There is something special about a company of twenty people. In particular, one that has reached a key milestone like product market fit and has a viable financial model.
There is optimism in the air. Some move to new office space, while others buy a few plants to signal that they have become a real business. They are no longer a scrappy startup. They feel like a new garden in springtime. However, the hard work is only beginning.
The founder team now faces it’s biggest challenge. Some want to double in size while others feel the culture and very seeds of the business are threatened.
We are all familiar with the happy high performing company that emerges as a political battlefield. Rather than flourishing with maturity, it becomes overrun with weeds.
Companies that flourish take three consistent steps towards strengthening culture in their growth strategy:
- Be clear on the culture you want - During the early years, there is little time to reflect on culture. However, smart leaders sow the seeds of the culture they want. They involve the whole team and clarify behaviours that are acceptable and those that are not. They don’t trot out the usual abstract suspects of ‘quality’, ‘innovation’ and ‘great people’. They make it real. ‘We meet our commitments’ means exactly that!
- Hire people that fit with your desired culture - When hiring, smart leaders aren’t just bowled over by a stellar resume, they hire right. They can help develop new skills but they cannot change attitude. If ‘meeting commitments’ is a cornerstone of their culture then they delve into this during interviews, role-plays and reference checking. They test ‘meeting commitments’ during their 90-day on-boarding process. No stone is left unturned.
- Live the desired culture every day - As described in my blog, ‘The Shadow of the Leader’, the leadership team lives the culture. They communicate continuously and role model the behaviours they expect. Smart leaders celebrate success. They identify employee role models and reward the right behaviours. They have the courage to provide timely and considered feedback on behaviours that are not in line with their desired culture. They know their people and get them engaged in shaping the culture. Culture becomes part of every day – whether it’s a pizza and beer town hall meeting or a funky dress day – they become consistent rituals that fit with their culture.
Culture building can be hard work and like gardening it takes time and attention. To avoid being overrun with weeds, be clear about the environment or garden you want. Sow and nourish the right seeds and your business will flourish.