When Business Scales and Culture Doesn’t
How did we get to this point? What happened to the days when we knew everyone in the office and could reach over our cubicles to talk about our kids, a customer call, or to share a joke we just heard. We knew our owners personally. They actually hired us. We knew their kids; went to office get-togethers at their houses; and spent very Friday afternoon on the golf course, even if we didn’t know how to play. We were tight!
And, office decisions were always a group discussion. Should we take this project or not; what should we charge; how should we do it? Our culture was one of friendship, trust, respect for what each of us brought to the table; and unsanctioned ownership. We were the company, all of us!
Well, the projects got bigger. New managers were hired to cover gaps of expertise; we moved to a bigger office where doors were shut when business decisions were made; owners forgot to say “good morning” when they passed in the halls. And suddenly...our tightly knit group of employees became silos of disparate operating systems. Our flat matrix organization, that we all felt was critical to the company’s entrepreneurial spirit, was lost forever in the name of “growth.”
So, what happens when business scales and company culture is left at the wayside? How do we keep everyone in sync with company values, goals, and vision? How can that feeling of ownership grow from start-up to established and on to expansion, all while making everyone feel as if they contribute like an owner? Although you may believe that creating a culture of ownership is not a good model for management, think twice.
Oliver Wyman, owner of international management consulting firm, Oliver Wyman Delta, has this to say about a culture of ownership: “A true “ownership culture” is one where employees feel a substantial, personal stake in the company’s performance. It creates a situation in which behavior is guided more by values than by rules; even when “nobody is watching,” people treat each spending decision as if they were, in fact, the owner. They see a clear line of sight between their individual actions and the cumulative impact to the bottom line – and to their own rewards. In other words, they see their own decisions as integral to the firm’s failure or success. Ideally, cost-consciousness becomes, in the end, an organizational capability and a shared mindset, rather than a bunch of rules that are resented and resisted.”
5 Ways to keep your culture and business in sync:
- Stay True to Who You Are: Having access to the folks at the very top is a powerful motivator. In a start-up, employees feel their relationship with the owners is not only critical to company success, but also to keeping the ‘work family’ tight. There is something to be said for having the boss’s ear. As companies grow and branch out to multiple locations, it becomes impossible for each employee to meet with the owners face to face. But the importance of this type of culture shouldn’t diminish. Creating offices and work teams that feel like the owners are always amongst you may sound impossible, but it can be done with careful planning. This can be accomplished by making sure leaders who are put in place have a management philosophy that supports your current culture.
When growing the leadership team, owners need to hold steadfast to the list of qualities that candidates must bring to the table. First and foremost, they cannot abandon the principals that got them where they are today. If character and values were important at a start-up phase, its even more important in a growth stage. Hire Right Psychologist, Daniel Goleman, says “it’s all in the EI.” A recent article in Bizjournals, offers 10 key Emotional Intelligence (EI) questions to ask your next leadership candidate before you make a bad hiring decision. These 10 questions are the best I have encountered to determine if someone has the attributes and behaviors to “walk the talk.”
- Update Your Company Mission and Vision: Why isn’t the mission and vision we first created good to go forever? As your company grows, your core strategies may change. If a mission succinctly describes why a company exists, leaders need to revisit their purpose at each stage of growth. Goals and objectives tied to company strategy change as the company changes. So, its very important that the mission be updated and communicated to employees and customers. A clear and concise mission statement is necessary for everyone to remain closely tied to new goals and objectives.
The vision statement is a little different. Effective vision statements define the core values that shape the course of direction we choose. “These statements also provide a powerful way to motivate and guide employees,” says Addam Marcotte, Vice President of Operations and Organization Development at FMG Leading.
According to an article in Business News Daily, “Research shows that employees who find their company's vision meaningful have engagement levels of 68 percent, which is 19 points above average. More-engaged employees are often more productive, and can be more effective corporate ambassadors in the larger community.”
- Review Processes Often: One of the great things about working for a start-up is: “There are no rules; you make them up as you go.” Unfortunately, the culture of having no processes in place can stifle growth or even cripple a company’s ability to expand. Setting clear direction is essential to creating a winning organizational structure.
You know when your organizational structure is right because everyone in the company, regardless of location, department or leadership, has the same map to follow. Although this may sound like everything is written in stone, its quite the opposite, everything must remain flexible enough to support constant change.
Change is frightening to some employees. The sameness of their role and the clarity of the company’s expectations of them is how they have achieved success in their job. Adding new duties and new processes to support business growth can overwhelm some employees. Creating flexible processes can facilitate gradual change. Keeping a strong culture that embraces why you’re in business while staying focused on the corporate goals can help everyone deal with growth and the changes that accompany it.
- Communicate: Each time I make “communication” a separate bullet in my blogs, I feel like I’m reiterating the exact same message week after week. There’s a reason for this. Communication is the entire support system for all initiatives. What you choose to do and how you communicate can result in a positive move forward or a setback. What employees liked about the small start-up environment was the inclusion in the exchange of information.
In today’s multi-faceted companies, tools are available to communicate planned strategies as well as just-in-time turns in a new direction. Town Hall meetings on site, through Webinars, and video broadcasts allow the transmission of information anywhere in the world. When business bursts at its seams, communication has to be the one constant practice that keeps everyone grounded.
Employees can accept change as long as they are informed and understand what it means for them. But sometimes business doesn’t know what the change will bring; its like adding a new quarterback to the roster, calling it a sure thing for a Superbowl ring, and then waiting to see if that happens. The outcome is always dependent upon how well you play on any given day. But to say “this is where we need to go and this is what we need to achieve” sends a positive message to all. Goals are set and everyone understands what it could mean for them. This is “the vision” created by a strong culture.
- Stay Aligned: To scale your business means to take all necessary steps for growth, including aligning new goals with the expanded mission. Many companies have joined the real-time goal setting movement so they can plan for change rather than react to it. Constant communication allows for shifts in business priorities that bring everyone onboard.
To facilitate change, clear and concise goals must be identified and cascaded down to every level of the company... getting the entire workforce headed in the same direction. This is a less complicated task when updates to goals and achievements are tracked at monthly or quarterly intervals verses annually. It’s much easier to turn the ship around if you do it before you reach your final destination.
When looking back, it was your start-up culture of free-flowing information across the company, that got you where you are today.
Each employee knew what they were accountable for and stayed true to their targets. Although you may not have realized it, your impromptu meetings were actually mini-strategic planning sessions where you mapped out the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for success; and then broke them into digestible goals for everyone on the team to achieve.
There are software tools available to help keep companies on target through each phase of growth by documenting goals in writing; communicating them to everyone; updating progress often; and sharing successes frequently.
You don’t have to abandon your culture for the sake of business growth. When you’re true to your values and steadfast to your mission, your business and culture can flourish as one.