How to avoid killing your company culture as you growNatalie Lewis
Company Culture is so easy to destroy …
That moment when your success is the very thing that threatens to destroy your business comes as quite a surprise and this is a common theme with my clients.
I was having a catch up coffee with one of my strategy clients to review last year’s successes and got talking about this very subject.
For him, ‘that moment’ hit him like a big slap in the face and it was the reason he came to me to ask for help at the beginning of 2018.
My client founded a digital marketing company back in 2009. The first two years were a struggle but his team was small and they all grafted hard. They all knew everything that was going on in the business and they knew every customer. They lived and breathed the business and saw more of each other than their partners, friends and families! They had a strong company culture.
This went on for a few years and then, boom! The business took off, and they were swamped with work. They went from counting every penny to being able to invest this extra cash into additional resources. My client laughed that this fast growth was quite a journey.
All that glitters …
The company went from five employees to forty-three in a very short space of time. They scaled everything from sales, to operations, project management to delivery and they did it fast.
My client was very candid and told me that after 2 years of living hand-to-mouth, both him and his family, as well as a company, he thought he’d hit the jackpot and the future was golden.
“Who are you?”
Sadly, the glorious moments of being cash rich and floating on air came crashing down. They needed to move office and during the move, my client was walking around his new space, looking at his teams and he realised that he didn’t know the names of half of his workforce.
You might think this isn’t a big deal but to him, this was ‘that moment’ when he realised that the very company culture, values and ethos of the business he had created was hugely under threat.
The company has been so busy delivering projects, winning awards and feeling good about themselves, they had lost sight of what was important.
Your people, your values and your company culture are your greatest asset
My client had worked in two very large and well-known Blue Chip companies before he set up his own business. He thought he knew about people; what motivated them, how to reward them, how to manage them, how to communicate with all personality types.
However, he admits that when you go from start-up to fast growth, the game changes and you have to change but one thing is constant – your people are everything.
Who you recruit is vital but how you recruit them, how you on-board them and how you manage them is critical to the success of your business.
Never distress recruit
Putting people AND culture first is critical to success. Yes, it’s the last thing you want to be thinking of when you are juggling lots of balls but the buck stops at you as the business owner.
It’s so tempting when you are tired, stressed and stretched to just get a ‘bum on a seat’ but doing so will bring you a world of pain in the long run.
Whether you’ve just recruited the wrong person for your culture, a poor performer or a great candidate that you have on-boarded badly doesn’t matter, if they leave or you need to dismiss them half-way into a project or process they are involved in, you’re losing time, money and continuity.
The point at which he brought me in, he had his best staff leaving to move to competitors and his remaining staff had taken their feet off the gas. Things were getting sloppy and clients were starting to raise concerns about quality and the timing of projects (deadlines were constantly being pushed back).
I asked my client what he’d learnt over the last 12 months and what key advice he had for other business owners. This is what he had to say:
- Have a very clear purpose for your business. Your values and this purpose drive everything you do, especially recruitment.
- Have a clear picture of the company culture you want to build, how you want your staff, customers and suppliers to act and to be treated. Make sure this ethos is built into all your company processes, procedures and services.
- Put processes in place before you need them. It’s very hard to change things once they are set, particularly in fast growth situation when everything is chaotic.
- Do not recruit for a role without a clear job description and a clear idea of ‘what success looks like’ for each role. If you don’t know it, the employee can’t know it and you won’t be able to measure if things are going well (or not). You can’t blame an employee for not being good enough if you haven’t explained what ‘good’ looks like.
- Don’t compromise on recruitment. A bad recruit is a world of pain. A great candidate with a poor culture fit is a short term relief but a bad apple spoils the whole pile!
- Don’t just hire on cultural fit, as is often said, your new recruit has to be capable and have the skills too.
- Prepare for new starters before they arrive! Have everything ready; desk, phone, laptop, business cards, stationary – whatever is needed for them to do their job. Even send an orientation pack the week before they start with an introduction to their team, where to park, where to get lunch etc.
- On-board them and ensure that they meet the senior team as well as their team. Tell them what they do, why the company is great and what the values, company culture and purpose of the business is. Provide them with a timetable of tasks, training, learning and ‘outcomes’ with follow-up at each stage.
- Embed ‘what good looks like’ at this early stage, tell them what you expect of them and why.
- Treat your staff as individuals, reward them in the way that will motivate them and remember to always say thank you!
- Remember – Poor company culture kills a business. Poorly motivated staff destroy a business. Poorly equipped or skilled staff can destroy a good company.
From my point of view, I would argue that recruiting people is the most important thing, actually more important than fundraising. If you don’t get it right, you’re going waste an awful lot of money and time. If your people aren’t the right people, doing the right things, at the right time, in the right way and being treated right, you’ll only ever have a mediocre business.
If you want to talk about company culture, hiring the right people, dismissing the wrong ones or anything else mentioned in this article, I would be more than happy to chat. Just call me on 020 8798 3470 or send me a message.