You made all the decisions — from the product to the budget to the logo. And when the time came to determine the kind of culture you wanted to build the company upon, it was merely a matter of self-reflection.
But as your business gained momentum, you needed more manpower to sustain it, so you began bringing on team members to accommodate rapid growth. With more employees, more processes, and more customers, your system became more complex, and all the components — including your company culture — became harder to control.
You might fear that the culture you envisioned is impossible to maintain, but company culture is a dynamic component of your organization, and it’s supposed to grow and change with your company. In fact, if your culture doesn’t grow and change, your company won’t survive.
Here are five practical tips for growing your culture with your organization:
1. Support Your Tribe
Your procedures, policies, structure, leadership, decisions, and products catalyze the culture you want to develop, but it’s simply impossible to create real culture. It can’t be imposed on your team, and it certainly can’t be paid for. Real culture happens naturally.
As you grow, you can’t forget about the employees you already have. They helped build the culture you have today. While some initial employees might be ready to move on to other career opportunities, it’s important to receive feedback from and show support to those employees who have been with you for an extended period.
In the book Tribal Leadership, great leaders are recognized by their ability to build and scale their “tribe.” The tribe is the muscle of the company, and its strength depends on that of the culture. Harness your tribe’s core ideals and skills, and measure the success of outcomes based on its goals and intentions.
2. Find the Right Fit
If you want to confidently build on the culture your original team constructed, you must hire people who align with it. This proves increasingly difficult as you speed-scale during your growth phase. You’re tasked with quickly evaluating candidates’ job qualifications while simultaneously deciding whether they would be good culture fits.
Ask culture-specific questions during the interview process that will indicate whether candidates would be a good fit, such as “What work environment do you thrive in best?” or “Do you prefer clearly defined tasks or clearly defined problems?” Depending on the stage your business is in, these two different answers could mean very different things culturally.
3. Welcome Feedback
Opening feedback loops in your company is instrumental to culture growth. It’s the best way to find out what’s working in your company and what isn’t. Odds are employees will identify anomalies that you’re completely unaware of.
Crunched for time? Construct the process so your team can give quick, simple feedback. The metrics of the feedback process will directly correlate with your company’s values and purposes.
Gather the data monthly or quarterly, and segment the feedback into categories by locations or team. You can also evaluate the company from a big-picture perspective. There’s no right or wrong way. You can even use tools such as TINYpulse or iDoneThis to gather team feedback.
4. Open Your Mind
When you were on your own, your culture was simply an extension of your own values. You could mold it into whatever you wanted because it was you. But as the company grows, you have to treat it as its own person and allow it to take on its own identity. Confining the culture to your original, narrow scope will only stunt its growth.
Review the feedback you collected with an open mind. Not all suggestions are feasible, but by considering them, you let your employees know that their opinions matter. Share some of the results, set targeted goals, and even implement logical recommendations.
5. Maintain Core Values
Your brand promise and purpose should remain constant. Core values should be fairly constant as well, but can evolve over time — carefully. While cultures do naturally change, it’s your job to make sure that your company culture is still aligned with these integral factors. Being flexible is one thing, but compromising your values is an entirely different ball game.
Your company culture will develop many new facets as it grows, but expanding away from your root values should be limited or handled with extreme care. Too many deviations from your ethics will make your team doubt the company’s integrity. Openly discuss any necessary adjustments with team members to assure them that you haven’t lost sight of the company’s true purpose.
Company growth is exciting for any startup. You’re finally growing your team, creating revenue, launching products, and gaining new customers. Although balancing new business, hiring, and day-to-day operations while trying to nurture your company culture may seem impossible, it’s not as hard as you think. Leaders shouldn’t try to define and impose culture. Instead, they should plant the seed and water it, knowing it will grow on its own.
Zach Ferres is the CEO of Ciplex, a full-service interactive agency that helps clients succeed online by creating award-winning digital solutions for online marketing, E-commerce and content management systems, and social network platforms. Follow them on Twitter.