How to Keep Your Culture Intact When You Expand to Another City
Say you’ve got a great business that’s growing in your city. Great team, great culture, great clients -- all the greats you need. For many founders, now is the time you might start to look outward. Where can you expand to continue to grow? Do you need to set up offices in other cities, or can you grow sufficiently from your current location?
Expansion isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a local-ish business with a lot of small companies as clients, expansion to a new city could be the perfect solution for growing revenue. Maybe your online presence is amazing; but nothing beats boots on the ground.
Still, if you choose to expand into a new city or multiple ones, there’s one important aspect you absolutely must consider: your company culture.
New cities, same culture
Maintaining your successful culture across all locations is vital because when employees are engaged and excited about their company, they are significantly more productive and efficient.
Because the whole point of expanding is to put a face with a name, you have to hire great people who fit the vibe of your current culture. Finding skilled workers in regions where the best talent resides is one reason to expand, but make sure that the people you find there will fit in at the home office as well.
When your offices are scattered, you risk losing some of the core energy you’ve built into your culture. At my company, we believe life’s too short to hate work, so we do all we can to keep our employees happy.
While this works wonders in our home office, the effects can be lost in translation in remote locations. Not understanding the day-to-day of one another’s lives -- interests, personalities, social lives and backgrounds -- can lead to friction. Such a lack of camaraderie and connection can lead to alienation on both sides, so just knowing one another is more important than you might imagine.
For one thing, it isn't always easy persuading new employees in new cities to get on board with a process that might seem bureaucratic to them. They aren’t as connected to headquarters' cultural norms, so standard operating procedures can seem irrelevant.
For example, we have 50 people in Santa Monica and a smaller group in San Francisco, so the process for getting certain things done internally can be a little different in each place. When team members in different cities don’t know each other well and can’t communicate in person, texts and emails are often misinterpreted
Keeping company culture intact during expansion is challenging but do-able. My company has branched out to multiple cities, and we’re still ranked No. 5 in the The Worker Happiness Index's Top 10 Happy Places to Work because we've stayed true to who we are by hiring people willing to learn, able to stay calm and ready to get the job done, no matter what.
Staying cool in multiple cities
All this is easy for for me to say, of course, but how does a company actually keep its culture intact? Here are three things we’ve done in every city where we have a prescence that make the process go much more smoothly.
1. Hire for your culture, not the city. This seems so counterintuitive. Wouldn’t you want a “New York guy” for your New York office? Not necessarily. Don’t assume you need to hire a certain personality type to fit in with the new branch. Instead, stick to your cultural guns regarding who you are and what kind of person fits with your core values.
We do this by taking new candidates through the same hiring process we use at the home office. We fly interviewees in to see us, and after at least a four-hour interview and some job-shadowing, we put them to the beer test. Can they hang out, have a beer and tell an interesting story? If they can fit in at headquarters, we know they will carry our culture forth in any city.
2. Make new locations feel like headquarters. As soon as we open a new location, the first thing we do is book an event there. My company has done this in our home city since before we launched, and it’s a big part of our core culture. Every event we put on involves food and drinks, mixing, mingling and an informal Q&A session.
In new cities, replicate whatever makes your company unique in your original city. You’ll spread your culture and simultaneously "put your money where your mouth" is, in these new locations. This can serve as a business-development activity, too: We’re seeking people who will recommend us as well as scout good potential sponsors.
3. Include everyone in the happenings. One cool thing about expansion is that it can give your teams a boost. You’re growing, and it's exciting for your staff to be part of something bigger than themselves. Capitalize on that feeling by incorporating as many employees as possible into these special events, especially those at headquarters.
For us, this entails a morning stand-up every day that extends to every person in every location. We also have weekly concerts at the home office every Thursday; and every so often, I’ll offer to fly out anyone who wants to join us.
Whatever way you spread your company's culture, be proactive about including every single employee -- regardless of his or her location -- in events that promote the core culture. As your staffers get excited, they’ll naturally recreate your culture in their specific city.
In sum, expansion is exciting and scary at the same time, but the best thing you can do to make it succeed is focus on hiring great people who fit your culture. Conquer that challenge, and a lot of other things will fall into place.