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Keeping culture during high growth

Many organizations find it difficult to keep the integrity of their culture during periods of high growth. Culture seems to be the thing that gets left in the back burner when the focus is to keep up with the growth on the talent and product side. How do you keep it front and center while still focusing on the growth?


  • Love this question, Vicki. This topic is near and dear to my heart. I recently facilitated a workshop with marketing and sales execs about designing winning teams. The major takeaway for me was that it's amazing how many members of leadership team cannot articulate truly what company's strategy, key initiatives, and goals - understanding of these items is absolutely critical to understanding what cultural items must shift or need to remain steadfast in order for them to thrive. And, if the leadership team cannot articulate these items, or is misaligned around them, then all bets are off for the rest of the organization. I found that it's actually this exercise of ensuring understanding and alignment across the ENTIRE company that is the catalyst for keeping the culture relevant, and using it as a strategic lever, during this exciting, and often chaotic, stage.

    Company's that are deliberate about crafting their culture, and are disciplined about communicating, showing examples of, and holding team members accountable to their cultural values, win. It's actually simple in theory, but awfully hard to maintain. Some ideas:

    • Create a taskforce of members across the organization to focus on culture and bringing it to life in all experiences across the company (all company meetings, in corporate communications, the workspace, events, etc.)
    • Hire a person to be head of culture so it's all they think about
    • Celebrate examples of people upholding the corporate culture above all else or espousing to cultural values of the company
    • Add cultural items to normal professional development conversations that managers are having with their team members - create action plans for team members to be better stewards of their culture
    • Create a culture team that is involved in the hiring process for every position - if they aren't a fit for the culture, DON'T move forward
    • Empower every team member, maybe even make it clear that every team member is obligated, to espouse the culture and values and hold everyone accountable to them

    Interested to hear what others think...

  • This is a great question. I second all of Drew's points above!

    As someone that has worked at solely high growth start ups in my career, I can attest how quickly an organization can unravel if their employees do not feel appreciated and heard.

    I do understand however, in some high growth periods the funds may just not be there for employee appreciation and or company outings. Some smaller ideas of low cost ways to let employees know you appreciate them.....

    1) Bagels- They are cheap and most people like them :)

    2) My manager putting a lunch meeting on my calendar where we get of the office and have casual chat/break from the chaos

    3) Stress Coloring Books

    4) Sending a thank you email to your team mentioning something great that each person did that week (Acknowledging that you noticed) ☀️

  • I find that in organizations with great culture, the culture is set by the leadership team. Therefore it is up to the leadership team to guide the organization in keeping the integrity of their culture front and center. It requires work and can easily get de-prioritized. I love Drew's point about hiring a person as Head of Culture to focus on this.

    I have also found that hiring people that fit the organization's culture is even more important than hiring people who fit a job. You will get much more discretionary effort from employees who align with the company's culture and values. This can have a massive impact on your company's short and long term growth.

  • The one topic I'd like to add to this conversation is that for culture to stick, it needs to be RELEVANT to day-to-day life. In my conversations with other business leaders, I've seen a pattern among values that stick. They all seem to:

    • Clearly guide day-to-day decisions
    • Improve results when used effectively
    • Have catchy sayings that become part of conversations

    For example, I once asked someone "why do you think that leadership development effort was successful?" and they responded "some of the things we learned became cultural and part of our lingo. If someone is complains to me about someone else, it's a natural reflex for me to remind them to 'avoid the drama triangle' and share feedback with that person directly."

  • Agreeing with what folks have shared above. Such great points!

    I might add that, during high-growth phases, there may be a need to reassess the organizational culture and what's needed. Like, for the marketing team, we were predominantly all social patterns with high As and Bs / low Cs and Ds. We realized that, at the point we're at in our growth, we needed someone who was wired a little differently. Enter Holly. She's been an amazing addition to the team, and she's wired almost the exact opposite of most of us.

    Being cognizant of how culture is evolving (or needs to evolve) as the organization grows is super important.

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