February 22, 2017

How to scale your values along with your startup

As your startup grows, things start to change. Sure, making money and adding people is great fun, but when the office begins to get overcrowded, the culture that made you successful starts to drift. As a founder, it’s up to you to actively defend this founding culture as it’s the key to your future success. Here’s how to maintain your core values as you scale:

1. Post those values everywhere

Keep that fire going and write down your brand’s values. It’s just like branding, but internal. Print them out onto flyers and place them everywhere around the office. There’s a reason that Fortune 500 companies do this—they allow everyone to connect around something shared.

Also, encourage a vibrant startup culture that carries those values through inside jokes and artifacts. These are the objects that defined the company when it was small, like the first conference table, or that weird potted plant that somehow didn’t die. As you grow, they’re a constant physical reminder of where you came from and what you stand for.

And finally, as a startup founder, never stop sharing those values. Companies like Percolate, a software firm that grew from 27 employees to 100 in just under two years, still begins their employee onboarding with the story of why their founders built the business.

Percolate

2. Always stay transparent

Share everything. It’s the key to keeping employees engaged which, according to Chris Zook, author of The Founders Mentality, writing in the Harvard Business Review, makes them 3.5 times more likely to solve problems.

As you grow, proactively overshare – make sure that the team is all privy to things like sales numbers, growth, plans, objectives, big events coming up, you name it. Make it a habit of printing out and posting company news on official letterhead in public places, and keep those all-hands meetings going – you can never outgrow them.

Transparency is also a two-way street: anonymous feedback boxes in the office can keep you keyed into how employees are dealing with the growth.

3. Strengthen those bonds with collaboration

Create cross-team meetings and updates that don’t normally exist and find reasons for them to collaborate. For example, put sales and marketing on projects together. Give the product team time with finance to plan budgets. This keeps everyone talking and that culture consistent. And don’t forget to encourage extracurricular activities that have no business purpose other than to bring people together. Sam Hodges, co-founder of Funding Circle, a startup that grew from 25 to 95 employees within 12 months, credits much of their team spirit to volunteer groups like their rooftop garden club.

4. Keep that first-customer focus

Have you ever been to a small restaurant and seen a framed five-dollar bill on the wall? That sort of first-purchase pride is exactly what you felt when you landed customer number one. You cared for them like nobody’s business because frankly, they were all of your business. As you grow, maintain that feeling.

As founder, stay highly involved in customer success. That both means sending hand-written thank you cards to customers and making sure that your customer success team feels that “first-customer” feeling. Give them individual territories or accounts so that they feel accountable (no pun intended) to each contact and treat them with the same level of care that your first customer received.

5. Brand consistency is key

Having beautifully branded print materials not only keeps people abreast of what’s happening but it also gives the impression that your brand is cohesive. When you use consistent company letterhead to announce events new marketing messaging, you rally everyone together around your common cultural cause. And when that team goes out into the world and hands bespoke business cards to clients, you’re practically shouting about your unified culture from the rooftops.

Growing means changing, but you don’t have to let it negatively impact your culture. By championing the values that got you started, you can keep all the parts of your business fused together in a living, functioning, community as you scale.

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