4 Ways to Preserve Your Start-up Culture As You Grow
By Chanel Sutherland
It’s the age old dilemma that every company must grapple with: how do you maintain the start-up culture while your organization becomes more established due to growth? Most companies today prefer to be start-ups rather than place themselves under the stiff corporate label that has existed for a 100 years. The start-up environment inspires creativity and out-of-the-box thinking – which often leads to better products and services. People prefer to work for start-ups (sometimes sacrificing higher salaries) because of the development opportunities and unique benefits they offer. Unlimited vacation time, free gym memberships, flexible work hours, and pool tables – it all adds up to work-life balance and its more attractive than the benefits of the past.
However, while start-ups are founded in innovative thinking, growth can be difficult for the culture. Companies that start out with strong cultures often find themselves struggling to keep their people happy and engaged. As processes are put into place, the start-up feel can begin to fade and the company falls into what the Harvard Business Review calls the “cultural chasm.” Is this avoidable? Yes. Can a company recover after falling into the cultural chasm? Also, yes. Listed below are a few questions which should help you assess and preserve your start-up culture while your company continues to grow.
1-Are you Hiring People Who Fit the Culture? People make up your corporate culture, so to maintain the start-up feel make sure that you’re hiring the right people. Remember that success does not always equate to ‘suit and tie’ – that mentality can work against the start-up identity. While it makes sense to hire people with corporate experience as you continue to grow, make sure that they’re flexible enough to align with the unique aspects of your culture.
For the 4th consecutive year, Explorance has made the list of Best Workplaces in Canada. In the past year, the company has also increased its number of employees by over 50%. Our start-up culture was put to the test and we prevailed as a company, as leadership, and as people. As part of our strategic priority culture is woven into every decision we make — especially when it involves the people we hire. “We look at people who complement our team not only in their skills but also their attitude,” offers Zeljka Eyamba, HR Manager at Explorance. “The interview is more about them – about what they want, where they’re headed. We ask a series of open-ended questions regarding their motivation, expectations, and what they like to see in the work environment.”
2-Do you Celebrate Wins - Both Big and Small? In a start-up each and every employee is vital to the success of the company. Therefore every success, no matter how small, is celebrated because it adds to the overall bottom line. This goes a long way in lifting employee morale, maintaining productivity, and increasing loyalty. A recent study conducted by the Great Place to Work® institute shows that “[w]hile overall workplace celebration events are an important ingredient in the required culture mix, their impact on desired employee behaviors and workplace experience will be greatly enhanced when complemented by more focused and ongoing day-to-day appreciation and recognition of individual and team accomplishments.” In short, your people need to know that their work continues to matter even as the company grows. Employee recognition could be as simple as a verbal praise or as formal as an award ceremony.
At Explorance, our hero awards make peer-to-peer recognition simple, fun, and rewarding. Each quarter, employees are nominated by colleagues and recognized for their efforts. Customer feedback are also shared with all employees, especially when they highlight a specific individual’s effort. The CEO Awards are presented at our annual end-of-year celebration and are given in recognition and appreciation to those employees who have gone above and beyond. These prizes are personalized and tailored for the recipient and their family.
3-Is Yours Still a Culture of Transparency? Start-ups are notorious for adopting transparency practices. Early on, they recognize the value of keeping their people in the know – it inspires trust, team work, accountability, and productivity. As you continue to grow your people need to understand the direction of the business and how their efforts are helping you progress. Equip them with the information they need to think like owners. When people are empowered they tend to go the extra distance to help the company succeed.
4- Do You Have a Feedback System that Works? Many companies are limited in their feedback system. They tend to take a reactive rather than a proactive approach when it comes to giving and receiving feedback from their people. The traditional system of annual reviews does not work in the start-up culture and is a lost opportunity for continuous improvement and consistency.
Bluepulse 2, a formative feedback tool, plays an integral role in Explorance’s decision making process. Through Bluepulse 2, managers are able to put forth questions and gather real-time, confidential feedback and suggestions from employees on any topic. The tool enables employees and managers to be involved in an open, two-way dialogue where feedback can be candidly shared. It has helped further Explorance’s culture of continuous feedback and improvement through listening.
How do you maintain the start-up culture at your organization? In what areas can you improve? Comment and let us know.
Chanel M. Sutherland
Marketing Content Specialist, Explorance