Startups set their culture very early on. Founding members and key management personnel work very closely together and make it easy to develop and maintain a culture that becomes the company identity. As an example, five people working together in one office space forces collaboration, quick communication and transparency. It is not a surprise to see major decisions made over a round of beers after work. Your coworkers are your friends. You are in the honeymoon phase.
As your company starts to grow, new people with different personalities have to be added to the mix. One office room grows into many. One building in one city might grow into multiple locations in different cities. Hard decisions are not made during a round of beers after work. Processes are put in place and meetings become formal. Management is not as transparent as they used to be and communication is not as frequent. Voluntary removal happens and your workforce becomes disrupted.
This aforementioned scenario is not unique. As startups begin to grow and scale-up the founding group needs to realize the upcoming 'cultural chasm' (as described by the Harvard Business Review) that is about to happen. Understand the potential of this damaging scenario, plan for it and rebound from it. Culture drives your business and as you grow expect it to change. Do not expect everything to remain exactly the same as it is just not that simple. Maintaining a high functioning, innovative company culture is hard work and as you expand, be prepared to put in the effort.
How can you keep your office culture vibrant as your company grows? Here are some tips that may help.
1. It all starts at the top. The C-Suite has to believe, enforce and live the company values on a daily basis.
2. Transparency. Strive to keep a personal touch from the top corner office all the way down to the intern. Keep everyone informed and ask for input.
3. Give employees ownership. Literally.
4. Hold your founding employees accountable to promoting the proper culture.
5. Ensure that the hiring practice tests prospective employees for cultural values.
6. Make cultural growth a daily thing
7. Reward those who make a significant effort to keep the company culture alive and vibrant.
The challenge to preserve culture is great, but, manageable if you are willing to work at it.