One of the difficult challenges facing startups as they transcend the boundary from concept to small and medium-sized companies and beyond, is the ability to retain the familial vibe and “can-do” attitude that makes their organisations successful. While change is inevitable, just like product development, sales, and business operations, cultural change can and should be planned by making it part of your business strategy.
1) Your culture is your brand
In every interaction you have, whether it be a sales meeting or interviewing potential employees, the values and behaviours displayed by you and your employees leave an impact on your company brand. Therefore it is important that you are clear and consistent regarding how you want your business to be perceived in the market, what values you want to be recognised for and how you differentiate yourself from competitors…
2) Understand what makes you great
By creating and understanding your cultural identity, your business has a framework for making decisions, engaging with customers, setting priorities and working as a team. Whether these are written down as “company values” or a “culture commitment” may depend on the size or the culture strategy of the business. Most importantly, though, is that everyone understands what is in line with these values and what is not.
If you are coming up short on what contributes to your culture then ask your employees. Collect feedback or run a short survey to gain a sense of general trends and benchmarks.
3) Live your values
When you set your company values – live them. Model them consistently throughout your business (for example, in client interactions, monthly one-on-one meetings and out-of-work activities) and reward values and behaviours that are in line with company strategy, while creating disincentives for those that are not. As leaders, you will initially have the most impact on shaping the culture.
Hiring “cultural-fit” (employees who are specifically chosen with the group’s culture in mind) is another way to maintain your company vibe. While experience and professional background is always crucial, seek like-minded individuals who aspire to a similar company vision, beliefs and way of working.
4) Communication is king
As a business grows there is the potential for company hierarchy to dilute healthy communication and an individual’s perception of impacting the business through access to senior leaders. For this reason it is important to maintain channels or forums for this type of communication to continue. This might be as simple as an “open-door policy” or more structured methods like scheduling time for employees to share improvement ideas. Maintaining small teams (even if part of bigger teams) will also give members the security, support and manager-access of small business structures.
Regular one-on-one meetings are another great way to explore and reflect on:
- What are we doing well?
- What could we improve?
- What things are you looking forward to?
- What do you need to make your work easier for you?
- How are your relationships with your peers?
- Do you understand the business strategy and where you fit in?
- What makes you stay?
- How can we support your career interests?
Note that even though your employees may be aligned in culture and values, each of them may have his or her own individual communication style. Try to tailor your style to address these differences.
5) Share your vision and its reasoning
Share the vision and strategy, and enable people to understand and have emotional investment in the direction of the business and the decisions being made. Having access to the reasons behind decisions and understanding where their role and outputs fit into the wider strategy of the business show that they are performing meaningful work and contributing to the success of the business as it grows.
While this may seem to some like time and energy that could be better spent on driving income generating initiatives, in reality this could be no further from the truth. Investing in your company’s culture will reap long-term performance and financial rewards, and help to safeguard your company’s most precious resource – its people.