Scale Your Startup Quickly Without Losing Your Culture

How to grow your company without losing your soul.

Your startup’s culture is deeply rooted in you, the founder, and your partners; your beliefs and values as a group; your collective attitude and personality. That’s why, especially during your startup’s infancy, you may have felt the need to vet potential new hires yourself and make hiring decisions based on your perception of the candidates at hand.

Now, your company has grown, and you may be finding yourself with a lack of time to maintain company culture. As your business grows, as more people join the team and it becomes more successful, it’s challenging to foster the atmosphere you worked so hard to establish. It’s a growing pain that every startup has to adjust to.

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This does not necessarily mean that founding leadership should be disconnected from the hiring process altogether. But, for time’s sake, your hiring process should begin by defining a clear company culture around the core values of its founders.

Write It All Down
Take a step back and really evaluate your company’s current culture. Take a critical look at what you love, what you don’t, and where you could stand to make a change. You have all the power here… so use it! Get input from your entire team about what makes your culture unique, and merge it into a single document. Once you have hashed out your wants and needs, create an enumerated company culture document. WRITE IT DOWN! But most importantly— and this is huge— make it public. Give candidates the opportunity to self-screen for a culture fit, and save yourself some time during the vetting process.

Your organization may be small enough that every single team member is able to meet with every potential hire. If your organization is larger, designate certain people in your company to be your “culture interviewers.” Think about the value set your team members must have, and circle back to it often in team meetings, company outings, employee reviews and elsewhere.

One of our favorite examples of a public culture statement comes from the media provider we all know and love, Netflix. Since the company’s origins, they have used the same deck to communicate company values to potential candidates. Even with changes to Netflix’s suite of services, the company has steadfastly adhered to their designated cultural cornerstones. What we love most about their culture statement, is that it’s polarizing. It clearly states their unique culture; people who don’t fit – shouldn’t apply. This approach might seem a bit too direct, even a little mean. But in the long run, it’s saving the company and the employees time and the emotional pain of a bad fit.

Build Your Culture into the Hiring Process
Before you even begin your search for new hires, it’s best practice to have a handful of culture questions worked into your application for employment. Bringing a mismatched candidate on board can disrupt the entire ecosystem of your company, becoming a costly mistake. Asking simple and direct questions such as “What do you like to do for fun?” or “What does your ideal workplace look like?” can help you gather a more well-rounded understanding of your candidates while deciphering whether or not their values align with your own. The job interview process should be less a sales pitch than a search for alignment between the company and a candidate.

During the in-person interviewing phase, conduct internal checks with each different department after candidate interviews. It’s important that your team, especially if it’s a smaller one, agrees with the hiring decisions being made. If your team is under 10 people, everyone should be meeting with the candidate 1:1, or in small breakout groups. By allowing a more collaborative interview process to take place, you’re giving your team the ability to veto candidates on a cultural basis.

Culture Building Begins on Day One
Even after you and your team has vetted, interviewed, and selected an ideal candidate, the cultural outlining needs to continue. Your onboarding program should include education on your culture, expectations, and policies that relate to your company values. It’s not just about hiring someone with a dazzling skill set— You must be clear about who you are as an organization, so your new hires fully understand where the company is versus where the company wants to go.

As we’ve talked about previously, teaching and then reiterating your company culture is essential in optimizing:

Employee retention— The cost of a bad hire has been talked about to death, but it’s always important to keep in mind. The longer a hire stays with you, the better! If they’re invested in your company culture, they’ll stick around much longer.

Reputation management— Culture building can also be considered a part of reputation management. Companies with strong cultures can handle PR issues more easily by referencing the values that the company is built on.

Productivity— Happy employees lead to a happier company. Improved morale increases productivity, and in turn, employees can benefit from that productivity in terms of higher returns, higher salaries, and more benefits.

Quality of work— Healthy corporate cultures encourages workers to deliver quality products and services. Companies with cultures valuing the highest standards create an atmosphere for workers to deliver products that meet those high standards.

Defining your company culture early on will help you to streamline your onboarding process, as keeping your new hires informed and most importantly… happy!

Bring Your Team Together
As your startup scales, natural divisions of teams/departments will form. Each team will build its own little micro-culture as they continue to build on their relationships both personally and professionally. However, you should note that it is important to bring the entire company back together from time to time. Team meetings are great, but team outings are better! Culture building events give each employee something social to look forward to while giving you the ability to maintain and foster a positive company culture outside of the office.