3 Tips to Maintain Company Culture as You Grow

As a leader, your job is to design and build a powerful company culture that attracts both employees that believe in the work and the customers who align with your message and ideals. But, how do you maintain the culture and philosophy that inspired an organization as it grows?

Businesses are usually started by people with a passion for a cause or an ability to provide value where they see opportunities. As a company starts to grow and add people to the mix that original culture and purpose can quickly become diluted. A vision-driven culture, for example, can easily become a task-driven culture with a few wrong hires.

High-growth organizations need to have a disciplined process in place to make sure that the correct culture evolves and grows along with the people.

3 Tips to Maintain Company Culture While You Grow
Designed by Freepik

Clearly identify the company culture

This can be hard for many executives to talk about. Culture is a ‘fluffy’ word — it can mean lots of things to lots of people. While all other aspects of the business are very much driven by what’s measured and trackable.

The funny thing is, you inherently know what their culture is when you observe a company, but it’s not exactly something you can track on an Excel spreadsheet. So where do you start?

We suggest beginning with this basic assumption: culture is a key part of any winning strategy. Peter Drucker is famously quoted for saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast,’ and it’s largely true. If your strategy is perfect but everyone is chasing their own silo priorities and undercutting each other, that perfect strategy is like a tree falling in the forest. Ultimately, it means nothing — because the culture wasn’t there to execute it.

Here are five questions to help you identify your company’s culture:

  • What’s our purpose?
  • What are our core values?
  • What code of behavior governs our work?
  • Do we have cultural/ethical beliefs that guide us?
  • What does success look like?

At TeamWorks, we’re often helping clients navigate these conversations during their strategic planning discussions. They’re always interesting to observe. Sometimes, companies in high-growth stages have spent so much time on task work and financials that these questions seem very far away for them.

Clarifying your company culture in the beginning will make everything that comes next much easier to achieve.


Have regular discussions about your culture and values

Once your senior leaders have answered the questions above and you’ve outlined the culture you want to create it needs to be ratified and shared. Then, you need a feedback loop. What do middle managers think? What do your front-line employees think? Compile the feedback and adjust the outline of the culture accordingly.

Now, this isn’t just a document you create that sits on a shelf or hangs on the walls in the boardroom. It has to be a living, breathing code of behavior. Patty McCord created the Netflix culture deck, which Sheryl Sandberg once called “the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley.” What makes the Netflix culture deck stand out so much? It’s treated as a living, breathing document — not a list of adjectives that executives repeat at meetings.

It’s not enough for you as the CEO to show up to meetings and talk about core values or use buzz words. It’s more than that. Leaders need to live the behaviors consistently and the values need to be talked about all the time, beginning with the highest-ranking leaders. If ‘culture’ seems like a string of buzzwords, ultimately no one will care. On the other hand, if your culture is built on a legitimate set of values that guides daily action; eventually everyone will buy-in.

It may surprise you, but I believe it’s better to have weaker talent and less experience on your team but have a thriving culture, than it is to have amazing talent and experience, but no culture.

Culture alignment in action

Two of my daughters work for Lululemon and WestJet.  They are companies that have a reputation for living and breathing their culture. When culture discussions and culture scaling are done right, this is what it looks like:

  • Both leaders and team members are engaged in strategic planning and operational planning; it doesn’t just get shoved down from the top ranks
  • The company credo or motto feels authentic and powerful; no one questions it as a buzzword or corporate-speak
  • There’s a kind of unofficial company “uniform” and “language” around how people dress, speak and behave at work. This culture is a way of life for staff, clients and customers; evolving organically as a result of the culture and values surrounding it
  • The current and future architecture of teams is mapped out in a significant way so that promotions aren’t driven by politics or proximity to the existing power core
  • Onboarding processes are driven by evangelists of the company culture, as opposed to transactional processes driven by HR or another department; this means that someone’s first few days/weeks in the company are focused on purpose and vision, as opposed to filling out forms and getting office supplies. It’s shifting transactional to transformative.

Facilitating discussions around culture definition and scaling is something we’re involved in a lot with our clients and we’re often tasked with acting as a kind of ‘ombudsman’ for some companies — we’re the ones employees go to if senior leaders violate the cultural norms they’re preaching. It can be an interesting spot to be in for us, but having a neutral third-party helps ensure that two-way, transparent dialogues are created about the mission and purpose of the organization.

Oftentimes founders and core employees can be very set in their perceptions about the company, its values, and where it’s headed. Having a facilitator who isn’t tied to the politics or outcomes can observe, guide discussions, and help you foster an authentic culture for your organization.

Use these tips to ensure the culture you’re creating within your organization will continue to grow and prosper, along with your bottom line.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *