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Creating and Sustaining Culture as a Company Grows

by Bonnie Caver, President of Caver Public Relations

Growth for a company is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t come without a little pain. One of those annoying pain points is around creating and sustaining internal culture. As founders start a company, they have a vision for what the company will accomplish, the way it will operate, the customers they will serve and the problems they will solve.

Their passion for what they are doing is clear and contagious. Dynamic leaders are able to get people onboard with their vision and help a company grow rapidly. But then growth begins to happen. To support growth, the CEO needs VPs, then directors, then managers, and pretty quickly, there are several layers between the leadership team and the rest of the organization. And breakdowns or cracks in communication, vision and culture begin to happen.

Companies that are growing rapidly generally have cracks beginning at around 50 employees, then again between 150-200 and again between 400-500 people.  Just like a crack in the foundation of a home, these are often ignored until they cause a stumble or even until foundational separation is visible. In business, it is best not to bury your head in the sand but to address changes proactively before the cracks begin to show, because breakdowns in culture are often core to reputational risks.

Here are four strategic steps to help mitigate cracks in communication and culture, address them as they are forming and repair them when they are visible.

  1. Articulate your culture, values, purpose, vision – These are often difficult things to articulate companywide. The founders have this branded in their heads and talk-the-talk at the beginning, when they are hiring and are cultivating funders. But these core company philosophies can become diluted as a company grows, and they can change as more people, ideas, expertise come into the company. Revisit your core philosophies with your entire organization and make sure they are something you can all articulate and understand, whether there are 5 people in the company or 500.
  2. Create a culture of communication – Communication is a continuous management function, and culture is created through communication. Therefore it is important that your company’s communication delivery, behaviors and message match that of the culture you want to create in your company. If you want everyone to work toward common goals with a clear understanding of your values and vision, those things have to be communicated in ways they are heard and understood. Everyone needs to know the individual role they have in the company’s purpose and vision and take ownership in it. And they need an opportunity to be part of the discussion. You are creating a collaborative company, not building farm silos in the Midwest.
  3. Work your culture – A culture is not something that comes from reading words on a coffee mug or wall everyday. It is something that a company has to create, work on and hire to. Creating benchmarks and measuring to those benchmarks are important to follow progress. Best Places to Work nominations are great ways to gather benchmarks. Though you may not win an award, what you are really trying to do is create a best place to work, not necessarily win an award. Use this information to make appropriate changes and get everyone rowing in the same direction. And never forget that new people can change your culture instantly for good or bad. In a company where cultivating a certain culture is important to management, you must hire to that culture. How people fit within your company is crucial. You are building a team where each person has a role, and you can’t build a lasting championship team when you have bad apples, even if some are superstars.
  4. Reward – Show your appreciation for jobs well done. Not just completion of projects or getting new clients or meeting financial goals, but show appreciation for living the internal culture, for pushing the company’s brand forward and for delivering on the brand promise.

Creating and maintaining the culture you want in your company is possible no matter how large your company grows, but you are never really finished. Understanding that building and maintaining your culture is an intentional and ongoing strategic decision is crucial to your success. It’s hard and requires a lot of effort, but the payoff is the core of guiding your reputation.

Writer’s note: Recently, I worked with Bridge360 to develop the Bridge360 Way, a collaborative effort of the entire Bridge360 team, including all management and employees. The Bridge360 Way represents the core beliefs and business practices of the company, and it’s the way the company works as a team to bring excellence to software.  

Bridge360 management was intuitive to the way growth was changing the company and made a visionary decision to intentionally guide the culture—to make it something everyone was part of while proactively addressing challenges brought about by the pains of growth.