People often refer to their startup as their baby. They are incredibly passionate about it, compare it to other firms and constantly evaluate how it’s doing. Having a second office is like raising a second child. Just when company owners think they've figured it all out, everything you knew goes out the window.
Even if the first office is successful, the best strategy isn’t necessarily to create a replica of it in different locations.
As is the case wtih children, every office is unique. The people in each one may have different attitudes and worldviews. Physically, the spaces and locations are different, too.
My company, AlphaSights, has offices on three continents. The company's headquarters in London primarily houses Europeans. The New York office, which I manage, is mainly comprised of U.S. nationals. The Hong Kong office has an eclectic mix of people. Culturally, these teams are as diverse as their cities.
Trying to impose a uniform culture on each location is both impractical and counterproductive. The internal and external elements of each office, shaped by the individuals, their backgrounds and the differences in client demands, time zones and regional cultures, form a distinct sense of place.
The benefits of an organic culture. I strongly believe that a healthy culture is one that defines itself. When employees feel a sense of ownership, they’re happier and more productive.
A company’s diversity is an asset; it allows individual offices to be nimble in addressing local challenges and capitalizing on opportunities. By sharing insight and resources, each office learns from the others. If employees in different locations all do things the same way, a company's expansion might not be successful -- and the staff might be bored to tears.
By providing a high degree of autonomy supported by a steadfast company foundation, it's possible to foster a vibrant, diverse culture in multiple locations. While the culture and people at each office may be unique, a common mission and a set of core values should unite employees regardless of location. For a second office to develop its own personality while upholding the values and vision of the company, a strong foundation should be put in place. Here are some suggestions for how to do so:
1. Create a team mission statement. Poll your employees to see what they consider to be key values. Even if you’re inspired by another company’s environment, your firm's culture must reflect the organization’s unique DNA.
2. Instill the values in your employees. Every employee should understand how the core values direct the company. Invest time and energy in training your management teams on the unifying values and vision. When key employees internalize these values, they become part of the company's foundation and spread organically through their office environments.
3. Actively reinforce unifying values. Hold everyone accountable, regardless of which office they work from. By upholding consistent policies and attitudes, the company can demonstrate how each office empowers its team to be creative, confident and successful, but also ensures that the firm's values transcend physical location. This can be easily tracked and reviewed at monthly or quarterly feedback meetings. After discussions, talk with employees about how they perceive and practice the company’s values.
4. Develop something unique. Whether it’s a company-wide fantasy football league, an official mascot or a special vacation policy, employees need something that binds them. In our New York office, we have a giant panda in our reception area and a pool table to create a fun atmosphere.
5. Celebrate individual differences. Don’t simply tolerate differences within the office; embrace them. Maintain an internal blog that showcases what’s happening at different offices or hold friendly competitions between locations. My company hosts competitions for coming up with names of projects and grants five quarterly awards for outstanding performance to motivate and recognize employees.
Emotionally, company founders may find it hard to give up any control of something they've created. They might worry that a new office won’t fulfill their vision. But founders should have have faith in their teams. After all the employees were hired out of trust. Staffers at the second office probably know the local market better than than those at headquarters. For them to take the dream forward, they need to make it their own.