Posted: Mon 15th Feb 2021
One of the hardest aspects of growing your business is holding on to that unique culture you created when you started.
This is often the glue that holds a business together in the early days. But when the founder starts to get pulled in a number of different directions, it can be a challenge to retain it. How, then, to do it?
Identify and bottle it
Have you ever articulated what it is that makes your business special? Consider the following:
What was your mission when you started the business?
What are your company values?
Is there a particular ethos at its heart?
What did you look for in your first hires?
Once you've identified your company culture, incorporate it into your HR strategy. You should weave this into job descriptions and adverts as you scale and grow.
A culture book is also a great way of capturing your business journey. It's less formal than an employee handbook and provides a nice way to capture the personality of the business. It can contain:
profiles of founders and staff
your business values
what's expected of employees
Involve staff in creating the culture book so it isn't just a list of policies and procedures. This could include their own experiences of working for the business, what they like about it and their ambitions for its growth.
Recruit the right people
Seek out people who share your company values and ethos and who will represent your brand. If you're growing rapidly and recruiting in bulk, it can be easy to make snap decisions.
Don't be blinded by qualifications – instead look for people who will be a good cultural fit. Bad hiring decisions are costly and can affect you further down the line.
Make sure your job descriptions incorporate your company values and ethos.
Reflect this in your job advertisements so you attract the right people.
Don't forget onboarding
Establish a strong induction programme for new starters to share the company's ethos and ways of working. This should include:
the house style
an introduction to the company handbook or culture book
any other guidance which tells them about how the business operates
Be your own brand ambassador
Lead by example, which means being open and accessible to staff. Often start-up culture is based around the founder being rooted in the business, working closely with staff. This doesn't mean that you have to continue to line manage everyone; which will become impossible. It means being present and setting an example of the culture your company values.
Involve your staff
As you grow continue to ask for staff feedback, and ensure you listen to them. Staff surveys are a great way to measure morale and understand issues on the ground.
What do staff believe the business is good at?
Where could improvements be made?
What makes the business unique?
What are the best and worst things about working for the business?
Being open and visible to staff also means keeping them informed about growth plans. If you can get existing staff on board with business development plans this will keep them motivated. Think about hosting regular staff meetings, as well as internal newsletters with details of financials, opportunities and new client wins.
Consider perks versus scale
It's not realistic to continue to offer some of the existing start-up perks when your business grows and you employ 10, 20 or more staff. Be wary of creating a cultural divide between 'newbies' and 'originals' and make sure that perks are scalable and available to all.
Often it can be tempting to micro-manage when it's your business (and your baby). As the business expands you will find that delegation is key. In order to free yourself up to focus on strategy, you will need to relinquish control.
As hard as this can seem, just remember it will empower your staff and move the business on to the next stage - where there will be numerous management streams.