Trying to Scale? Double Down on Culture Before You Even Think About It.

Trying to Scale? Double Down on Culture Before You Even Think About It.
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When you started your company, everyone knew everyone. You shared the inside jokes, brainstorming sessions included the whole company, and there was a sense of belonging and family.

Now, you're growing and there are new people you don't know. How can you make them part of your culture too? How can you balance the desire for a shared culture with the need to scale your operations, sometimes very quickly? 

My company, Stride Consulting, has grown from zero to over 80 employees in a few years. Once we reached 50 employees, we started having new-hire lunches. Once a month, the most recent new hires all grab lunch together. It's a small yet critical change--one of the best we've made.

You see, when we were 10, 20, even 30 people, it was easy to get together once every three months. In the course of a few hours, you'd be able to introduce yourself to everyone and feel like you knew most, if not all, of the team. Now at 80, the new-hire lunches enable us to maintain this critical part of our culture--and, at the same time, enable scale. 

Your first step in maintaining culture as you grow should be to acknowledge that figuring this out is a good problem to have, even if you're afraid of losing some control. Your business is growing, so you must be doing something right.

Still, scaling up a business while holding on to your identity is a huge challenge. Here are three strategies for you to adopt:

1. Understand who you are.

Before your growth takes off, ask yourself if everybody is on board with your mission and your values.

Your handbook should be a living document that contains your company's values and expectations. From family-leave policies to dogs in the office (or not), this is where you set things down in writing. Are all your employees familiar with your handbook, do they know what's in it, and do they agree with it? 

Next, take a look at how you come across in the marketplace. If you are committed to diversity, but your website features only stock photos of white 20-something men, you may have difficulty attracting the people you want.

Check what you're putting out on social media, and what others say about you. Manage your brand so that not only do you attract great people, you form a positive impression for everybody who encounters you, whether or not they might someday join you.

2. Hire people who fit and help them fit in.

The recruitment and hiring experience is every employee's first impression. Review your processes for bias and places where the process isn't quite in sync with your culture. Fix those problems before you try to bring on a whole bunch of new hires.

Look at your job descriptions. Are they in sync with your approach to how the job is actually done, or are you presenting a long list of requirements that may keep people you want from applying? Consider your job descriptions as a key part of your public face, because they are.

Next, pay close attention to onboarding. This is your second first impression, and when so much about your company's culture is revealed. Review your programs for new hires. How are they meeting and interacting with other employees?

If they are going straight to their new desk, and only meeting their teammates, they may lack the sense of connection that comes with deliberate efforts to get them settled. Maybe your onboarding process could include rotating new employees among different departments, to meet others face to face and learn what they do, and to get a holistic sense of the company's shared objectives (in other words, your culture).

3. Turn your managers into role models.

Before your growth spurt, you knew every employee. In the future, you won't. Make sure your managers are ambassadors of your culture, since they will be the ones demonstrating it, modeling it, and sharing it with others. Like so many other challenges, it all comes down to hiring the right people and giving them space to do their best work.

Originally posted on Inc.

Debbie Madden

Debbie Madden

Founder & Chairwoman

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