August 23, 2018

4 Ways to Scale Your Company's Culture Without Losing Your Soul

Ok, so the business world is finally starting to understand and embrace the criticality of company culture. We’re slowly starting to move past the notion that free pizza and a ping pong table are not the foundations of authentic culture. At this point, they are just table stake elements every startup is adding to contribute to their “cool” factor.

A genuinely healthy company culture will drive engagement, lead to optimal productivity and a healthy business overall.  And yet, defining what culture actually is – and then finding an adequate way to measure its success - leaves many companies understanding its importance, but not how to approach it. More challenging still is even if you determine a solid way to define and build your culture when your company is small, scaling it healthily becomes an even more elusive mission.

Got a strong culture you are proud of?  Excellent. Read on for four ways to scale it with some soul.

  1. UNDERSTAND WHO YOU ARE. Your organizational brand doesn’t just help you attract the right customers; it’s also a critical element in helping your employees connect themselves to the overall company and its mission.  If you have the right team, they will desire to be part of the growth story, as well as to understand their place within it. Having a clearly articulated and understood vision, mission, values and celebrated behaviors helps to ensure every person on the team has the context to make those connections. This goes so far beyond plastering these items up on a wall and hoping everyone embraces them by osmosis - they need to be woven into everything from decision making to success delivery. Understanding who you are as an organization becomes the glue that helps both “old timers” and “newbies” alike navigate your culture in a productive, meaningful way.

  2. NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR PEOPLE. Your business may be thriving, but to scale your company, you can never take the focus off of your people. Understanding who you are (think articulating your core values) is just the start. They must be well articulated, understood, and embraced by all. That requires you to ensure you have the right people on the team – and this goes way beyond a strong skill set.  Building a team of people who balance those talents with a positive attitude, the aptitude to evolve and continue growing within the company, and the ability to enhance your culture is vital. And that’s just the beginning. As you begin to build out your people function, ensure that every element of your “employee lifecycle” – from the first outreach to a potential candidate, through your promotion cycle, through the day you part ways (and every step in between) maps back to your core values. It is one thing to say “THIS” is what’s important to us. It’s quite another to have your employees truly understand how those values provide the roadmap to success.

  3. TEAM US.  It’s one thing for each individual to understand the company, and how they can find optimal success within it…it’s quite another for those individuals to come together and operate as a real team. When you can move from an “ego of one” mentality to an “impact for the good of the company” one, you’ll be far better positioned for success. Again, having your employees effectively rally around the mission and values becomes invaluable to the health of your organization. That’s not a particularly hard task when things are going well.  However, having this shared mindset becomes critical when the inevitable impasses, disagreements and approaches surface. Your culture cannot be about who is right; by focusing on the unified goals and values, you’ll healthily scale your culture AND find success.

  4. ALWAYS CONSIDER WHAT TOMORROW WILL LOOK LIKE.  When we crafted our core values nearly eight years ago at Rapid7, we balanced them with notions of who we knew we were; as well as aspirational values of who we wanted to be.  We committed to these five values and built our growing business around them. As the company scaled quickly, they become an invaluable touchstone to ensure everyone was on the same page in terms of what was important to us as an organization.  When that growth comes quickly, and you are fighting to keep the pace, it’s easy to lose sight of these fundamentals. You can’t. Having a stable culture bolsters people through the changes in their roles and the business and creates an environment of further scalability.

Culture is not at all the “fluffy” stuff it’s been accused of being. Of course, creating an environment and reputation of fun can initially attract people to your organization; but it sure won’t retain them if you don’t have the basic fundamentals in place.  If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that has carefully outlined its culture, ensure it scales with soul by providing you apply it – every single day. This should be on every CEOs radar screen and priority list when contemplating healthy growth. And it should be something every prospective employee should probe on while they are evaluating whether or not to join your company.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator