Imagine the difficulty of establishing a unique employee culture that differentiates your business or organization from others in your industry. Now try scaling that culture by a factor of two or three to accommodate organic growth, mergers and acquisitions, new offices, new product lines, and new employees of varying expertise, ages, education levels and even ethnic backgrounds.
Many startup organizations and smaller groups have a unique spirit and energy that catapults them through their early growth phases.
But as organizations continue to expand and mature past the initial phases of growth, that unique culture can start to fade. As they become part of a larger and larger team, staffers might begin to feel anonymous and become less hungry as the small-group culture is lost.
inVNT, which was founded in 2008, experienced this cultural challenge. We grew revenues by about 500 percent, doubled our employee base and opened four new offices in a span of four years. As we continued to scale up and grow our global footprint, we needed something to nurture our culture through the growth phases.
The solution was a guiding principle: “Challenge everything.”
This phrase has aligned us and kept us focused as we continue to rapidly grow and change. “Challenge everything” reminds us why we do what we do, and keeps us grounded as we expand and mature. It impacts how we hire, how we approach our creative development, how we interact with our clients, and neatly describes the effect we want to help our clients achieve in the marketplace through smarter, remarkable, effective communications.
Here are five tips for keeping the culture strong in growing and maturing organizations:
• Hire the right people. From the moment we consider a new “inVNTr” we place equal weight on her talent and how well we think she will fit into our “tribe.” Will she push herself and others daily to make our work better? If she fits, she’s expected to apply this challenger mindset to everything she does.
• Try the unexpected. It’s important to break out from the routine and put your staff in new and unexpected situations. If your group is pitching a major new project, try shutting down your organization for a day, canceling all routine meetings, and having a fun competition where groups of staffers compete for the best pitch ideas.
• Create growth opportunities. In maturing organizations, people need to be able to grow within their positions. You can create these opportunities by providing a level of autonomy, where each team member is encouraged to be the captain of her or his own ship, regardless of title.
• Celebrate individuals. One way of creating stronger connections is to recognize and celebrate individual employees. You can do this with a regular employee newsletter that profiles people at all levels of the company, and goes the extra mile to recognize people in satellite offices. When individuals in a growing organization can still feel connected and involved with a real ability to make an impact, they will be more invested in their jobs, and the spirit of the work culture will remain high.
• Throw young people to the wolves. If your newest and youngest employees are given a role that’s too defined and aren’t given a voice, you’ll risk losing them. Get them contributing from day one by tapping into their fresh ideas. You can nurture this further by establishing a mentoring program that pairs them with a senior team member who isn’t their boss or someone they typically work with.
Cullather is global managing partner of inVNT, a global brand communications agency that works with trade associations and companies. Details: www.invnt.com.