Running a company is like exercising: When you get to 50, it’s not going to be like it was at 15. You will need to put in more work to achieve the same result.
Except here, we’re talking about employee head count, not age.
It’s not necessarily anything you’re doing wrong. It’s just that communication becomes more difficult as messages have to travel to more people – and through more people – to reach the whole company.
To prevent cultural disconnect, you must take steps to build scalability into your culture before you need it. Here are a few strategies to help you scale your culture with your business.
Find your relay stations
Your car is equipped with a device called a radio. The cool thing about radio is, over-the-air signals still travel in pretty much the same way they did in radio’s infancy, almost a century ago. A transmitter antenna originates the signal, and repeater stations rebroadcast the signal in order to strengthen it, increasing the signal’s broadcast radius.
You, as the head of the company, are like a transmitter antenna. And your front-line employees are the people living in the countryside, miles away from your antenna. You’re not going to be able to communicate with those people without some help. You need “relay stations” – the people in your company who can act as champions for your culture by embodying it and living it each day.
How do you find your cultural champions? Simply put, you hire them. Use the interview process to share with job candidates the core values and guiding principles that are essential to your company. Then figure out whether the candidate sitting across from you feels the same way. If you can’t picture the potential hire as a future culture champion, it’s probably not the right fit.
Ambiguity is interpreted by your people as a lack of structure and a lack of support, and that is a leading cause of premature culture death in a growing company.
Have you ever seen two outfielders converge on a fly ball in a baseball game? One guy says he has it, then at the last second, he defers to the other guy, and they end up staring at each other’s foreheads as the ball hits the grass between them.
Isn’t that frustrating to watch? Now imagine it’s two of your employees, and they’re not sure who is responsible for a given task. And they’re not even sure who to go to for clarity. If that sounds like a demotivating dose of anti-culture spray, you’re right.
When you get the right people in the door, you must give them the right leadership, the right expectations and the right accountability – in writing, so that there is always a document for employees to reference as your company grows. The best strategy to avoiding ambiguity is to build alignment.
Meet with purpose
Meetings are an important part of any growing company. But they have to take place with a frequency that is effective for your company – not too much, not too little. Maintaining the right meeting pulse as you grow is essential for collaborating, communicating, instilling confidence in employees and delegating decisions to the right people.
Have you even driven without directions and missed your freeway interchange? Maybe you even don’t realize you’re headed the wrong way until you see the “Welcome to Tennessee” sign.
Dammit, if you had consulted with the person assigned to map duty, this all could have been avoided.
There are always people on staff who think meetings are a steaming pile of fertilizer. And they really are fertilizer – just not that kind. Meetings, conducted properly and at the right intervals, are essential to growing and strengthening your culture as your business expands. To find the sweet spot, you may need to adjust your meeting frequency up or down over time.
No matter how flat and streamlined you try to keep things as your company grows, you will add layers. You’ll need to form departments. Your org chart/accountability chart will divide and subdivide. And as you add more layers, departments and even satellite offices, you increase the risk of compromising your culture.
Just remember, growing your culture ultimately depends on good communication – specifically around accountability, responsibility and motivation. If you can share and enforce those three values with regularity, you’ll be able to grow your business and your culture in unison.
Pete Honsberger is the director of client services at CultureShoc. If you need assistance on how to build better teams contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.