While large organisations face their own unique set of challenges in managing culture for a huge, diversified workforce, smaller enterprises or start-ups struggle to develop an environment that matches their aspirations. There are some easy ways through which rapidly growing businesses can build a culture that drives their success.
Identify the DNA of Your Company
In the initial slog years, entrepreneurial setups need to have a sharp focus on the quality of their products and services. If it strikes a chord in the market, the company has to scale up fast. Hiring becomes an imperative and tens, sometimes hundreds, of people get inducted into the system within a short timeframe. Stepping up from the stage wherein the enterprise is run by a small team to a company with hundreds of employees brings in scale and cultural issues alike.
Well before this point, it becomes important to identify the DNA of the company. Else, the newer hires, coming from various other organisations, may dilute or even erode the culture of your company. What does it stand for? Avoid fuzzy jargon that people don’t associate with (‘leading with innovation!’). Get the founders, the first few employees, the core team and the rock stars, into a day-long workshop to identify and articulate the DNA. Then let everyone know about it; make every one understand what it means. How does it translate into action? Run a communication campaign around it.
Believe in Values
Values are an integral part of a company’s ethos. Determine the core values that define your company – is it Excellence or Honesty? Or both? Be careful of these core values that you identify as closest to the heart of the company’s DNA – the leaders will need to be role models of these values, the manager will need to walk the talk of core values, and just about everyone else will need to ensure that they do not deviate from these values. Do not pay lip service to these values and park them only for presentations and posters. A culture is moulded by the people in the company believing in those values and then doing whatever it takes to stick to that line. It’s not easy, especially when junking a value just once, say, honesty, may be the most expedient thing for the business. It may be seductive to do so, just in that one instance, but you will be heading down an extremely slippery slope. Hire people who reflect the set of values your company believes in. Don’t hire for skills, hire for attitude. And then weave the values into the appraisal processes and reward employees who consistently demonstrate your organisation’s values. A respectful, committed, humble, average performer can be more valuable than the abrasive, aggressive, high-maintenance superstar.
To create a desirable workplace culture, you have to have your employees trust you. And trust has to be earned. In my experience, 14 years as an employee and then 12 years as an entrepreneur managing 600+ employees, openness is the silver bullet to earning trust. Over communicate. Talk about the company’s performance every quarter, even if it has been terrible. Share new developments, new client wins (and losses), social activities and everything else that matters. Communicate about the future even if it is uncertain. Explain the ‘why’ behind the myriad policies and systems that become inevitable as the company grows. Full-blown transparency has its perils and many managers would prefer not to be that open, as I have learnt the hard way. But it is the only way to a high-performing culture.
Feedback, Feedback, Feedback
Ensure a meaningful exchange of feedback. It helps in maintaining a positive and productive work environment. Keep the feedback as a two-way process. Let your employees voice their concerns. Provide them multiple platforms through which they can interact. Leverage technology to facilitate this interface. Ensure that individual feedback is provided to employees on a near-immediate basis and not after a year in an annual appraisal process. Evangelise the benefits of feedback and train the managers on how to give feedback.
Shaping a workplace culture is really a never-ending journey, although the first few steps matter the most for a fast-growing company. It is a process of exploration as different narratives work for different organisations. Yet, a well thought-through approach goes a long way in ensuring that the spotlight never shifts from strengthening the cultural fabric of the organisation.