running a business. In fact, some would say that culture is the competitive advantage of their business, allowing them to be more resilient to challenges and agile enough to face uncertainty because of the strong cultural foundation that supports employee actions daily. But that practice becomes more challenging as firms grow and scale, because rapid growth can cause missteps that change or even destroy the very DNA of the company that once made it great.
One of the biggest concerns for culture-minded organizations in hyper-growth mode is how to maintain that way of life as they expand, and there are a few core areas that business and HR leaders can focus on to create continuity in the midst of rapid growth and expansion.
Businesses don’t serve people, people serve people. Great companies are made up of highly talented individuals, and one of the best ways to engage those workers, whether local or dispersed, is with targeted recognition. 95% of businesses believe that recognition improves employee engagement, and engagement is connected to a variety of positive business outcomes, such as innovation, customer satisfaction, and revenue.
Additionally, by making sure that contributions are recognized, leaders can reinforce the core values that made the business successful. Core values make up the DNA of every organization, and the specific nature of those core values can create lasting competitive advantage for employers that know how to harness them appropriately.
The biggest pitfall with trying to connect a set of core values to the work being performed is that many companies rely on a list of words or phrases that may be abstract, and hiring remote workers further dilutes this. For instance, an employee in China or Denmark may not have the same idea of what “integrity and open communications” means as someone based in Canada or Israel.
Not only do they have different laws and standards, they may also have different ways of perceiving these concepts. By rewarding specific behaviors, leaders can teach employees across geographic boundaries exactly what those core values look like in practice.
Another key benefit to note: by recognizing the actual behaviors that align with these core values, leaders continue to reinforce and drive those desired behaviors over time, maintaining a strong cultural link regardless of how fast the firm scales up.
Humans love traditions. It’s one of those aspects of living as social beings that gives some sense of stability and predictability. More importantly, traditions create shared experiences, bonding people together in ways that day-to-day work can’t always do.
One North America-based technology startup has used quarterly “all hands” meetings for workers around the globe for more than six years. Those virtual meetings started when the company had two employees and have continued as it scaled up to more than 100 workers spread across four different countries. The tradition was pretty simple: the founder of the company spent 30 of the 60 minutes to walk through some of the latest wins and accomplishments before giving each location an opportunity to talk about their own news.
Some of these updates were personal (“Mary just had a baby!”) while others were business related (“We’re in the final selection panel for winning this new project”). But the ones that everyone particularly enjoyed were focused on specific individuals or customer feedback (“Xander just had a perfect score on his first beta release for customer testing”). This tradition was used to give well-deserved recognition to hard workers and to update the rest of the company on key happenings locally–both critical activities that are sometimes overlooked in a fast-paced growth environment.
Other traditions may be localized, but as long as they align with the key attributes of the company’s culture, they can continue to help those workers feel like a part of the team for many years to come.
Encourage Two-Way Communication
Even if your business is using a global PEO to hire and manage some of its workers, as well as to process its international payroll, employees should never feel like they cannot raise issues about a project or suggest a new idea. In the book The Idea-Driven Organization, the authors explain the value of encouraging and gathering feedback and innovative ideas from the people performing the critical work.
The premise is this: while many companies may rely on an executive-driven innovation strategy, those that crowdsource ideas from their front line workers are more likely to collect insights that can improve the customer experience, create higher levels of employee satisfaction, and reinforce the notion that employees are valued resources.
In this use case, creating a more intimate connection among workers that are remote or that were hired in a quick growth spurt is a winning proposition, making them feel like a valued part of the team. And feeling valued can drive increased productivity and performance, according to joint research by IBM and Globoforce.
At the same time, the top-down communications are necessary as well. Unfortunately employees working at remote locations often feel like they are second class citizens, which can cause issues with morale and performance if not managed properly. By leveraging all hands or town hall meetings like the startup referenced above, companies can create and strengthen that cultural bond between workers at multiple locations.
Recognition, traditions, and communication, when used in conjunction, create a powerful culture that not only remains stable over time, but also flexes to incorporate new workers and locations as employers grow and expand. The challenge of engaging globally dispersed workers is not one to take lightly. However, with the right approach and a purposeful intent to maintain culture as the business scales, employers can reap the benefits of creating a positive employee experience.