Culture is crucial for employee connection at every stage of a company’s growth. But connection requires creating space for change while staying rooted in the organization’s core values. Few people leaders know this better than Tara Ryan, the people experience director at Monzo Bank who has seen the company grow from 40 employees to 2,700.
“The thing that has been really important is to find the golden strands of culture that are really important to us and then evolve how those show up over time,” said Ryan.
Learn how to find those “golden strands” in your organization — and how to help them shine.
Scaling Up While Remaining Transparent
Monzo has remained committed to its early values even while growing exponentially in the last six years. But how to apply those values looks different as a company culture scales up.
From Monzo’s beginning, one of the bank’s core values has been to “default to transparency.” “It’s one of the main reasons people say that they join Monzo,” Ryan said.
In the early days, transparency looked like all employees being able to see every Slack message company-wide and holding daily meetings for everyone to attend. Of course, at Monzo’s current growth stage, neither of those realities is sustainable, so the company culture reflects transparency in different ways now.
For instance, leadership doesn’t post board papers on company-wide Slack channels, but they still make the information available to employees. While transparency doesn’t look like the constant stream of information that occurred in its early startup stage, the value of transparency itself has grown with the business.
Implementation has changed, but the company stays true to its roots by embracing a culture that grows with the business.
Staying Consistent as a Culture
Any rapidly growing company that seeks to stay committed to its culture and values will need to manage the tension between two forces:
- Resistance to change from early team members
- Healthy evolution ushered in by new hires who embrace and enhance the existing culture
Think of a company as a settlement, using an analogy from Simon Wardley: Early pioneers lay the foundation and bring in “settlers” — or new team members — to continue building the community. These early contributors establish norms and create a very specific culture; the cultural idiosyncrasies make the village a wonderful place to live — or, rather, make the company a great place to work.
As the company scales, more people join. These individuals — think of them as city planners — bring fresh, new ideas that help to grow the business even further.
Early “settlers” might worry that these changes will take away what made the company special to begin with — and may even choose to leave. But the goal for hypergrowth should be to hold fast to the early values that brought success while embracing positive culture changes. Those changes foster scalability to allow new customers and team members to also enjoy what has been built.
Both early team members and newer hires have stayed at Monzo because the company hasn’t lost track of its culture but, rather, scaled what makes it unique. “They know we’ve not lost our way or changed what the ‘village’ was there to be about. Instead, we’ve made it so more and more people can enjoy it,” said Ryan.
Steering Clear of Misaligned Microcultures
Many startups begin with a clear sense of culture and values. But as a company grows, smaller “microcultures” can emerge — for better or for worse.
If the company grows too quickly and can’t help new hires acclimate to the existing culture or understand how they fit into it, employees will default to norms that made them successful in prior roles and companies. This can water down and fragment the culture in unhelpful ways, steering the company away from its initial values.
But, when an organization creates unique subcultures by design, they can serve as a healthy aspect of the growth trajectory. Organizations can shape and foster positive microcultures in two ways:
1. Take sufficient time to onboard.
New hires need more than just a few days of onboarding to understand a new company culture. Focus on giving people time to properly onboard so they can ramp up into their new role.
Over time, they’ll grow to understand the organizational culture and, once they feel grounded, they can begin to play their part in evolving the company culture for themselves.
2. Treat culture as fluid rather than fixed.
Many companies define culture narrowly or rigidly, but the problem with this approach is that a fixed culture will exclude anyone who doesn’t fit within its definition. New team members won’t feel they belong to an unyielding culture and won’t participate in changing it.
Instead, culture should contain the core elements that represent company values and be open to evolving as a result of an ever-growing employee population.
“Culture is every single day in your teams [and] in your meetings. How are people treated? … How does it feel to be in that culture? How do you make decisions and everything in between? Ultimately, individuals shape that culture,” Ryan said.
This article features ideas from “Clarity is Kindness — How Monzo have kept pace with hypergrowth,” the fifth installment of our webinar series, For the Love of People. Visit our library of on-demand webinars for more.