Influencing culture when rapidly scaling a business

Pubished 14th February 2019

You’ve had your light bulb moment, worked 16 hour days to get your minimum viable product, hired a small but trusted team, successfully secured your second round of funding, had customers buying into your awesome proposition and the Telegraph just wrote an article on how you are likely to be hottest start-up of 2019!

Is the culture you have created to get you this far, going to get you where you need to go?

If it is, how do you retain and scale it?

Are new hires going to want to join you working 14 hour days, with limited benefits?

Are you going to retain your next hires with no career plans or learning and development programmes?

Is your Ping-Pong table, beer fridge and bean bag going to secure you candidates who are interviewing at Facebook, Amazon or Google?

Company culture often defines itself naturally in a start-up businesses, however, there is a lot of work that goes into either maintaining or positively changing the culture as a business scales.

ECOM just hosted an event at our offices this week, where we discussed some of the challenges in influencing culture though periods of massive change and growth.

Geraldine Butler-Wright, who is the VP of People & Culture @ Yoyo Wallet, presented her views on the evolution of culture as a company evolves from start-up to scale-up.

Some of the key points I took away from her presentation included:

1) The power of creating a team of people that love what they do. If people love what they do, it attracts, grows and retains brilliant minds.

2) Stages of company growth, as defined by Reid Hoffman and the need for cultural shifts at different stages.

Stage 1 (Family) 1-9 employees
Stage 2 (Tribe) 10s of employees
Stage 3 (Village) 100s of employees
Stage 4 (City) 1000s of employees
Stage 5 (Nation) 10000s of employees

Families are often dysfunctional, and that’s ok, but not for a growing business. Being a family also implies that you are stuck with each other forever regardless! High performance is achieved through teams of high performing players, playing at their best.

3) The importance of clarity of purpose. The need for all to feel part of a compelling company vision/journey, though having absolute clarity on how an individual’s work impacts (and is relied upon) to realise that vision and mission.

4) The need to imbed your values and culture through the whole employee lifecycle, not just refer to it in reviews.

Effective performance management models, as opposed to long tedious form filling, where meaningful conversations go to die.

Yoyo’s 9 box model for performance reviews. Manager and staff member assess where they sit.

Some of the key points I picked up in the debate afterwards on how to influence culture included:

  • Reward behaviours – Bonus linked, values based awards, part of promotions, general acknowledgement
  • Make clear what is not tolerated – hold back promotions, confront bad behaviours, review behaviour
  • Influence joiners and leavers – Don’t compromise on values when hiring and opt to up skill people with the right values. Exit high (and low!) performing jerks
  • Presence – Visual references to culture and values, constant communication and reference in everything that’s done
  • Top down, bottom up, middle out – Senior leadership have to genuinely buy-in and importantly act the values on a daily basis to create the right culture. New joiners need the correct on-boarding to make expectations clear. Middle management can often be the weak link – include and monitor this area. It’s easy to live the values when things are going right, but what’s peoples default position when the going gets tough? – Company values should be the default position
  • Technology – Behavioural assessment tools (McQuaig), live feedback tools (Cultureamp), communication platforms (Workplace)
  • Include – Involve as much of the company as possible when setting the values or identifying areas of the culture that need to evolve
  • Define – Make sure there is absolute clarity on what your target culture needs to look like. It’s fine if you are not there yet, but make it crystal clear what you are trying to achieve.

ECOM are currently partnering with a number of extremely exciting and rapidly scaling businesses, so if you’re a candidate looking to join a fast growth business that takes its culture seriously, or you are looking for top class talent to join your team, then please get in touch.