How to maintain culture during periods of extreme growth
Hypergrowth is arguably one of the most exciting times in the startup world; maybe you just landed a big round of funding, scored your biggest customer or merged with another fast growing company. Whatever the reason, things start to move- fast. Suddenly you’ve outgrown your crowded office, you have actual teams rather than individuals handling tasks and staying connected becomes harder than ever; that startup culture you joined is suddenly disjointed and it’s hard to keep up with everyone.Often the culture aspect is overlooked in favor of moving as fast as possible to keep up with new demands, but research has repeatedly shown that there is a direct connection between company culture and company performance (Source: Tannenbaum & Cerasoli). As the wheels spin, founders and managers can be left wondering how they can maintain the connectivity and team bonds that they started with while also driving high performance.
We sat down with Ariel Cohen, founder of TripActions, who took his company from 0 to a $4 billion valuation, and the employee count from 1 to over 800, to learn how he addressed some of these concerns as his company grew. Here’s our top 4 takeaways.
It Will Take Work
Up to a certain point, culture comes naturally. Everyone on the small team is dedicated to a common goal and it’s easy to work cross functionally when there’s only 20 of you. But somewhere around 100, 200 people this starts to change and culture shifts to something that requires an active role to maintain. Subcultures begin to emerge, it’s more likely that your company now has several work locations or a global presence, and these are things that need to be taken into consideration. “The bigger you get, the stronger your commitment needs to be; you need to take an active role to maintain the culture,” says Ariel. Maintaining your culture will take commitment, dedication and focus.
Remember Your Mission
Be very clear on what it is that the company wants to achieve and what it’s ultimate mission is. Make sure employees know what that is and that it continues to be reiterated and stays consistent. “Your goals will change as you grow, of course, but your underlying mission needs to stay the same” says Ariel. This means having the ability to move quickly and adjust processes while constantly keeping your eye on the main mission of the company. Think about what it is that you want your company to be remembered for, and where you ultimately want it to go; repeat this often and do gut checks every so often to make sure you’re still on that path.
Hiring needs change as you grow; one man armies turn into specialized functions and global teams. Ariel maintains that it’s important to continue hiring towards your ultimate vision, and understanding the nuances that will make a person successful in the specific environment of your company. “When I sit down with someone to interview them, I’m almost exclusively trying to understand if they are a good fit for TripActions. I know their CV has proven their experience, but I need to understand if they will be successful here.” This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring exact culture fits, (which can mean less reflection and growth) but rather focusing on candidates who will be open to contributing to the current culture and who align with your overall company mission.
Focus on What Actually Matters
Culture isn’t created through ping pong tables or games; it’s created through authentic human connection and an environment where employees feel empowered & recognized. Our current work environment with most folks remote has made this more challenging, but more essential than ever. Remote meetings can easily become strictly transactional, with minimal small talk and connection; many companies have implemented “happy hours” or other casual meetings to combat this and give employees a chance to connect ‘outside of work.’ As we slowly move back into offices (or not) these events will remain critical to keeping a pulse on your organization’s culture, creating bonds between employees and allowing them to become a part of the overall culture; all keys to long term success.
Great cultures aren’t formed passively. But with research continually showing that culture has a direct impact on a company’s success it’s essential for leaders to constantly work to improve it. By keeping a pulse on the “unofficial” side of your organization you can maintain an environment where employees are engaged and productive, and you can grow and move faster.