What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 1000 Employees

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 1000 Employees

Welcome to part three of the scaling company culture series! Don’t miss part one, “What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees,” or part two, “We Just Added Our 100th Employee… Here’s What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture.”

Whether your company is already growing at breakneck speed or you’re sure you’re on the verge of something big, one of the first things you need to start reading up on is scaling company culture.

After all, there’s a reason your company is doing well: it’s got a certain something that’s making your team and your customers flourish, and you want to make sure you don’t break whatever’s working when you multiply tenfold.

So, why not ask people who have already done it?

This is by no means a comprehensive how-to for scaling culture to 1000 and more, but we think these are three lessons worth learning from HR leaders and executives who have been there, done that:

Lesson #1: Former BlackRock Exec Says Put Your Ear to the Ground

Charting a course for company culture past 1000 employees often starts with a map of where the leadership team wants to go. There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting your values straight (in fact, that’s #1 on our list of how to scale culture), but the planning process shouldn’t be exclusively high-level leadership oriented; it should also take into account what attracted your employees to the organization in the first place.

“I start by talking to all levels of employees about what makes the company unique from their perspective and their ideas about possible improvements for the future. Then I take time to compare and reconcile the differences and opportunities amongst levels and departments,” says David Dalka, keynote speaker and Managing Director of Fearless Revival, who led numerous critical project teams that redefined industry business models at BlackRock during its 80 to 800 employee growth phase. “That feedback analyzed empirically, allows everyone to figure out which items you should attempt to scale.”

“One of the cultural values that surfaced during the early days of BlackRock was our team’s ability to incrementally innovate to create a dramatically different process from what everyone else was doing,” continues Dalka. “We were challenged to destroy the jobs we had to build new ones that contained higher and higher value work that created better outcomes for all stakeholders. You can only do that in a company that empowers its employees and sees an abundance of opportunity, not scarcity.”

Lesson #2: Lyft Says Nurture Cross-Departmental Partnerships In the Recruiting Process

Ready to be impressed? Since 2014, the San Francisco-based transportation company Lyft has scaled from 80 to 2,000 employees. The company hired 1,230 new employees in 2016 and is set to exceed that number in 2017…. all while maintaining an excellent 4.0 overall employer rating on Glassdoor.

There isn’t necessarily one secret to maintaining culture, retention, and candidate quality and satisfaction while growing so quickly. But among many great ideas like moving from “culture fit” to “values fit” to speed up the hiring process and building authentic community connections, we want to highlight the team’s focus on nurturing cross-departmental partnerships throughout the recruitment process.

Scaling Culture During Hypergrowth: The Lyft Story

Image captured from “Nailing Culture During Hypergrowth: The Lyft Story,” presented by Lever and Teammable. Click here to view the entire webinar.

“When some companies think about underrepresentation, they often set broad, company-wide diversity goals,” says Tariq Meyers, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Lyft. “But what ends up happening if you don’t take a departmental approach is that you’re not really able to figure out what perspectives are missing by level, team, and organization. So, when I’m working with department heads, I often invite the talent acquisition leadership, recruiters, sourcers, and coordinators to join me with my team, department heads and business partners along with hiring managers in the interview loop to get in a room and ask, ‘What perspectives are missing in your room?’”

Lesson #3: Former Exxon Mobil Exec Says Don’t Forget the Follow Through

When Millie Bradley, retired Exxon Mobil exec, was scaling 200 different company cultures with 100,000 employees, the key was the follow through. Bradley was surprised to find that the culture and implementation of culture needed to be renewed over time. So right at the top of her list with clear global policies, management buy-in, and extensive training comes stewardship and monitoring.

When Millie Bradley, retired ExxonMobil exec, was scaling the company culture across 200 countries and 100,000 employees, she realized that long-term success takes follow through. Bradley realized that the implementation of culture needed to be continuously reinforced to be sustainable. So right at the top of her list of advice — along with clear global policies, management participation, and extensive training — comes stewardship and monitoring.

“Operating management is ultimately responsible for a culture of integrity and ethics, so ownership of all violations of policy, annual stewardship to senior management of organizational culture, and face-to-face participation in the training of employees is critical to sustainability,” writes Bradley. “Making stewardship of ethics a management stewardship item, along with operating excellence and financial performance, sends a clear message to the organization about the importance of culture and values.”

Are you in the process of scaling company culture past 1000? Let us know in the comments what you would add to this list!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

We Just Added Our 100th Employee… Here’s What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 100 Employees

In the first article in this series, “What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees,” we took a practical look at the components that need to be in place as your company grows and reaches those milestones.

But what does it take to actually make the move from 10 to 100 employees? What challenges do organizations typically face, and how does scaling culture overcome them?

Today, we’re going to hear what our Culture Warrior community has to say about scaling culture. If you’re setting out to scale a company culture to 100 employees or your current culture isn’t scaling well, here’s what our experts think you should do:

Lesson #1: Identify what’s going wrong with your culture

People add complexity, so it’s natural that your processes and structures will grow as your roster does. But when those processes and structures have a negative impact on your company culture – when they take away from the natural give and take of your community as it works through challenges – it’s time to bring the focus back to company culture.

Here are several examples of the challenges our Culture Warrior’s organizations were facing that made it clear that scaling company culture was the solution:

  • Poor morale and high turnover
  • Lack of company direction and very green leadership team
  • Lack of accountability to goals
  • Not enough infrastructure to support growth (or to support remote growth)
  • Loss of intimacy because growing required the addition of more structured systems
  • Fear of losing control on the part of the older leaders and clinging on to old ways as part of the “old guard”
  • Fast growth and increased diversity leading team members to feel that they did not know each other well
  • Cliques forming and competing for influence

If you’re experiencing any of these warning signs, there’s a strong chance that what’s ailing your organization is culture-related and can be improved with intentional effort.

Lesson #2: Focus on one thing at a time

High-performing (and fast-growing) companies like Zappos, Google, and Apple know the truth about company culture: you can’t do more than one or two big things at a time. That’s why we weren’t surprised by our expert’s second lesson for scaling culture: you need to focus on one thing at a time and grow buy-in among your team members by moving from one small victory to another.

“Introducing one new idea at a time allowed everyone to experience the benefits,” writes Dada Nabhaniilananda, Head Instructor at The Monk Dude, LLC. “The group adopted some new ideas so completely that now they think it was their idea!”

Focusing on one or two big changes also has the benefit of limiting the amount of confusion your employees experience, leading to better implementation. Or, as another contributor mentioned, “Once you have a structure to follow for meetings or a roadmap that you’ve communicated effectively, people just ‘get it’ better.”

Lesson #3: Scale company culture with the three Cs

Our contributing Culture Champs were very clear that the key to achieving successful culture change at scale lies in three important words: clarity, commitment, and communication:

Clarity

Successfully scaling company culture requires that you know what you’re changing and why before you bring it to your leadership or employees. If you don’t have complete clarity around where you’re going and why, your efforts won’t get you very far.

One human resources professional shared the steps he took to make sure there was clarity around the culture:

We created a company playbook so everyone knows who we are, how we work, how we will succeed as a company, our core values, etc.

 

We also aligned all core values and job-specific key goals to a new performance management process and created a company interdepartmental operations manual so everyone knows the rules to follow for certain internal procedures.

 

This improved clarity and communication across the organization lead to shorter weekly stand-ups for the entire company that were more effective and fun.

It will also help you gain consensus around what’s changing and what’s not. For example, Justyna Krzych, current Change Manager at Zalando who scaled in her previous role as Head of People & Culture at Mindvalley writes that, “we revisited our values to ensure we’re inclusive of all perspectives and realized that our values remain the same.”

Through this communication exercise, she discovered something very helpful: “There were new points to incorporate, but fundamentally, in all our diversity, we were still unified by the values that were there since the beginning. We’re diverse, but fundamentals unite us.”

Commitment

It’s also critical to gain the support of the higher-ups. Without an official pledge from senior leadership, your efforts won’t have the gravitas they need.

“Get commitment from C-level players to support the change,” writes Ron Branch, HR Director at Kellogg. “A lack of buy-in from management and employees can lead to negative surprises.”

Nabhaniilananda adds to the importance of commitment: “Spend time, especially with the leaders, explaining the benefits to them of scaling the culture and inviting their input and listening to them,” she writes. “Don’t be too hasty to move forward without getting buy-in from anyone who might feel threatened by growth.”

Communication

The final piece of the puzzle in successfully scaling culture is to make communication a priority. Even with a clear mission and committed support from leadership, your employees can’t move forward with your plans if they don’t know what they’re supposed to do.

“Listen with an open mind and don’t assume that “everyone knows,’” writes Krzych. “Once you engage in the conversation, you can really understand and incorporate different perspectives to make your company more than just a workplace.”

Part of that communication process for Nabhaniilananda was introducing a specific process for encouraging communication between veteran employees and new employees:

“Some long-term employees seemed to be threatened by the idea of our organization growing and engaged in unconscious sabotage to try to prevent that growth,” she writes. “We introduced a system of mentorship so that the older, more experienced leaders coached the rising younger leaders, got to know and trust them, and felt that their knowledge and experience was appreciated.”

We’re so impressed with the extensive knowledge our contributors brought to this discussion on scaling culture. So, we have to ask:

What can you add on these thoughts on scaling culture?

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

4 Ways to Re-Energize a Legacy Culture Without Alienating Original Employees

4 Ways to Re-Energize a Legacy Culture Without Alienating Original Employees

Few organizations have the luxury of focusing on company culture from the start. More often than not, it’s simply the byproduct of habits and attitudes of the founding members, original employees, and first hires resulting in a legacy culture.

But what happens when you look up and realize you’ve grown to that benchmark you thought was a long way off and your culture isn’t scaling well? Or that your culture has taken a turn for the worse and too much of a certain something has crept in, like negativity, gossip, or competitiveness?

There’s no starting over. Your veteran employees are good at what they do, and you value the loyalty they’ve shown over the years. So how do you reset an out-of-date company culture – or fix a broken one – without turning off employees who have been around since day one?

Read on:

1. Tie change to meaning, not mandates

As the global innovation company IDEO wrote for The Harvard Business Review, movements start with emotions, not calls-to-action. You can ask, beg, demand, or force your team to do anything, but the results won’t be nearly as powerful as true culture change would be. At best, entrenched employees will humor you and hope the phase passes quickly; at worst, they’ll roll their eyes and start looking for a new job.

Instead, bring the focus back to the deeper purpose of your organization and tease out what that should look like in the emotional landscape of your team. Use the push for a culture change as an opportunity to check in with the employees who have been there from the start and help them connect with the new vibe.

For example, what is it about your company’s mission that originally attracted your veteran employees? Has that mission changed? (In which case you’ll need to address that and see if they can get behind the new vision.) Has that mission evolved? (In which case you’ll just need to help connect the dots). Let every conversation come back to a meaningful, “Why?” instead of a behavior-focused, “What?”

2. Welcome tense conversations

There’s no dodging the fact that change management is hard. You could be implementing a new 50% raise policy with every employee and you would still probably run into one employee who’s upset, one who’s going to quit, and one who feels like it’s a slap in the face to all the ways they’ve contributed to the company. (Just ask CEO Dan Price, who raised everyone’s minimum annual salary to $70,000 and still had a few people leave over it).

Before you start to work with your team through some of these company culture changes, embrace the fact that there will be difficulties and that people won’t always see it the same way. Welcome frustrated and discontent conversations and try to bring the conversation back around to the deeper “Why,” of the changes.

For example, when Kronos CEO Aron Ain implemented an unlimited time off policy, a lot of veteran employees actually didn’t like it! They felt like the vacation time they’d accrued was going to waste, that new employees shouldn’t get so much time off when they themselves had to work for it, and so on. Instead of smiling and nodding, Ain and his HR leadership team sat down with each employee and heard them out. They weren’t about to change the policy, but addressing each of the employee’s frustrations went a long way towards bringing the focus back on the benefits.

Related: Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

3. Honor your employee’s commitment – long-term and short-term

Jumping right to, “This is the way it is – adapt or leave,” will drive your experienced employees right to the job boards. But if you spend too much social capital on honoring the old-timers, you’ll end up alienating new employees. (After all, if there’s anything worse than feeling left out of the future it’s feeling like you’ve joined a team that lives in the past – you’re just walking around stuck in someone else’s inside joke.)

How can you walk this line? By bringing the attention to commitment and loyalty to the company’s purpose, not necessarily duration or “who was there first.”

For example, communicate to veteran employees that you value their time and the longevity of their commitment to the company, but keep relating it to where you are now and where you plan to go (not just that one isolated moment in the past). Express your excitement for the contribution of new team members freely, but bring it back to how it furthers your organization’s original or founding goals (if possible).

In practice, this could mean balancing awards or bonuses for service time, like longest tenure with the company or biggest client network, with equally valuable prizes for accomplishments not tied to service or seniority, such as most improved, biggest collaborator or contributor, or “Put Out the Biggest Fire.”

4. Ask them to lead

When you’ve been a part of a team or organization for a long time, it’s natural (and healthy) to feel a sense of ownership over how things are done and what changes are made. Put yourself in the shoes of one of your most senior employees – wouldn’t you feel powerless or left out if you thought your company was growing without you?

Instead of bringing culture change to your legacy employees as an  “Us Versus Them” event, turn it into a partnership by asking them to lead a particular change. When legacy employees are change agents – especially if they feel informed and connected to the new value – they’ll be less likely to undermine the change and more likely to promote it. Here are some scripts you can use to ask for buy-in and leadership on these company culture changes:

  • Your feedback about X has been incredibly helpful. Now that you’re confident X will help you X, what do you think about helping us bring the rest of the team on board with the change?
  • You’ve been very clear with your feedback, and I appreciate that. The leadership you’ve shown here will be really helpful when we make X change next – can we count on you to support us with that?

Don’t miss this one: A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

Culture is behavior. If you tell people to think a certain way or ask them to behave in a certain way, they might comply for a week or two, but you won’t achieve any of the benefits of true, fundamental culture change. If you want to change the way your company works, collaborates, and communicates – without alienating your first hires – you need to encourage new relationships, behaviors, and habits among new and old employees alike.

We hope this list can help you start brainstorming ways to welcome legacy employees into the company culture change process, but we’d love for you to share your wisdom, too.

What would you add to this list?

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.