Keeping Culture When Scaling Your Company’s Growth

One of the challenges in a growing company’s ability to scale is trying to keep culture intact through those pivotal growth moments.

Many years ago when I was one of the key members in opening an amusement park, I was brought on board when there were only about 30 employees. As we planned, built, and started to see the project develop, we had a great camaraderie and really enjoyed the teamwork and collaboration.

We tried keeping that same spirit when our departments starting hiring managers and supervisors, and we succeeded to a good degree. And that even carried through to our hiring of staff getting ready for our grand opening.

And when we opened to the public the dynamics changed. Silos went up. We went from collaboration to survival. And for the next year, we struggled to respond to that quick growth and our culture was just a shell of it’s earlier self.

I’ve seen burgeoning retail, service and restaurant concepts struggle with going from a few locations to over ten units. They start to realize that they need people to slot into new functions — such as purchasing, legal, payroll and facilities — that were either done in-house with the talent they had or contracted out. And at some point these companies get to where they become so top-heavy that the cultural focus becomes that of the company headquarters and less of the units and those closest to the customer.

When a company grows there are usually 4 stages they go through:

Start-up Spirit — This is the initial few people that share the vision. Many of them have a financial stake in the company, but if not, they share the vision based on the business plan or the culture and/or charisma of an individual or individuals at the ground floor.

Pioneer Phase — This is the exciting time where customers, sales and locations are growing and getting settled. The vision becomes a reality and further drive the excitement and passion of the culture.

Systems and Brand Period — This is the watershed moment for many organizations. Now that they’re growing scale becomes vital to both operations and brand. Systems start to get ratcheted down but can become restrictive and many times be counter to initial culture. And this may further hamper the ability to execute the brand at the customer level.

Top-Level Growth — This is the where the head can get bigger than the body. As the company scales the responsibility of risk, legal and financial implications become heavier, as well as maintaining the office(s) that run the company now. A company that’s not careful can grow their offices and top-level structure faster to where decisions are made furthest from the customers. And many times that leads to decisions that benefit those as the top, and not those that are customer-facing.

When scaling a company, keep in mind that every dollar spent, especially in people resources, that doesn’t generate a direct return in revenue should be strongly scrutinized to see if is a priority aligned with culture and customer. If not then that expenditure should be reconsidered.

If resources for for success at the front line are sucked up because the top level is feeding itself, then your culture is in jeopardy and change needs to occur immediately.

It’s difficult to get the “start-up” and “pioneer” spirit through each stage of growth. And even in each stage of growth, finding the right people that possess that spirit doesn’t always occur either.

A company’s best bet is to infuse micro-culture of start-up or pioneer spirit at the most local level. Regions and areas that can infuse this culture closer to their front-line can do it better than a large, growing corporate office. Even better, giving autonomy through hiring and training and also systems/processes that align with culture preserve this attitude are even better than regional teams. It’s because they give their people an opportunity to feel a part of something big and exciting, and not a growing machine.

Keeping culture intact is by making everything daily form top to bottom be governed by your culture. There is no other way. It requires a conscious discipline of thought, focus, and repetition to ensure what you’re building continues to be what you started to embark on.

Chief Culture Officers are nice, but if everyone is empowered with the vision, and given a value and voice in the organization, you will have a more lasting cultural impact of hundreds of CCO’s versus one trying to oversee an growing entity that may get to big for them to impact.

Scale your culture as you’re scaling the company.

(image: canva/paullarue)

Mentor, author, consultant — inspiring and teaching people to look and grow UPward!