A common mistake that I've seen many businesses make is allowing rapid growth to put a strain on their culture. Often, in the heat of rapid expansion, systems and processes are put in place which can damage the working environment, stripping a business of its original and attractive qualities.
In just seven years, the team here at AdRoll has grown from five to well over 400 people, serving over 15,000 global customers. Yet, despite our rapid expansion we still have the same mentality as we did back in 2007. I joined AdRoll from Google in 2012 – right at the tipping point of our global expansion. Knowing how important a company’s culture is meant that I could help shape and continue our positive working environment within a rapidly growing and changing team.
Creating a company culture that scales is important, not just for your employees but also for your business. Here are my top tips to help make your culture stand out.
Values are essential to your culture
If you're starting a new venture, my number one piece of advice is to have a clear set of values that you and your executive team believe in. It’s important to make a distinction between your company’s values versus your company’s culture. Your values are the pillars by which your company can make decisions-- these should not change, regardless of company stage.
Once your company values have been agreed upon, make sure that your entire leadership team embraces them and that these values are made known to everyone associated with the business.
This is important because as a company grows and moves into new regions, you’ll need to ensure these values are passed down, because each office’s culture is subject to change. For example, we run an ambassador programme whereby employees from more established offices can spend three months in a less established office to help embed our company values while training fresh teams in new territories.
Help your employees grow
Commit to training and education as early as possible, even if you’re cash-strapped. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do both for your people and for your business as a whole. Companies starting out want to recruit the brightest stars and this should never change – as you grow, everyone should continue to feel as though the work they do contributes to the company’s long-term goals. The only way for this to succeed is to not only continually hire the smartest people but dedicate the time and resources to help them grow every day.
Creating opportunities to continually learn and develop fresh skills doesn’t have to be an expensive undertaking -- your employees can learn best practices from each other. We run an initiative called “HonorRoll”, an extended training program offering 150+ classes a quarter taught by employees to expand each other’s skill set, from Mastering Excel to Programming for Non-Programmers.
Foster a culture of transparency
Maintaining a transparent culture may seem counter-intuitive for a growing company, but being open with your staff not only builds trust, but it empowers them to make the best decisions. Often, growing companies stop updating their employees on their metrics and senior leaders start working in isolation.
In addition, if you’re a senior leader, talk to your team about how you came to your decisions, and give them access to proper information to help them make their own decisions. Provide them with background information, insights into challenges and vulnerabilities your company faces -- the context will help your employees make more informed choices on their own that serve to benefit the company.
What worked well for us was setting up a Q&A Moderator Board. Each week employees can anonymously ask our CEO and other senior leaders questions they may have or voice any doubts or fears. This open forum shows that we understand that everyone has a voice and we are not afraid to address their concerns.
There are other ways to remain transparent as you expand – create open floor plans, give staff access to the senior management team and provide regular updates on the company’s performance.
To conclude, as a company grows it naturally goes through changes due to market demand and other external factors. However, retaining the culture that first attracted people to work or do business with you reassures both employees and customers that you have a strong foundation with which to adapt to those changes and continue to be successful.