Here’s The Secret To Scaling Without Diluting Your Company Culture

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Period of massive growth! Are there any words in the English language more terrifying to the HR Professional? 

But why Ben? I hear you ask. Surely growth is good, we make more sales, we hire more people, the company becomes more valuable, we all get pay rises. Hooray.

No!

Not Hooray! 

Growth is dangerous if not handled correctly. I’ve seen it many times, in many different businesses. It’s the silent killer, it’s the illusion of success and in many cases the beginning of the end.

Word to the wise

If there are any founders reading this right now, I want you to do something for me. Think of your team, think of the ones who have been with you from the beginning, now from those pick the person you like the most. 

I say this with a heavy heart but at the end of the day, friends tell each other the truth. That one person, the one you like the most, the one who’s been there since the very start of your company, you will have to get rid of that person if you get the next 12 months wrong.

Now then, unless you’ve been in a coma for the last 3 years (and no offence to those who have) you’ll have more than likely heard the word “Culture” and I’m sure when you heard it all sorts of things will have flashed in front of your eyes. 

Beanbags, baristas, pogo sticks, a unicycle, office dogs and of course beanie hats. These in and of themselves are not culture. 

So what is company culture? 

Think of company culture as the personality of your business. It’s how you celebrate wins, how you handle promotions, it’s not just the face that you show to the world, it’s the way your people behave when no-one’s looking. It’s recycling, it’s having mental health advocacy, it’s promoting and actively implementing diversity.

It’s having a clear mission and purpose that is manifested in your people day in, day out. 

OK, now we know what it is, we have to understand why it’s important. I’d even go one further, I’d say it’s essential. Think of what happens to someone when they have no purpose. They’re listless, unmotivated, unhappy and if we’re honest, not that great to be associated with. Companies with a lack of purpose are exactly the same and the workforce of today knows it.

According to this Glassdoor Survey 77% of people say they research the culture of a company before joining. A further 56% of those surveyed claimed that good workplace culture was more important than the salary and in a lot of ways it really is. 

Anecdotal though this may be, I’ve had some absolute s***e jobs in my day and I’m only 30!

There was the company that paid me my bonus in cash, there was the company that hired me to do one job and then changed the JD (job description) on my first day. There was the company where depression and negativity hung in the air like a thick cloud of black smoke, where the office was silent, where people (including myself) ate lunch alone in their cars just to get a small bit of respite.

What I’m trying to show here is that it doesn’t matter about money when the idea of coming into work makes you want to step out in front of the bus rather than get on it. 

The only exception I can think of is the people who spray perfume into the faces of rabbits or make dogs smoke cigarettes, that must be about money, right? 

Anyway, now we know what culture is and why it’s important, how do we communicate ours to our people? How do we foster a good one?

P2P recognition

A lot of the businesses I speak with have done excellent work in deciding what their culture and values look like but when it comes to seeing those values come to life in the actions of their people there’s often a little bit of work left to do.

I believe that peer to peer recognition is one of the most effective ways to instil and propagate a company culture. Effectively you decide on 5 (or so) key indicators of your company culture, these could encapsulate your attitude toward excellence in a role, your approach to customer-centricity or a general “well done” or “thank you” could be one of them.

Hive Fives Custom Categories
An inside look at how ‘Hive-Five’ categories can be customised, enabling an organisation’s people to give recognition that is specific to company values.

Once these are established one of the easiest ways to get them around your teams is to house them in a platform that makes peer-to-peer recognition easy to give, such as Hive. Our platform’s ‘Hive-Fives’ feature encourages co-workers to recognise one another when they’ve done excellent work. 

You could even go one further and make these recognitions public so that your whole business can see those team members who are the living embodiment of your values.

High Five Collage
A collection of ‘Hive Fives’ live-streamed from Hive’s internal feed.

Back to the point

For me, it’s absolutely crucial to do this before or during periods of rapid growth and that’s to stop the culture you’ve worked hard for becoming diluted as more and more people come into your business. Dilution is what we do to things to make them more palatable, to make them weaker.

All the things you were doing that got you to this tipping point shouldn’t be lost in a sea of middle-management, politics and bullsh*t, they should be plastered on the walls (literally or metaphorically), they should be your battle cry, they’re where you go when things start to get a little crazy.

Having your values and culture well documented and alive in the actions of your people will allow you to not only scale in terms of revenue or headcount but also in relevance. The bigger you get, the more lives you impact both internally and externally, that’s no small thing. You have the opportunity to bring together lots of differently minded people who are united by a common goal or value, I think that’s incredible.

It’s inevitable that culture will evolve as a company grows but by having your values defined they will be much easier to communicate to new members of your team. Which in turn allows them to put their own spin on things and bring unforeseen improvements or even new values.

Ben is Hive’s sales pro and helps scale-ups in the tech, finance and hospitality space prioritise employee engagement. When he’s not flying between calls or meetings, you’ll find him nattering at the coffee machine or loving life in the gym. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn.

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