Can't-Miss Advice: 8 Business Leaders Share How to Cultivate a Successful High-Performance Company Culture

Can't-Miss Advice: 8 Business Leaders Share How to Cultivate a Successful High-Performance Company Culture
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The companies featured in this article are included in our Top Company Cultures list. 

Maintaining a strong, cohesive culture in the midst of a massive company growth spurt is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Startups like MailChimp, an email-marketing service, and FlexJobs, a flexible jobs marketplace, know this all too well. Both recently scaled incredibly fast. While it’s thrilling to grow quickly, it can also be daunting, sometimes leaving employees to wonder if their employers will morph into “big, soulless corporations.”

To avoid that fate, both companies aggressively made sure to strategically preserve and perpetuate their cultures, even as they swelled in numbers. They were careful about keeping new and longer-term employees actively engaged with their goals, mission and vision throughout their expansions. As a result, their cultures didn’t weaken, but rather strengthened as their organizations grew.  

Related: The Biggest Culture Mistakes These 6 Business Leaders Made and How They Bounced Back

For more on fostering a standout company culture -- whether you’re in the throes of a companywide growth spurt or not -- check out the valuable advice below from eight business leaders we polled as part of our Top Company Cultures list.

1. Celebrate your company goals often.

Company: BetterWorks
Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
Founded: 2013

For entrepreneurs who are trying to instill a high-performance culture at their companies, I recommend aligning on your top company goals regularly. It’s not enough to meet annually or even every six months -- we work at too great of a speed. High-performance cultures happen when the organization’s leaders revisit, refine and stay aligned on their goals quarterly.

Team leaders should be familiar with what needs to happen across their teams to meet their specific quarterly goals. Managers should adopt a “we can do this together” approach by offering guidance, coaching and feedback (instead of micromanagement), so employees can meet their own quarterly goals and personal aspirations.

-- Kris Duggan, co-founder and CEO of BetterWorks, a company that provides enterprise software to carve out and manage goals.

2. Accept that your employees have lives outside of work.

Company: FlexJobs
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
Founded: 2007

High-performance doesn’t equal living at the office anymore, and if your goal is to have a high-functioning company for the long term and to really make it sustainable, you need to embrace the fact that your employees are people who also have lives and responsibilities outside of work. That means giving them the respect and work flexibility to help them succeed in both areas. By doing so, you will gain their loyalty, engagement, and, yes, productivity!  

The next step is to surround yourself with people who believe in your company’s mission, share your values and who fit with your culture, so that it can support itself. This in no way means hiring all of the same type of people. In fact, I very much encourage diversity and expanding the depth and variety of skills, personalities and thought processes. People bring different things to the table, but if they all define success in a way that shares in your mission, values and culture, it will help fuel the fire for your company.

Finally, embrace the opportunity to continue growing and evolving yur company’s culture -- and keep having fun with it!

-- Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an online job service that helps people find part-time, flexible and telecommuting jobs.

3. Be the culture you want to see.

Company: AppLovin
Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.
Founded: 2012

A lot of companies talk about offering work-life balance, creating a respectful environment and being collaborative. However, you have to make an effort to actually deliver and walk the talk.

Set the precedent as the CEO to make it happen. Listen to your employees and understand their needs. Then demonstrate it by delivering on your promises and demonstrating to the team that we really are a team and each person matters.

-- Katie Jansen, vice president of corporate marketing at AppLovin, a business that offers mobile marketing automation and analytics.

4. Talk about failure and support those going through it.

Company: Clockwork
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Founded: 2002

Talk about all the negatives associated with a high-performing culture. For example, failure -- it will happen, so how do you deal with it as an organization, and how do you support people going through it? Individuals attracted to this kind of culture tend to have streaks of perfectionism, so how do you protect them from themselves? Finally, balance: think about how the organization can encourage, empower and value a lifestyle that’s balanced while still demanding a lot.   

-- Nancy Lyons, co-founder and CEO of Clockwork, an interactive agency specializing in digital strategy, content, design and technology.

Related: What Cultivating a High-Performance Company Culture Means to These 8 Business Leaders

5. Lead by example.

Company: TeamSnap
Headquarters: Boulder, Colo.
Founded: 2009

You can't instill or impose a culture. It's something that grows organically based on hiring amazing people who are dedicated to the company's mission and then aggressively removing impediments to their success. Ultimately, the company will reflect the values and actions of the leaders, so act the way you want everyone in the company to act. Most of all, be purposeful about building and maintaining culture. It's something everyone should talk about often. It's not one component of operating your business -- it's the most important component. Culture first, then everything else.

-- Andrew Berkowitz, co-founder and chief creative officer of TeamSnap, an online service and management software for sports teams.

6. Encourage managers to foster a sense of community.

Company: MailChimp
Headquarters: Atlanta, Ga.
Founded: 2001

Whether you’re a new startup or a bigger business, communication within your company is vital. Empower your managers to develop their teams with clear feedback and be active in cultivating a sense of community. Don’t just live your values, speak them, too. Even if it’s just a Friday huddle to talk about what’s going on around the office, this helps everyone feel clued in and connected to the goals of the company. And start actively encouraging this level of communication before you think you need to --it’s easier to start early and make it part of your DNA than try to catch up later.

-- Marti Wolf, chief culture officer of MailChimp, an email-marketing service.

7. Be crystal clear about the culture you want and invest in it early.

Company: HubSpot
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
Founded: 2006

Don’t try to be all things to all people. A lot of people try to distill their culture into terms or adjectives that have broad appeal. The reality is that culture should help identify people who would be a great fit at your organization but also help folks who might not be a great fit filter out of the application process. S,o I think it’s really important to be clear about who you are as an organization and what really matters to you, instead of trying to appeal to everyone.

You have to invest in culture -- both time and money. Culture isn’t a “set it and forget it” function, and it requires team support and engagement

Lastly, don’t wait. Most people wait until culture becomes a massive pain point to address it. Investing early ends up being a down payment on the future of your company.

-- Katie Burke, vice president of culture and experience at HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform.

8. Hire people who live and breathe your values.

Company: Grovo
Headquarters: New York City
Founded: 2010

You own the culture; it's yours whether you realize it or not. Be clear about what you and the company value, recruit people with the same values yet different personalities and make it their culture, too. Maintaining it isn't an option. Evolving it is the only choice, so be clear about what you want it to be.

-- Jeff Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of Grovo, a company that provides microlearning videos for employees.

Related: 8 Companies Reveal Their Secret Sauce to a High-Performance Culture (VIDEO)

Interested in being part of our 2016 Top Company Cultures list? Sign up to receive updates about the upcoming list.
Edition: October 2016

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