Q: We are a small company and have a solid culture that took us awhile to build. But now we are starting to grow and am concerned about how to keep our culture intact. Any advice?
A: I was very happy to see this question as culture is a huge passion of mine. I joined Vistaprint because of the culture, and I’ve worked hard to deliberately nurture it, as well as evolve it over time as we’ve grown.
Here are some ideas so you can do the same:
Work with a core group of leaders and employees from the start to develop a document.
We recently went through a process where the leadership team captured the essence of our culture and documented it on paper. It was then shared with employees through roundtables to iterate on the intent, meaning and finally, the language required to bring it to life for all to understand and emulate. Our goal was to have something that represents who we are at our very best. I think it’s important that this articulation be both authentic and aspirational.
There are different forms that this document can take. In the past we’ve described our culture using guiding principles -- principles we asked everyone to evaluate when making decisions. Now we describe our culture using mindsets and behaviors. Others use attributes or values. Whatever approach you take, I believe having a document that describes culture in the way you think about it is a critical tool to create alignment within the entire organization. But it is also important to establish your cultural norms from the earliest stages of your company’s formation. During high-growth phases, decisions get made quickly and new employees are being hired at a rapid pace, making it all the more important to have a shared understanding of your company’s culture.
Share the culture with new employees – starting with the recruiting process and throughout.
If you’ve described your culture well, it will be something that will attract the right type of employee. Conversely, it makes it clear to those who don’t live up to cultural expectations that they are not a fit. For example, some people thrive on fast pace and change, others want an environment that is more stable. Some like highly analytic environments, others, like creative. It can be interesting to describe who you are and who you are not as an explicit way of helping newcomers understand and contribute to the culture you want to maintain.
Think deliberately about what you can do to better live your culture.
If your culture is described in aspirational terms, then there are always actions you can take to exhibit the behaviors that align with your culture.
At Vistaprint, for example, we strive to make a real difference in the lives of business owners. Our conference rooms are named after the businesses of our customers. When I speak to the organization I bring in stories, pictures and videos of customer interactions I’ve had. We make deliberate and big choices that favor our customers over our short-term result and celebrate this. These types of actions help to set the tone for the type of company we want to be at all times, and demonstrate that the mindset of customer focus we describe is not just words on paper.
Whether you take these steps or not, your organization will develop a very distinct culture. Spending time early, particularly before an inflection of growth, to set the bar, communicate it, and then align your actions to that culture will help you keep your culture intact, and perhaps even bring it to the next level.