How do you scale your company's culture as you grow?

How Do You Scale Your Company’s Culture as You Grow?

Let’s say you’ve managed to foster a wonderful company culture in your small business. Great! Way to go! You’ve succeeded where so many others have failed. But what happens when you succeed in another area…? What happens when you start to grow…?

Many companies find that as they grow their culture suffers, until one day they don’t recognize themselves anymore. How do you scale your company’s culture as you grow? Three expert guests from our podcast managed just that; here they weigh in with some tips.

Growing to sell

Name: Doug Burke
CEO, Cognitive Medical Systems

Doug Burke began Cognitive Medical Systems six years ago. They started small with just four people: two entrepreneurs, and two people with experience in Navy healthcare. In just six years, they have grown to 50 employees.

But here’s the kicker: The founders have been growing Cognitive to sell.

How do you motivate employees to commit to a bootstrap startup without a big Silicon salary, and with the knowledge that the company will be sold soon anyways? Doug suggests giving all employees stock options. Once Cognitive sells to a larger company, that’s when the employees will get liquidity. Because they have a stake in the sale, the employees have motivation to work hard to build the company.

As Cognitive grows, they’re also building a strong management structure. They have a three-person top tier, each of whom runs a small team based on expertise: medical research, finance/HR, and sales/networking. Below those teams lies another layer of management.

Every week the management team meets to discuss issues, trajectory, values, what’s working right, what’s not working, etc. Recently, this management team has started taking a larger role in the briefings to the board and employees. Strong communication helps the company values and vision flow through all the layers of the company, making everyone aware of what it means to be a part of Cognitive Medical Solutions.

Doug also suggests getting together an external board of advisors and a strong mentoring group. The problems you have at 10 people aren’t the same as 50 people or 100 people. Mentors will help you anticipate your problems before they happen. And they will happen.

Spend time with your team, and be OK if your culture isn’t for everyone

Names: Michelle Jacobs and Matt Hertig
Co-founders, Alight Analytics

Michelle Jacobs knows a lot about workplace environments. She’s worked in corporate, agency, and startup. Matt Hertig has done his fair share of time in the corporate world, too. They share one complaint from their past experiences—that people don’t say what they mean.

At Alight, they’re on a mission to treat people like adults upfront. They realize some people aren’t going to be able to handle the blunt honesty, but they’re ok with that. “We can’t be everything to everybody,” says Matt.

So how do you handle growth in that kind of environment? “You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘We’re going to have good culture today,’” Matt says. Alight knows the importance of keeping up their culture’s momentum by clearly communicating the corporate values to everyone on the team. As they started to grow, Michelle began to realize that by not interacting with everyone at the office, the employees weren’t able to see what motivated the leadership. That’s when the leadership knew that they had to invest more in the culture. That they had to spend less time doing, and more time leading. 

It can be daunting to take a step back from the work you see as top priority. As you remember that more hands drive the ship than just yours, you realize the importance of everyone moving in the same direction. You’ll get there faster if they do.

Put effort into hiring

Name: Roy Chomko
Founder/CEO, Adage Technologies

Adage began with two. Then two more. Then five in the first five years. Then five grew to 20, and 20 to 55. But in this day in age, Roy doesn’t expect any of his people to be company lifers. Instead, he just wants to make the most of each employment situation in the moment; his philosophy is figure out what your goals are, grow the company, and grow yourself.

Just because he holds his employees in an open hand doesn’t mean Roy slacks off when it comes to hiring the right people. The process to become part of Adage is quite rigorous.

First, you need to go through an HR interview. You must be on time, communicate well, present yourself well, and prove that you are a good fit for the role.

After your initial interview, the manager of the position you’re applying for takes over. The manager does an interview to see if you’re truly fit for the position.

Oh, and then there’s a code review to make sure that you’re skills all there.

And finally you interview with the whole team that you’re going to be working with.

Quite a thorough process…

Why go to all the trouble? Adage knows they’re a challenging company to work for. Communication, adaptability, and dedication to the customer are all top priority. You can be sure they use all those interviews to see if you’ve got what it takes.

So what’s your growth hurdle? Take a listen to Best Place to Work Podcast to glean advice from these successful leaders and others like them.

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