Culture is one of the most important aspects of our businesses. It is the pulse of the organization and drives our innovation and execution daily. But it’s becoming more challenging to create a great culture as entrepreneurs start to scale and include diverse personalities into their small tribes -- their workforce.
I have the privilege to serve as the CEO of a company whose tribe has grown over 500% in the past year. It got me thinking: how do we scale our culture as we grow our business? As the chief of this tribe, I realized that this is my job. I also wondered how others were doing it, and sat down with a few culture captains of fast-growing companies to examine how they are handling this growth in culture. I learned that amazing cultures are driven by culture captains: the CEOs. Culture starts at the top.
Below are seven attributes common in culture-driving CEOs who juggle the growth of their business and the growth of their people.
1. Putting people first.
As leaders, we should avoid managing our people. Instead, we should aim to manage the work and inspire the people. When you try to control your employees or manage their every move, you limit room for them to grow and and they’ll never impress you. Encourage opportunities to actually get to know the people you’ve hired. Give them facetime with the boss to show you value them. In return, they’ll feel respected and be dedicated to bring value daily.
The Law of Reciprocity tell us that the more we give, the more we receive. The more we put into our individual employees, the more we see culture emerge as the lifeline of the company, especially in service-based businesses. “One of our founding principles is that lasting success can only be achieved through dedication to the growth, well-being, and happiness of the individual. We believe that if we focus first on our employees, financial success will follow as a natural result,” says Shawn Riegsecker of Centro.
Share your time, share your experiences, and provide an environment for employees to grow and learn. The harder you work to give them your time, the more productivity you will see.
2. You’re the rock of the company.
When challenges arise or things get scary, people naturally look to their leader for guidance. During these challenging times, you’re responsible for setting the tone. Work hard; be positive; stay focused. Your team will follow suit. If you panic, they’ll panic. “CEO’s set the emotional temperature for the organization,” says Todd Connor of Bunker Labs. “Employees are constantly assessing the behavioral cues of leaders to distill whether things are going well or not, and in turn what the implications are for them personally. CEO’s must present the spirit they want others to embody.” In situations big or small, you must be the unwavering rock of the company. Then the whole team can stay positive and grow together from these challenges.
3. You can empower and train them personally.
Your employees do not need another boss; what they really need is a teacher or mentor. But they also have plenty to share with you. Educate your employees by spending time with them and by sharing your views, and then listening to theirs. Give them the tools they need, the space they need and any support they ask for, but otherwise, let them shine.
It’s equally important to be transparent. Let your employees see the big picture, or what you have planned. When employees have a sense of where the company is headed or what needs to be done, they’ll feel personally connected to the vision. This encourages employees to offer up more of their own knowledge and hard work to help get to this common goal. Without a clear roadmap, your employees have little idea of where you’re going, and may not be as invested in accomplishing company goals.
Showing your trust in your employees helps them to better trust you. Offer up your time and skills to help them figure out a problem or how to make progress on a specific assignment. I say it all the time to my team: I work for you, not the other way around. I’m always looking for ways to help them do their job better and to remove any roadblocks they encounter.
Related: 5 Ways to Empower Your Employees
4. You’re everyone’s representative.
As the CEO, you’re the face and voice of the company. When an employee talks about their job, they’re talking about you. Make them proud to say they work with you. Give them the opportunity to brag about their job, not complain about it.
Lead by being in the press and bragging about the people you get to work with. Show your employees what the reputation of the company means to you. Be social; be active online and in the media. Build digital banter and participate in interviews. It’s important to build up internal excitement but put yourself out there to get external excitement from the public, too. Foster an environment that attracts the outside world to your company.
5. You’re the entrepreneur! Bring that spirit to everything.
Entrepreneurs are thinkers, creators, business developers and competitors. Don’t forget these characteristics when it comes to leading your team. Be creative; never settle for what other people do. For example, our goal isn’t to have salaries in a year, but to have everyone running their own business, earning from the profitability of their clients. This ensures that quality and accountability rest upon the account holder. We’ve equipped our employees with the tools and knowledge to succeed and now we’re empowering them to be the leaders.
Most importantly, balance the work with fun. “Allow people to bring their personalities to work and express themselves,” says Jeff Gordy, CEO of NeonCRM by Z2 Systems, Inc. “If people can mix their personal culture with the company culture it can be a match made in heaven.” Allow for internal challenges and growing pains. Give your employees space to breathe and to think, and to compete with each other. Some offices hold fantasy sports leagues or have ping-pong tournaments. We like to make funny video series to keep things lighthearted and fun.
6. You’ve got the right attitude.
When you have the right attitude about your work and your employees, they’ll respond positively. Consciously make the office a creative and fun environment, allowing employees to get to know each other personally. Talk about your interests outside of work; bring in photos of your family and vacations. Ask about their weekends and their long-term goals. This way, bonds between coworkers can form and your team begins working for each other, not just for you. They help each other out, working together and playing together. In our office, we joke that when there’s no beer in the fridge, our productivity decreases dramatically. If you’re having fun, it’s no longer work.
7. You can connect with everyone.
You have the view from the top and the ability to see everything that’s happening. Of course, it’s unrealistic to have a deep, personal relationship with 100+ employees and to speak with them on a daily basis, but simply saying hello and knowing each employee by name goes a long way. Getting to know your employees and being personable demonstrates that you’re in the trenches with them and you’re invested in the people and the details of the company. “As your company scales, the style, cadence and forums of interactions evolve,” says Shradha Agarwal, co-founder and President of ContextMedia. “Even if the number of interactions with your team decreases, you can maintain quality communication.”
When you do make a new hire, learn that person’s name from the beginning. It shows them that they matter to the company and you care about who they are. “In addition to monthly town halls and weekly open office hours, I connect with each new hire in their first thirty days at ContextMedia by hosting them at my home for a Bulls game and pizza,” says Agarwal. End each introduction and every conversation by offering to help them in any way you can. Show your excitement in having these people on your team; work to make them part of your tribe.