There’s so much more to your company than what it sells.
The feeling you get when you walk through the office doors is what really defines your brand, attracts top talent, and builds loyal customers. Unfortunately, as your budding venture grows, it’s easy to lose sight of those feelings.
Just look at Starbucks. The coffee powerhouse is a classic example of a company that lost its culture through growth. Its hyper-expansion — which even prompted The Onion to joke that the company was building another Starbucks in its own bathroom — left consumers disenchanted with the coffee shops they’d grown to love.
Perhaps your company isn’t growing at the same rate as Starbucks, but that doesn’t mean your company culture is immune to growing pains. Whether your business is expanding from five employees to six or from 500 to 1,000, your company culture will be affected. And if you don’t make it a priority today, your employees’ engagement will quickly start to fade.
Where’s your focus?
Employee engagement is an organic product of your size. As a small company, it’s easy to be one happy family. Communication is easy, everyone knows everyone else, and you rely on collective talent to get things done.
Bigger companies, on the other hand, require more policies and procedures. Now HR regulates aspects of your core values that used to come naturally, while you focus on revenue and scaling growth. But in doing this, you start to erode employee trust and morale, which results in higher attrition and reduced productivity.
When your company’s primary focus shifts from culture to revenue, your values get pushed to the back burner. This inevitably affects the quality of your product or service, further impacting your company’s long-term growth.
For example, as Starbucks grew, its leaders focused on improving the customer experience by making service faster and more efficient, but customers quickly realized that the cafés had lost some of their initial appeal. According to research published in Management Accounting Quarterly in 2007 — the year before Starbucks announced it would close 600 stores — the customer experience was what made Starbucks successful in the first place. The company’s newfound focus on internal business processes negatively impacted that great experience.
When company leaders finally realized what they’d lost, it was too late. CEO Howard Schultz said that those decisions had resulted in “watering down” the company culture. This turned out to be long-term damage: Starbucks never really recovered that niche place in the market that it once held.
The key to maintaining your company’s culture lies in making culture the reason for your growth. If you remain committed to your mission and values and communicate that commitment to your employees, your culture will survive — and even thrive. You’ll be able to differentiate yourself in the market and increase your market share based on the cultural value you offer your customers.
Identify and expand your culture
Growth is a natural phase for successful companies, but it’s also an unstable time. To sustain your success, you have to intentionally determine which direction you want your company culture to go. Think about your values, your company’s mission, and your employees’ motivations. Here are three steps you can take:
#1. Identify your core values
- Do you have a consistent set of core values that has survived through changes in staff and leadership?
- Do you have a mission and a vision that drives employees in the same direction?
#2. Determine how effective you are in communicating those values to your employees
- Are you effectively communicating with people at every level of your company through channels that they relate to, such as email, newsletters, chat, and social media?
- Is your culture fun?
- Do people feel valued for their contributions?
#3. Look at how established your culture is now
- When times are tough, do you continue to do the things that are most important to your frontline team members?
- Are your leaders consistently participating in that culture?
- Do you have established training and development programs?
The best way to maintain company culture is to institutionalize components of your values so they survive the various phases of business growth. Every company decision you make should be based on what will foster success in the long run — not what will pay this month’s electric bill. That means investing in your employees and your customers. Part of Starbucks’ attempt at recovery shows this exact approach in its efforts to indoctrinate employees.
Foster a culture that lasts
Once you’ve determined your company’s vision, its mission, and how institutionalized the culture already is, you can implement the best culture for your company in just a few steps:
#1. Measure the extent of employee engagement
Your employees and managers need to buy in to your culture and vision, so the first step is determining where you are in that process. Look at how deeply your core values are ingrained in the decision-making processes at every level of your company. One key indicator is how involved your employees are in your community service activities. Employees who are having fun at work and who feel cared for are more likely to donate their time to helping causes that your company supports.
Additionally, you should be hiring new people for fit and for skills. If someone isn’t a good fit for your team and your culture, don’t be afraid to let him go. It’s much more expensive to recover your culture in the long run.
#2. Intentionally structure your company policies to increase engagement
Employee engagement doesn’t just happen. Like any company initiative, it requires planning and resources.
Find ways that are specific to your company’s mission to engage your employees. They should feel like they come to work for a purpose that’s higher than their jobs. Part of this is creating a dynamic reward and recognition system and consistently demonstrating your commitment through training and growth opportunities.
#3. Keep track of your progress
Establishing a healthy company culture is an ongoing process, and it’s important to measure your success. Create metrics to regularly measure employee engagement. Develop action plans to increase it, and communicate the results to your team. A team that’s truly engaged with your mission will care about spreading the culture throughout the company.
If Starbucks has taught you anything, it’s that customers absolutely care about the culture of the companies they buy from. Engaging your employees has a direct result on your business because your team is the key to delighting your customers. After all, your culture is part of the value you offer to your clients.
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