Your company culture is what defines you. It's that special essence that makes you unique, and if you work to develop a strong culture appropriate for the market in which you operate, it can be a real competitive edge. It helps make your branding efforts more authentic, and it also allows for things to run more smoothly and efficiently.
As a startup, your culture is even more important. Most startups work like a small family. Everyone is united around a common goal, and you develop a way of doing things that give you a real advantage over the rest of the competition.
However, as you grow-and you will-it becomes harder and harder to maintain this part of your company. New people come in, and they bring with them their own practices, beliefs, and values. In some ways, this is good, as it helps make you more diverse. But if you're not careful, then this growth can cause irreparable damage to your company culture, removing this important advantage.
But this is not a sure thing. By paying special attention to the following, you can help preserve your company culture as you scale.
Be clear about the company culture you want
The first step in realizing any change is visualization. You must see where you want to go and what you want to be if you ever hope to get there. When dealing with your startup's culture, if you don't have a clear idea as to where you'd like it to go, it will develop on its own. Then, months or years later, you may look and realize you've created something you don't want. And once this happens, it's very difficult to change things and get them heading in the right direction.
So, to make sure you can protect your unique startup culture as you grow, you need to start visualizing now where you want to be. A good way to do this is to spend some time outlining your core values. These are the things your company stands for. They are what you won't ever sacrifice no matter what. And they will be what people know you for when you expand your reach to a wider audience and market.
It also might be a good idea to outline your company's mission statement. What problem do you solve and how do you plan to solve it for your stakeholders? By thinking this stuff through and by specifying exactly who you are and want to be as a company, it will be much easier for you to stay true to your culture as you grow, helping you keep your competitive edge.
Make company culture a part of hiring
As you grow, it's inevitable that your team will grow too. Many startups begin as just a few people or a small team, but when things start to scale up, this is no longer possible. And one of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out is to hire based on abilities or experience. The idea being, "I need an accountant, so let's go find an accountant."
To a certain degree, this makes sense. You want to bring in the best talent you can, and you also want to make sure the people you do hire can do the jobs you need done to help your business grow. But if you focus too much on the tangible skills someone brings to the table, then you run the risk of letting your culture drift too far from where you want it to be.
Instead, you'll want to find ways to attract people that can do the job but that will also fit into your current culture and also push it forward. A good way to do this is to advertise your culture in job postings, and also to make information available online and through social media that details the type of company you are. This will not only attract the type of people you want to bring onto the team, but it will also help repel those who might not be a good fit.
The other thing to do is to pay special attention to cultural fit when conducting interviews. While you can't directly ask people about their beliefs and values, you can certainly ask questions that allude to these.
For example, you could ask people to describe how they would run a company if they were the boss, or what kinds of qualities they look for in management. If you're trying to build a company with an open and innovative culture, then you would want to hear answers that reflect these values. This is a great way to not only find the best people for the jobs you're trying to fill, but also to protect and develop your company culture as you grow.
Don't forget the little things
When we think of company culture, we tend to think of very high-level stuff. This is important, as it's this type of strategic thinking that will help propel you to where you want to be. But to make sure you keep your startup culture intact as you grow, you can't look past the little things.
One of the things that help make startups unique is their workplace environments. Many are fun, lively and offer lots of perks. It's easy to look past this little stuff, but this is often also what helps make you unique. So, as you begin to grow, you need to plan for this stuff. Bringing in new employees will make it more expensive to provide perks, but know that cutting back will have a dramatic effect on company culture.
Sometimes you'll need to provide alternatives. For example, if you offer free coffee in one office, but you bring on some new, remote workers, you might want to consider signing these telecommuters up for a coffee subscription service. Doing little things like this will help your strategic cultural thinking download, making you more authentic and enhancing the way culture helps your business.
Start building your company culture today
It's never too early to start thinking about culture. And if you wait too long, things will develop on their own. Organizational change is always difficult and time-consuming, so it's important to start now. That way, as you grow, you can maintain the culture that got you to this point and use it to propel your business to new levels.