Staying "Small" While on the Fast Track
Every business organization has a personality. There are many books and articles about it, but they all make the same statement: The business personality is what the company is about, made up of the firm's mission and messages, values, environment, corporate culture, and its behavior under stress.
Small businesses and start-ups develop their personalities based on the founders' and senior executives' enthusiasm for the business and their drive for success. Their feelings of purpose and exuberance are passed on through direct interaction between senior executives, front-line employees, and customers. Everyone enjoys the thrill of actively working together to execute the company mission and even small successes energize the close-knit workforce.
As firms become more established, however, the thrill produced during the start-up phase often wanes. In some companies, the founders and senior executives have less direct contact with customers and with the employees interfacing with those customers. Fast-growth companies also begin to add middle managers, who might not feel the same commitment and drive for success. These people then dilute and weaken the corporate message downstream.
Size also plays a role in a company's personality. Often large enterprises find it harder than small ones to communicate enthusiasm and direction. Customers often view bigger firms as bureaucratic, lethargic, and uncaring, as front-line employees no longer have a connection to the senior executives and business leaders whose job it is to communicate business mission and reinforce corporate culture. As a result, the employees' enthusiasm for their work lessens, and their interactions with customers suffer, leading to a perception that a firm is customer-unfriendly.
Keeping the personality of your company energetic and personable as it grows is a critical challenge for CEOs and senior executives. How can you continue to expand without losing your firm's great identity and the enthusiastic verve that connects you with employees and customers?
First, maintain high levels of communication within the organization to make sure as many people understand your company's personality. Nurturing your business's values and its mission through all phases keeps employees motivated and customers committed. Second, be sure that you, as CEO, or your senior executives, dedicate ample time and resources to communicating the personality traits your business aspires to.
At AnswerNet, we send out communications to our staff at least two or three times per month telling them about major developments affecting our company. The communication channels include e-mails directly from me or from one of our senior executives to every employee; e-mails to managers who distribute them to their employees; or newsletters that are printed and put in people's paychecks.
Within the last few months we told people about our work with UNICEF and NBC in support of tsunami victims, and about awards we won for employing the handicapped and for achieving milestones in our industry. We shared stories of employees going beyond the call of duty to support our customers in the face of last fall's hurricanes that pummeled the Southeast. These communications helped our employees understand that many people in our company are going out of their way to help the public, the customers, and each other. In sending out these announcements, we're encouraging those behaviors we feel are key parts of our business's personality.
We also deliver our personality message directly via an annual two-day meeting with operations managers and sales people. Our message is reinforced and increases the likelihood that the sales people are communicating our company's personality accurately and effectively to our customers.
Also, each senior manager spends a portion of their time working in the field with our frontline employees. We see whether our message is delivered properly by the line managers and heard by the staff. For example, I was recently in one office and noticed some of the communications that were going to the managers weren't being posted for the employees. By the end of my two-day trip there was a new bulletin board that was filled with news that the company had recently delivered.
Don't forget that your company has a personality that can be influenced by the CEO and senior managers. It is developed through communication and action. Neither one alone is enough to create it or sustain it.