The concept of startup culture, which is synonymous with open innovation, agility, risk-taking and bootstrapping your way to success, has become the antithesis to traditional corporate hierarchy. Most small businesses (and even some large corporations like Samsung) want to emulate the success formula of startups. That begins with defining a clear company culture around the core values of its founders.
It’s a process that happens almost organically in any startup. What’s challenging later is preserving and scaling your company culture as your business grows, as more people join the team and it becomes more successful.
Facebook is one of the most highly valued companies in the world, but it hasn’t forgotten its roots, even designing its now much larger workspaces to have the same feel as when it was a scrappy startup. Its corporate headquarters still has cement floors, an open layout and walls the staff is encouraged to write on.
However, staying true to its culture has been a very deliberate process, something that often eludes other companies experiencing rapid growth. As your hiring ramps up, and funding rounds come in, that’s when your culture is most at risk. So, to avoid diluting the true nature of your company culture, follow these strategies:
Never deviate from your mission.
Would it surprise you to learn that Netflix still uses the deck created in 2009 to define its culture today? Despite the evolution of its business model, Netflix still values the same nine key behaviors and skills in its workforce (judgment, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty and selflessness).
Think about the value set your team members must have, and circle back to it often in team meetings, company outings, employee reviews and elsewhere.
Don’t neglect cultural fit during the hiring process.
Bringing a mismatched candidate on board can disrupt the entire ecosystem of your company, becoming a costly mistake. That’s why Joshua Reeves, CEO of Gusto, says each hire, whether it’s the tenth or the thousandth, should meet the same rigorous hiring standards. The job interview process should be less a sales pitch than a search for alignment between the company and a candidate, he says.
Stick with a strong onboarding process.
During the early days of a startup, each hire is a big deal, garnering the personal attention of the company’s C-suite. But as time goes on, HR departments take over the process of getting new employees up to speed. That’s practical, but it doesn’t mean that company leadership should be disconnected from the process altogether, writes Matt Barba, cofounder, and CEO of Placester, a real estate marketing platform. “Leaders in particular should remain active, making appropriate introductions and injecting a personal touch in order to attract top candidates — all while conveying and preserving your work culture.”
Make sure your people own the culture.
Facebook culture has scaled so successfully because it doesn’t just belong to the executives, says Lori Goler, Facebook’s vice president of people, in an interview. “If we have 10,000 people who work at Facebook, you would have 10,000 people tell you that they own the culture. We hire people who are like that. We express it to them during the hiring process and the recruiting process. We talk about it on their first day and their first week.”
Look for long-time employees to preach the culture.
When subscription beauty box company Birchbox expanded rapidly, and as a result, sought to hire people with expertise that was even beyond the company leadership’s, they realized their early employees had a critical task — to keep the culture of the company thriving. “The old guard didn’t come in with as much industry experience, but they are super-skilled at ‘Birchbox’ — at our vision and practices,” explains cofounder Katia Beauchamp.
Identify the gaps, but fill them carefully.
Bringing in specialists as a business grows is a best practice, but you shouldn’t sacrifice cultural fit in the process. As Doug Bewsher, CEO of San Francisco-based tech firm Leadspace, explains: It’s not just about hiring someone with a dazzling skill set. You must be clear about who you are as an organization and what you’re trying to do, so that you can find people who align with your goals.
Staying true to your company’s roots is challenging, but definitely doable if you keep these strategies in mind — just ask Facebook!