How to preserve your culture as your organization grows

Full-staff meetings in the conference room are long gone, as are the Friday afternoon ice cream sandwiches. You can—and must—keep engagement and collaboration high. Try this advice.

Preserving corporate culture

As a company shifts focus and grows over time, its culture is almost certain to change.

To protect the essence of your culture, you must prioritize culture strategy as part of your overall growth plan, just as you would any other business objective.

To plan your culture strategy, ask employees:

  • What are the key things you like about your team today?
  • What do you appreciate about the culture and dynamics of your group?

Then ask yourself and the leadership team a couple of more difficult questions:

  • What does your team look like with 50, 100 or 500 people?
  • What parts of the culture and dynamics can be maintained at that scale?

The answers will help you assess the core values that guide your culture, even if specific initiatives must be adapted for a larger group.

Apply this assessment exercise to the following four areas that often present challenges as companies grow.

1. Communication.

As organizations add departments and layers, communication becomes challenging. Much like the children’s game of telephone, the more people between the source and the final recipient, the more likely it is that the message will get distorted.

Building scalable communication channels is essential. Plan how you will adapt messages and channels at each staffing milestone: 100 employees, 500, and so on. Doing so will keep information flowing and your culture thriving.

Keeping the spirit of open communications with employees may take on new forms as the company grows, such as video chats with the founders or a digital forum where they can field employees’ questions. The trust and compassion demonstrated by making time for these activities will help protect and preserve the original essence of a changing culture.

2. Proximity.

The physical location of employees can change as companies grow, and that creates challenges for collaboration and communication—and your culture, as well.

Your staff no longer fits in a conference room. Remote workers might join the team. In time, multiple offices or geographic locations may be added.

Identify the core elements of your culture, and adapt them for employees scattered across multiple floors, office buildings and remote locations.

Creating smaller, cross-functional teams is one way to encourage collaboration in a larger organization, for example. Placing whiteboards in every meeting room fosters the sharing of ideas, and using team communication tools can help your staff overcome geographic barriers.

3. Staff development.

As your organization grows, you will have an ever-changing mix of old and new employees. Long-time staffers will have different experiences and expectations from those who join along the way.

Starting in the interview process, make sure each potential hire understands your culture, as well as the company’s core values.

As your veterans ascend into management, they may require additional support and career development. Ask them about their job preferences, preferred learning styles—job shadowing versus classes or conferences, for example—and strengths and weaknesses.

4. Feedback.

Check in with employees 60 or 90 days after they join the team to ask about their experiences and to ensure that the culture they’re experiencing aligns with their expectations as a candidate.

Frequent staff surveys help you check the pulse of your culture and determine which initiatives are working—or not.

Retention is another area to watch; significant turnover can be a sign your culture isn’t transitioning well.

Rob Seay is director of employee experience at Bonfyre App. A version of this post first appeared on the Bonfyre blog.

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