Company culture is defined as “the values, beliefs, and attitudes that serve as guiding principles for everyone in an organization.” But when your company experiences major growth, it can be challenging to keep that culture going strong, which can set off a negative ripple effect on your entire organization.
“Think of culture like the glue that holds [an] organization together,” said Hema Crockett, cofounder of HR and coaching talent collective GigTalent and coauthor of Designing Exceptional Organizational Cultures: How to Develop Companies Where Employees Thrive. “Without a proper action plan [as the organization grows], the glue can come apart and affect multiple areas within the company.”
So what does a proper action plan look like? Below, we’ll take a closer look at what you can do to ensure you maintain a strong culture at your organization — even as your business grows, scales, and adds more people to the team.
The Challenges of Maintaining Company Culture As Your Organization Grows
There are a number of reasons why maintaining culture can be challenging during organizational growth, particularly when it comes to the People side of things. As you add more people to your team, the chances of new hires coming on board who don’t act in alignment with your company values and culture increases.
“As a company grows, you have more stakeholders to manage and unify,” explained Abbi Wood, a consultant who specializes in helping companies define their business personality. “Even one person or conflict can disrupt the status quo or culture of the organization.”
There’s also the communication element. The more people you add to an organization, the more communication channels information and culture initiatives have to travel through, which can lead to things being lost in translation. “As a company grows and scales, it can be like the childhood game of telephone,” said Tracy Pearson, JD, EdD, speaker, researcher, and organizational culture consultant.
For example, let’s say you’re the CEO of a rapidly growing startup and employee wellness has been a key part of your company culture from day one. Back when you were a small, fledgling organization — and worked directly with your entire team — an employee might have been able to walk into your office, tell you they were struggling with burnout, and immediately get the green light to take a day off. But as you grow and scale, employees likely won’t have that same kind of access. Instead, if they’re struggling with a wellness-related concern, they might have to go through multiple channels to get their problem addressed (e.g. reporting the issue to a supervisor or requesting time off through HR). If the process takes too long, it could give the employee the impression that wellness isn’t such an integral part of your company culture after all.
There are very real challenges to maintaining company culture during periods of growth. But with the right plan, you can avoid these potential pitfalls and keep your culture strong — no matter how many people you add to your team.
Here are five expert strategies you can use to maintain a strong culture as your organization grows.
5 Ways to Maintain Culture As Your Company Grows
1. Clearly define your company culture.
You can’t maintain a strong company culture if you don’t have a clear sense of what that culture is to begin with. So make sure to take the time to define and establish the culture at your organization from the get-go.
When defining your culture, Wood said to start by asking yourself the following questions: “Which defining characteristics have contributed to company success? What are the values that the company was founded on? How does the company engage — internally and externally — for its best success?” she said.
Clearly defining the values, beliefs, and attitudes that make up your company culture will position you to continue to prioritize those values, beliefs, and attitudes as your business grows. It will also help ensure that your culture remains consistent whether you have 10, 100, or 1,000 employees.
2. Incorporate your company culture into your onboarding process.
Once you’ve defined what your company culture is, you’re going to want to make sure that culture is introduced to every new employee who walks through your doors and that it’s introduced as soon as possible, preferably from their first day on the job. This means taking a close look at your onboarding process and ensuring that it reflects your corporate culture — and making adjustments as needed.
There are a variety of ways to incorporate company culture into your onboarding. Giving a presentation on your culture is a must, as it will clearly outline your core values, beliefs, and attitudes for your new hires. But also, take it a step further and look for ways to work those values, beliefs, and attitudes into the actual onboarding process itself. For example, if an open-door policy with leadership is part of your company culture, you might have Human Resources introduce all new hires to the C-level team during their onboarding sessions.
By incorporating your company culture into your onboarding process, you’ll ensure that even as your business continues to grow, every new employee will walk into their job with a clear understanding of who you are as a company and what kind of culture you’ve built at your organization. This puts your workers in a better position to engage with and perpetuate that culture as they settle into their new roles.
3. Consider hiring a Culture Manager.
The larger and faster you grow, the more challenging it can become to maintain a strong company culture, particularly if leadership and HR are busy managing the rapid growth.
During periods of growth and change, maintaining culture can be a full-time job. So if maintaining culture during growth is a top priority, you may want to consider hiring a full-time person, like a Culture Manager, to lead the charge. “Hire personnel whose job is to focus on company culture,” advised Pearson.
By hiring a Culture Manager, you’re making it someone’s job to ensure that your company culture stays strong as your organization grows. Having a dedicated individual solely focused on company culture can also help identify any potential culture issues — like a team acting out of alignment with your core values, or a general lack of clarity around the company mission — before they become larger problems.
“By devoting resources to professionals trained in understanding organizational culture...you will be positioned well to know when things are askew [with your culture as you grow],” said Pearson.
4. Talk to your employees.
Your employees are your best resource for understanding what’s happening with your company culture and if and how it’s changing. So if you’re concerned about maintaining your culture as your organization grows, talk to your staff members about it.
“Checking in with employees and listening to their needs is a direct way to maintain a successful culture, especially in times of change [or growth],” Crockett noted.
Exactly how you check in with employees will vary. For instance, you might schedule one-on-one meetings with department heads to get their thoughts on how to maintain your company culture, send anonymous surveys to your employees to get their insights into if and how they see the culture changing, or incorporate culture-related questions into your exit interviews.
But the end goal is the same: “Your employees want to be heard,” stressed Pearson. Giving them the opportunity to be heard can provide you with key insights into how to maintain your culture as your organization grows.
5. Be willing to adapt your culture as necessary.
You want to maintain a strong company culture as you grow. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should always aim to maintain the same culture.
Company culture “is an ongoing priority that needs to be revisited from time to time based on how your organization is changing,” said Crockett. And sometimes, the company culture that made sense when you were a lean team of five isn’t the right culture to support a team of 5,000. If you want to facilitate your team’s best work, you need to be willing to adapt your culture as necessary.
“Review the company culture on an ongoing basis...to determine what changes, if any, might be needed,” recommended Wood.
For example, if your original company culture was extremely flexible and you allowed employees to work on their own schedules, as you grow, you may find that inconsistent schedules are making it harder for teams to get things done, leading to frustration among staff and managers. In this instance, instituting a more synchronous work schedule might make more sense for your growing team.
Your organization is going to change and evolve as it grows, and if you want your company culture to best support your employees, you need to be willing to let your culture change and evolve, too.
Growth is exciting and leads to many new opportunities, but it can also come at a very real cost to your culture — a foundational element of your organization — if it’s not taken into consideration and tended to as your business grows, scales, and evolves. But implementing these simple but effective strategies will help you keep your company’s culture going strong, no matter how many new employees you add to your team or how large or fast your organization expands.