How do you retain company culture during rapid growth?
 
Written by James Potten on 21st May 2020
I often hear Business Leaders express frustration that their team doesn’t have the same drive as they used to in the good ol’ days! Trying to keep some of the magic from the original company culture for scale-up business is tough and as you add more people it’s undoubtedly going to change as new people means new shared values.

Getting recruitment right is so important. Whenever a new person is added to the team, you are basically saying to the company, this is what the new ‘good’ looks like and this is where the business is going (whether you intended to or not)! I’ll talk in detail how to make existing teams feel valued shortly.

Business leaders solve this through different ways, one of the most famous being Jeff Bozos of Amazon talking about it always being ‘Day 1’, to keep the team hungry for innovation, as once it’s day 2 they will be beaten. This is often delivered in a letter each year or quarter to the team to paint a picture of the future and why the company is aspiring to achieve great things. Hopefully they also take the time to celebrate success and have Champaign moments.

The reality in your organisation is likely to be new people = new behaviours and not only are you fighting an ever-changing landscape externally but now you have the same internally and it feels like the originals spark is eroded. When companies lose their way, they have been able to get back on track by returning to the founder’s original vision and values. The best-known case of this is with Steve Jobs and Apple in the 90s when Apple bought NeXT and Job became an advisor to his former company, the rest is history.

There are practical things that you can do, such as always being involved in the hiring process, even if it’s just a zoom call towards the end of the process so you check that new team members are the right people for where you're going but also where you’ve come from.

It’s also important not to skimp and this is something that I found hard in the early days because you don't have the money. Sometimes you will interview and feel that they may move on, as they are too good but it's much better to hire a good person for a year than someone that doesn't perform for two! Good people can have 100x the impact to the success of your organisation whereas the wrong hire can reverse the successes you’ve had to date (& sabotage company culture).

Hiring the wrong person can also take up so much of your time. We've all made these mistakes and you know the challenge of removing people is quite disruptive (even if your country allows you to do this more easily). I've also never been in a situation where I've extended a probation and that employee ever really work out. Your intuition is almost always right but it needs to be backed up with performance data which again, takes time to gather & build a position.

So some practical exercises that you can do with your existing team, so they feel included. One that's really important is to define what good culture looks like. You have to be really explicit with your team not implicit so defining this together is the best way to get buy-in as follows: -
• As a team, with lots of post-its (or on a collaborative platform like Miro if virtually)
• Draw the rugby goal posts (which have more space above the line) and ask the team to write on their post-its what above the line or below the line behaviour looks like.
• They then get the team to talk through their post-its as they put them up either above or below depending on the behaviour
• Get this typed up and printed off / placed on the intranet, so others can refer to this.

The beauty of this is it becomes self-regulating and you give the team permission to challenge below the line behaviour and praise above the line. Great culture is what the team do when you are not there (which is most of the time during these covid times).

Hiring high-performing senior members of the team essential, irrelevant of whether you have a hierarchical or self-organising team, as can be seen in Figure 1 and 2 below. The underperformance (red) will permeate through your team (affected pink team members).

When to hire and ‘grasping the nettle’ (training I’ve shared in amplified.me) when removing underperformers are entire subjects of their own. I often hear ‘hire when it hurts’, or ‘hire slow, fire fast’. In both cases, I’d suggest you need to know your business cycles, how long does a sale take to be delivered, does it need additional resource and how long would it take to train someone up. Alex Reilley from Loungers talks about how he and his Co-Founders would ‘shed skin’ until they had enough to make a new person, then hire (effectively finding enough tasks to turn into a whole role they could package up and delegate to a new team member).
 
So hopefully this is giving you some initial ideas of how to try to retain your company culture during rapid growth. All of these techniques and more are part of the amplified.me programme, so please reach out if you have questions. I’m happy to help!

James Potten

James Potten


James Potten helps people start and grow successful businesses.  He is an expert at helping people get clients using online methods and making things super simple to understand.
If you're interested in starting your own consulting business or scaling up and getting clients then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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