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