Today's guest post is from Raj Jana, the founder of JavaPresse, a socially conscious coffee subscription service. He started the company hoping to use it as an engine for spreading gratitude and positivity, and he knew from the beginning it would be important to build a strong company culture. After several years of growth, he’s proud to say things have turned out somewhat how he expected. But this journey was not without its twists and turns and hard-learned lessons. He likes to write about his experience to help like-minded entrepreneurs have success.
Preserving a Positive Culture as You Scale
Business leaders across all different industries are concerned with building the “right” company culture, largely because they recognize its potential as a competitive advantage.
But what exactly is the “right” company culture? In truth, there is no one answer. But it’s best to think about the “right” culture as a set of norms and practices used to coordinate how you do things (culture) that’s appropriate both for you as a company and also for your market (right culture). If you can strike this balance, then your culture can give your company a real boost.
So, then, how exactly do you build this culture? Again, there’s no one answer. And a big reason for this is that culture, to a certain extent, develops on its own. There’s only so much you can do as a leader to steer it. Yet that doesn’t mean you can do nothing.
One of the best ways to build a positive culture is to start from the beginning. Many new companies have good culture. As small operations with a limited number of people, these groups tend to develop a culture uniquely tuned to the personalities of the group and the expectations of the market. The challenge, however, is in preserving this as you grow.
In general, growth is good for your business. But the injection of people that comes with it can throw off your cultural plans, unless you’re ready for it. Here are some ways to preserve your positive culture as you scale.
Have a plan
Visualization needs to be the first step in any process of transformation. By first imagining where you want to go, it’s a lot easier to get there. Your path will be clearer, and it’ll be easier to identify when you’re veering off course.
As a result, the first step in trying to preserve your company culture when scaling is to plan out where you want to go. Imagine your company after it’s gone through its growth spurt. What do you want it to look like? How do you want it to run? What kind of people do you want working for it?
If you can answer these questions in the beginning, and if you can have a plan as to how you’ll get to this desired state, then it’ll be a lot easier to manage change and expand in a way that reflects the type of company you want to be.
For your cultural plans to go the way you want them to, it’s important to have buy-in from your employees. And for this to happen, your employees need to feel like their work is more than just a job. They need to feel as though they are actively building something they are going to be proud to call their place of work.
One way to do this is to emphasize balance, especially as you grow. During periods of expansion, people’s workloads become heavier as they wait for new team members to be recruited, hired and onboarded.
To ensure cultural change goes the way you want it to, you must work to help your employees stave off burnout. If they begin to feel stressed and overworked, then they’re going to tune out from work, reducing the investment you get from them, which will stop cultural growth in its tracks, or worse, send it in a direction you don’t want to go.
Start by talking to your employees. Explain to them what is going to happen as you grow and ask them what their concerns are. Come up with some ways to help relieve the stress so that people stay happy, engaged and focused on positive cultural growth. Things like parties, offsite excursions or summer schedules are great ways to let your employees know you care about their work-life balance and want it to be a part of company culture moving forward.
Keep up with perks
The workplace environment you create has a huge impact on culture. If people feel comfortable and in a positive place, then they are going to open up more, allowing you to take full advantage of their skills and talents. And they’re far more likely to work at preserving positive culture when they feel as though you, the employer, care about them.
There are a variety of different ways to demonstrate this to your employees. Your presence is a big one. By working to build a relationship with your employees, you can get a better handle on how culture is developing, making it easier for you to steer things in the right direction when they get off track.
Another simple way to keep up positivity in the workplace is to offer some office perks. Little things, such as free, healthy snacks, a premium coffee subscription, office fitness equipment, game rooms, etc. seem like tiny gestures, but these are the things people often grow to love about their workplace. An office is an office, so if you can make it feel special, then employees are going to reward you with hard work and a positive influence on overall culture.
An inevitable part of growth is the expansion of your team. If you have a hope of keeping people on as the workload expands, then you need to bring in some help. However, one folly many young companies make is hiring strictly on experience and qualifications. While these are certainly important, they’re not everything, especially if your worried about the way your company culture might change.
Instead, you need to consider how your new hires are going mesh with and influence your current culture. You want people to be a fit, but you also want them to be different enough so that they’ll push you forward.
One of the best things you can do for this is to broadcast your employer brand—the image and perception people have of you as an employer. You need to not only define this according to the culture you want to build, but then you need to make sure this image comes through on all communications you have with potential employees, from social media posts to job postings and your website.
By doing this, you’ll make it easier to attract people that will be a good fit, and you’ll also be able to repel those who will not. A great example of this is the Netflix Culture Deck, which was released shortly after the company launched to try and shape the way culture developed at the growing company.
Another thing is to restructure your interviews to try and learn more about cultural fit. While you can’t flat out ask someone what their beliefs and values are, you can certainly ask them questions that reveal these characteristics.
Asking them to describe their ideal company, or how they would run things if they were CEO, are great questions for this. You can also posit hypothetical situations and ask them how they would respond. Their response should give you some insight into how well that person would fit with your culture.
Just remember, it’s a lot harder to change culture once it’s already embedded. It’s tempting to bring in new people as fast as you can. But if these people bring your culture in an unwanted direction, then this move may hurt you more than it helps you in the end. It’s better to wait for the right fit than to rush things and have to correct them later. And if you do a good job at helping your current employees manage the increased workload and maintain a good work-life balance, then a positive company culture is within your reach no matter how much you grow.