Scaling Your Startup Without Sacrificing Your Culture of Innovation

You need to grow but you can't afford to lose your scrappy startup roots.

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By Daniel Newman

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Today's market is saturated with entrepreneurs and their startup companies. The best business owners take pains to stand out from the crowd through a culture of innovation. But every successful startup must -- at some point -- grow up. (After all, consider the alternative.)

Presumably, every startup's goal is to become -- if not a major company -- at least a small business that allows its owner to live comfortably while doing what he or she loves. This requires growth and stability. But how can startups achieve this while remaining agile and focused on their mission, and without sacrificing their coveted culture? It's possible, with the right approach.

Related: While Building A Culture Early Is A Critical Mission For Startups

Keep your company mission clear.

Just look at Facebook. Despite having more than 12,000 employees, it has maintained its reputation as a scrappy startup, and it's been in business since 2004. The social media giant is the perfect example of cultural scalability in action. Facebook's headquarters, bearing the charming moniker "Building 20," is an unassuming building that shares a campus with Sun Microsystems. Inside, the building has no walls and the floors are still bare cement. Everyone, including the empire's mogul and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, works at open tables.

Zuckerberg maintains that he's managed to scale his company culture successfully by remaining steadfast in Facebook's primary mission: To keep people connected. To this end, workers don't have physical or metaphorical silos. The company functions as a fully collaborative enterprise. Follow Zuckerberg's example, and keep your company mission clear for all employees. Then follow through, no matter how large your company grows.

Keep your onboarding process the same.

To maintain your hard-earned, scrappy culture, keep your onboarding process as it was in the beginning. Each company has its own criteria for hiring and recruiting employees and, presumably, if you're a successful startup, yours has worked well up until now. Although your company may grow, your system for attracting and recruiting talent doesn't have to change. In fact, changing it could be detrimental if that change infringes on your company culture.

Lori Goler, vice president of recruitment at Facebook, said once that the company's mission drives its onboarding process. In the interest of keeping people open and connected, the company creates roles around people instead of people around roles -- the same way it has from the start.

Related: 6 Ways to Hire the Talent You Need to Scale Quickly

Remain an active manager.

As an expert in both the digital landscape and small businesses, I am often asked why cultures change and companies fail. There's an answer to both questions -- out-of-touch management. Today's businesses no longer operate on a top-down processing model, and absentee management is a surefire way to lose your culture of innovation. Follow these best practices to remain an active part of your enterprise.

  • Keep your door open, literally and figuratively. While you don't need to work in the open table atmosphere as Zuckerberg does, having an approachable air serves a dual purpose. First, it shows employees you value their input, which makes them more likely to voice their own ideas and contribute to your organization. Second, employees will feel more empowered and, as a result, more likely to go above and beyond their immediate job description.
  • Foster an agile culture. Agility and flexibility are essential for your company to survive and thrive. By being present and setting an example of agility, you'll be able to help maintain this culture so your company can pivot as needed.
  • Maintain a customer focus. Companies grow when they connect with their customers and exceed their expectations. Active managers realize this and continually model and encourage innovation that will increase the levels of customer service, forge stronger brand connections and keep customers happy.

Focus on people, not your bottom line.

I say this often, but it bears repeating -- a company is only as good as its employees. To successfully scale your culture and remain a company that values innovation, focus on your relationships and not your bottom line. Your relationship with your employees is just as important as your relationship with customers.

Recalling our Facebook example, Goler says each of its 12,000 employees owns the culture. This spirit of innovation and collaboration is exemplified in everything about the company and its headquarters, from the open floor plan to the motivational signage that decorates the walls. These quotes are more than just design elements -- they're mottos from the people within the organization, showing that employees really do have a voice at Facebook.

Related: This Is What Happens When You Focus On Employees' Strengths

In short, if you want to grow without sacrificing innovation, don't lose track of your scrappy startup roots. Embrace your mission, keep your onboarding processes the same, and seek to stay an active manager. By observing these basic rules, you'll scale your culture and continue to innovate successfully.

Daniel Newman

President of Broadsuite

Dan Newman is the president of Broadsuite where he works side by side with brands big and small to help them be found, seen and heard in a cluttered digital world. He is also the author of two books, is a business professor and a huge fan of watching his daughters play soccer. 

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