Many fast-growing businesses struggle to keep their startup culture as they mature into a more traditional big-business culture, and this is an area where reputation management and brand-building can suffer the growing pains of a startup business. At companies with fewer than 100 employees, management can instill culture daily through personal interaction – something that becomes harder as employee headcount rises.
In my career, I’ve been part of several companies that struggled to make this transition. My current company is on the threshold of passing 500 employees, and this growth creates a daily struggle to maintain culture.
In this blog, I want to share some of my lessons learned, good and bad, about how to blend startup culture and more traditional workplace practices at a growing company because if there’s anything I have learned in my experience with new business and traditional business – the opinions your clients and customer-base hold about your business all starts from within. If your employees are not happy; if people don’t feel compelled to work for you and apply to your company, new leads and prospects will feel the same about their retention with the company.
So, let’s talk reputation management – from the inside.
Let Your Culture Be Visible
Management has an idea of the culture they want, but they may struggle to outright define that culture. Instead, they point to markers of culture, like dress code or in-office perks, but those markers are not the culture itself.
Company culture is not tangible. However, you can make it visible. Turn your workspace into a physical embodiment of your company’s culture. Think of the contrast between a corporate law firm’s lavish yet tidy rooms and the artistic and playful spaces at a company like Pixar.
To create an office space that reflects your culture, blend the two styles:
- Designate personal work areas, but give employees flexibility to make them their own.
- Decorate with traditional materials, like wood or metal, but accent with color.
- Encourage creativity by creating open workspaces with high ceilings and only a few enclosed offices.
- Provide employees an outlet of non-work-related activities like foosball and/or ping pong tables for break times.
Incorporate aspects from both culture styles until you find the right ratio of traditional to startup.
Define Your Core Values
Ultimately, you want your company culture to reflect your brand and values. So integrate that message into everything you do—define core values that describe those desired attitudes and outcomes.
Maybe you want to encourage traditional workplace attitudes like reliability and job knowledge, but you also want employees to feel free to experiment and take risks. Not a problem. Name both dimensions in your core values.
Then communicate these values to all employees. Spend time making sure your management team understands, believes, and lives by these values. Make sure they talk about values in all meetings and recognize employees that exhibit any of your values.
Create Smaller Departments
If you want to adopt traditional office practices in a startup-like company, fine-tune your company hierarchy. Every business needs some form of organization, but it doesn’t have to be a multi-leveled bureaucracy. Flatten out your organization and create smaller departments rather than larger ones.
Smaller departments encourage an innovative startup culture because they:
- Encourage collaboration. Communication within a department becomes faster and simpler when there are fewer people to consult with and keep informed. And inter-department collaboration becomes essential—department heads must communicate with each other so their respective teams can put out the best product or service.
- Increase employee satisfaction. Each employee’s strengths and skills play a more vital role in smaller departments. On smaller teams, employees know they can make a difference, and they feel more appreciated as a result.
- Allow employees to specialize and innovate. Smaller departments handle fewer responsibilities than large ones, so their employees quickly become experts at fulfilling their jobs. And once they’re experts, employees can think outside the box in important ways, such as streamlining processes or brainstorming new ideas.
With smaller departments, your growing company will have both the creative atmosphere common at startups and the stability of a traditional, organized office.
Incorporate Social Media into Company Culture
In today’s world, if an event isn’t documented on social media, it never happened. That principle holds true for a company that doesn’t have a social media presence. Social media lets your brand be part of the “now” that’s always happening online.
You should maintain company profiles on social media platforms and carefully manage them, but don’t stop there. Encourage your employees to talk about your company online and interact with these profiles. When employees tweet about office parties, take selfies with holiday décor, and attach unique company hashtags to personal posts, they help define workplace culture and become more invested in your company’s vision.
The company culture you create for your growing business can define your success. You don’t have to choose between startup and traditional culture. Your company’s success may depend on your use of both styles. Elements of your culture can attract top talent and keep your company stable and organized as it grows. Use the tips above to blend both styles at your workspace and find the culture that works for your company.