How To Create A Positive Culture In A Growing Company
Leadership and culture expert Fred Kofman has a theory that we all dream of creating lasting “immortality projects” that outlive us. Businesses are one such project – but creating one that stands the test of time and is worth being remembered for depends on creating a positive company culture. This is particularly challenging at times of rapid growth when new challenges arise and old solutions scale poorly.
How can a leader keep employees motivated as they aim for a moving target? How can a company maintain its identity as it undergoes significant internal changes? How do you reimagine the way the business works, while preserving the spark that made it successful in the first place?
These were questions I have faced over the last few challenging and exciting years at Userlane, as our company grew from its first 40 employees, mostly based in our office, to over 100 worldwide. There’s no single answer to these questions, but here are some useful tips I can offer based on my experience.
Change is inevitable and trying to fight it is a waste of energy and resources. Imagining it as fixed is also wrong on a factual level: there were countless changes and decisions that led it to that point. Considering these factors, rather than the end result, enables a decision maker to replicate the successful elements of their culture, even as external circumstances change.
This sort of conscious reflection on creating culture is the first key to maintaining positivity as the company grows. Practically, this involves communicating with teams and asking questions like “how would we like to work together?” It also involves considering the cultural impact of everything from company values to objectives and key results (OKRs).
Once you encourage your employees to will the business to grow, they will begin to see it as an opportunity for their own growth – it comes down to supporting a team effort mentality. This must be an ongoing and inclusive process, as only by maintaining constant awareness of the culture – and the underlying factors that create it – can a business become a truly great place to work.
Positivity from day one
Effective company culture isn’t dictated from the top-down; it’s collaboratively created by employees at every level. Therefore, it’s essential that everyone is on the same page – especially during rapid growth – and that means effective, clear communication.
One area where this is particularly important is in onboarding new employees. They need to be brought up to speed with processes and integrated into their team, ideally as fast as possible. However, too much too fast can turn people away – on average, around one-third of employees quit within the first 90 days due to poor onboarding. Instead, the need to get up to speed must be weighed against the importance of welcoming them into the company.
At Userlane, we have found success in creating a carefully curated schedule for new employees. It involves plenty of activities and one-on-one meetings, giving our new colleagues the chance to make meaningful connections – using a ‘buddy’ scheme specifically – regardless of whether they’re working remotely or in the office.
Communication, communication, communication
Communication is also key when it comes to longstanding employees. Maintaining a culture of inclusivity and involving the entire business in decision-making ensures that everybody feels ownership of the culture.
Regular feedback sessions and creating an environment where people feel comfortable voicing their concerns are fundamental to success. Changes will create issues that can’t be seen from the leadership’s position, so openness is more than just a cultural concern; it’s a business issue.
In addition to regularly scheduled sessions and calls for anonymous feedback, decision-makers can also consider permanent, open channels for discussions about issues that people are facing. This type of real-time conversation makes it easy to quickly get a sense of the scale and severity of the issue and for leaders to communicate what they intend to do to address them.
As well as formal opportunities for people to have their voices heard, the business should also provide opportunities for employees to unwind and be social. At Userlane, we have plenty of social events and “off-topic” Slack channels for everything from pet photos to music and astronomy.
Giving employees the chance to grow
Creating opportunities for employees to take on new responsibilities and progress their careers is another vital part of maintaining a positive culture. When people feel that their hard work is going unrecognised, or that they don’t have room to grow and take on new challenges, the company’s retention rate will suffer. Conversely, when employees feel empowered and supported, a business can hold on to its best and brightest and provide an example for every employee of how hard work is rewarded.
In practical terms, this will likely involve an investment in learning and development. It may take a little longer to develop a new skill set in an existing employee than to hire someone who already has it, but it’s important to remember the other benefits that come from promoting internal mobility. An existing employee is already familiar with the business, engaged with its culture, and will likely be grateful for the chance to improve their skill set on company time.
Rewards beyond money
Paying employees fairly is, of course, essential – but it’s not the be-all and end-all when it comes to motivation. Leaders should consider other ways to reward employees by learning what they value. Changes to work-life balance are particularly impactful, with one survey from Randstad finding that 65% of UK employees ranked its importance above even salary.
As Userlane’s co-founder and CTO, it has been important for me to recognise that as the business grows, I can’t be involved in every decision as that is simply not practical. In the event that you, as a leader, must take a step back from making certain business decisions, it is vital to trust your employees to make the right choices themselves, and actively empower them do to so.
There are few motivations than creating a cause that employees can feel good about dedicating their time to. Launching a business endeavour that truly changes the world and improves people’s lives is the ultimate in feeding our drive to be part of something important and, in some small way, to achieve immortality.
About the author: Felix Eichler IS THE co-founder and CTO of Userlane.