How to Grow Your Small Business Without Ruining Your Culture
Can it be done?
Most entrepreneurs want to grow their business. They want to open up new locations. They want to reach new demographics. And they want to hire more team members to facilitate bigger, better things. This is largely a positive move for most entrepreneurs, because it allows you to generate more revenue, increase profitability and achieve more influence.
However, there are also downsides to growing your business if you do it recklessly or without a plan. If you grow too quickly, you could overextend your resources. If you grow in the wrong ways, your revenue growth could stagnate.
Even more importantly, growing your business could cause fractures in your company culture. As your business expands, you'll have less control and fewer direct interactions with your team members. You might be responsible for managing multiple locations simultaneously. You'll have lots of new people working for you. And you might have many different leaders, with different philosophies and attitudes, directing your employees.
It's not hard for your core values and cultural priorities to get lost in the shuffle during this expansion. So how can you grow your business without losing touch with the culture?
Define and solidify the culture
Your first job is to formally define and solidify the culture. When you're managing a young startup with only a handful of people on the team, it's easy for your culture to be implicit — and understood without being formally documented. But as you grow, it will become more important to have resources to which you can refer when discussing and facilitating the startup culture.
The easiest way to do this is with a formal "company culture" guide. List out the core values of your company, give examples of behavior within and outside your designated culture and make sure every employee in your organization has access to a copy. You can also take things a step further by starting an internal blog or giving employees a chance to engage with each other on a culture-focused forum.
If and when the culture starts to drift, these documents will serve as your guiding light, so you can return to normalcy.
Make new hires intelligently
Cultural drifts often occur because of the dilution of your workforce. New people come into the organization, bringing their own values and philosophies, and they gradually change what the company represents. This isn't necessarily a bad thing overall; in fact, diverse philosophies and perspectives are important for efficient growth. However, it's important to retain a solid cultural foundation.
To do this, you'll need to scrutinize your hires carefully and prioritize hiring people who seem like good culture fits. It's going to take extra time to go through this process, but it's worth the investment.
Create a meaningful onboarding process
In the job interview, you might find out that this person's individual philosophies neatly align with your business's core values. But it's still important to develop the right onboarding process, so your new hires can fit in with your existing team.
Mentors, team leaders and experienced employees should be working together to welcome your new employees to the business. They should be explain how the company works and what the culture is like, and work to make the new hire more comfortable. Make sure this person has access to ample training materials and resources they can consult to become even better at their job.
Train and support your leadership
In most companies, culture originates at the top. Whatever attitudes and philosophies are showcased by your leaders will eventually come to influence and direct your employees. Accordingly, your highest priority should be training and supporting your team leaders, so they can keep the rest of your team members in line.
Your leaders likely have other responsibilities to worry about, like pushing for more sales or making financial recommendations, but it's important to emphasize the importance of cultural consistency in addition to these.
Grow gradually (if you can)
Scaling can be exciting, especially if your business's profitability its dependent on its ability to grow. But that's no excuse to be hasty. Try to grow gradually and deliberately if you can, giving yourself more time to make smart hires and preserve the culture.
Conduct periodic reviews
Trust that your team leaders will work to preserve your culture across all your locations, but don't assume this to be true. Take the time to verify it with periodic reviews (and in-person visits, if possible). If you notice any cultural deviations from the original vision of your company, make note of them and review these flaws with your appointed leaders. If necessary, you can retrain your leaders or individual team members to help them "reset" back to normal.
There are no rules for what your startup culture can or can't be; it all depends on your business model and your personal philosophy. But once you establish the culture, it's important to keep it consistent as your business continues to grow. Without a plan, and without these strategies, it's easy for your startup's identity to unravel as it scales.
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