5 Ways to Build a Great Company Culture While Scaling

startup company culture

Company culture is something that changes over time: it’ll look quite different in a company of 15 employees as compared to 75 employees. Nevertheless, there are tangible steps that HR and founders can take to ensure that culture remains robust even as you scale quickly:

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1. Encourage founders to be active in addressing issues as they arise.

Even as the company grows, founders still have a vital role to play in keeping company culture strong. HR experts recommend that founders get actively involved in talking with employees if there are signs of cultural decay.

Since some founders are less endowed with social skills, HR may need to nudge them on occasion. Peter Phelan, founder and CEO of ValuesCulture, recommends HR personnel talk to founders regularly about culture and prompting them to hold one-on-one conversations with employees. Even something so simple as “Have you seen Mary recently?” can make a big impact.

2. Give people responsibility over culture-building activities.

Social events are important for cementing company culture. To maximize their effect, allow employees to assume responsibility for organizing them.

Margaret Dwywer, Senior Manager of People Operations at SiteCompli, says their departments organize monthly happy hours. The department is responsible for selecting a theme, location, and other details. For example, the company recently hosted a New York-themed event featuring alcohol from all the boroughs. She explains, “Employees have ownership over making that event happen and bringing people together. That helps people take ownership and really play a part in bringing the group together.”

3. Host “lunch lottos” so employees can socialize across rank and department.

When your company is small, everyone naturally has lunch with different people every day. Unfortunately, that becomes harder as the company grows. Dwywer recommends lunch lottos: “Every two weeks, we run an algorithm which picks four different employees from departments and different tenure levels. We pay for them to go to lunch together.”

Lunch lotto participants can choose how to organize the event themselves, independent of HR control. This allows attendees to meet and get to know employees from around the company. These simple events help inculcate the sense that everyone is in it together.

4. Put in place systems that allow employees to provide feedback.

Informal systems of feedback are great, but you should also have formal systems that allow employees the opportunity to offer their thoughts on what is and isn’t working. Phelan says, “Ask the team what they think would be great for the organization. Sometimes they’ll surprise you and they won’t ask for more happy hours. They might just say ‘we need to know more regularly what’s going on with company strategy. We don’t know if our daily work is actually moving the needle at all and it’s frustrating.’” 

After asking employees to share their thoughts, follow up on their feedback. Phelan recommends: “Keep a very active conversation around whatever you implement so that people feel they have their fingerprints on the solution.”

In addition to verbal discussions, engagement surveys are a great method for gathering information about employees’ desires and satisfaction. As your company grows larger, engagement surveys are a more efficient way to collect feedback from all employees.

5. Establish and nurture a culture of transparency.

Transparency is critical for employee satisfaction, but transparency is increasingly difficult when scaling.

To promote transparency, experts recommend establishing strong systems of communication for letting everyone know about company-wide news. Over-communicating is preferable to leaving people in the dark. You will need to rely on your middle managers to communicate important points on a day-to-day basis. Alex Adamson, Director of Talent at Bowery Capital, says “It’s top down from your main leaders to your middle managers who are there for trickling down that information. They all have to be on the same page.” Adamson recommends regular meetings to ensure unity in messaging.

When it comes to issues such as compensation, total transparency isn’t always possible. However, HR personnel can do a lot to educate your staff about the process of asking for and granting raises. By taking the time to do so, your employees will gain a respect for the process, and will be more likely to make their requests for increased pay in an appropriate and productive manner.

Building and maintaining a great company culture is a major, ongoing project. By following these best practices, you can boost your team’s morale and make your company a great place to work.

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Senior Marketing Manager @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.