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When Start-Ups Grow Up: Three Must-Haves For Changing Culture

I am currently consulting with a start-up client that is getting ready to “put on” its big boy pants. Over the last five years the company has grown to about 30 employees and has annual revenues of $25 million. The leaders of this team are beginning to realize that the high-energy days of a small team wearing multiple hats are over, and it’s time to develop leaders and processes to support the client’s strategic direction, and ensure that all employees are familiar with the values and behaviors that make my clients start-up special.

changing culture

This work shed light on three must-haves for transforming a start-up culture:-

# 1. Values

When start-ups grow up, the company’s “stand-fors” or values must be committed to writing by the senior leaders of the organization. Values tell new employees, as well as those who’ve been around since the beginning, what the company is all about. Committing these to writing is helpful when on-boarding new employees and helping others assimilate to the company’s culture. Word of mouth isn’t enough when spans of control increase.

# 2. Competent leaders

When start-ups grow up leadership is essential for success. Start ups often struggle with putting technically competent employees in positions of managing employees within their discipline. This can be a huge jump for new leaders. Putting structured processes like coaching and leadership development programs to integrate new leaders and their teams is essential for accelerating new leaders’ success in their new roles.

# 3.  A People/Change plan

Most start ups don’t have the luxury of a well-trained HR or OD leader in their organization. However, when start-ups grow up a change management plan for proactively and rigorously managing the impact of change on people is a worthwhile investment. Why? Because changes in technology, organizational structure, roles, and titles have major impacts on employee morale, workplace culture, and productivity. A stakeholder engagement plan, communications plan, and team development plan can help mitigate the risks to productivity and culture that major changes pose.

Growth is fun for entrepreneurs and founding members of a start-up. However, undisciplined growth when it comes to people and culture can threaten the strategic and financial direction of a fledgling organization. Leaders of start-ups can proactively manage growth by defining their cultural values, developing competent leaders through coaching, and formalizing a change management plan that accounts for the impact of change on people and culture.

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Images:  ”Strategy Structure Culture Organizational Structure /

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D. is a consultant, coach, and writer. He works with leaders and executives to build healthy teams, increase employee engagement, and align organizational culture with business strategy. Currently, Dr. Groscurth is Lead Consultant for Engagement at Trinity Health, a 65,000 employee Catholic health care system. Chris blogs at Positive Work and Tweets @CRGroscurth

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  • Hi Chris, I think your point second point is really important and sometimes, fairly difficult to solve. But as you say, you must put processes in place like coaching and leadership development. in the first instance.

  • Hi Chris,

    I think one of the most important points you allude to here is that a company’s culture must be based on behaviors and values already inherent. In other words, company culture is based on creating processes that support values already present in the company. Changing company culture and values is a different matter entirely and I think some teams when going through the process don’t think hard enough about the basic culture that already exists and how much this affects everything built upon it. Thanks for your post and thanks to Sian Phillips for sharing it with the BizSugar community.

  • Mys Palmer

    Hiya Chris,

    Love the title. When start-ups grow up! It made me smile. I think you’re spot on. A small business may not stay small and scaling up will be difficult without core foundations. Even huge corporations fumble on boarding and leadership. Start-ups can get this right early on and have a plan for tweaking as the company reaches beyond its pubescent stage. Great tips!

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