When Tony Hsieh and I first started Delivering Happiness, we didn't anticipate the tipping point of what happiness means in work and life. Coming off of the book's success, I wanted to answer the demand for more happiness in company cultures around the world. In trying to scale ourselves and showing others how to do the same, we've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't.

It can be hard to create a culture blueprint that can scale alongside your business, but feel reassured: It's doable, because we've seen it done before. At first, you might have a successful, highly collaborative team, but things start to teeter off with the flow of new hires, even more so with the addition of new locations. As your business scales, here are four steps you can take to create a culture that is scalable, adaptable, and profitable too.

1. Define your ideal culture.

Whether your culture is already awesome or could use some fine-tuning, the only way to scale your culture is to capture what it is today and define what it should be. Company perks like meditation rooms or gym memberships are not the primary focus here. It starts with your company's purpose and values -- yes, those things that are often forgotten and left on a wall or plaque.

With every one of our successful clients, they've realized the need to create or refine values that speak more closely to their company's DNA. From there, they can dissect values into specific behaviors that everyone in the company can demonstrate. Examples of refined values and behaviors below:  

Previous value: Relationships​​​

Refined value: Create Meaningful Relationships

Behavior: Connect with your co-workers and customers with compassion and communicate consciously.

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Previous value: Care

Refined value: Be Caring and Live the "Golden Rule"

Behavior: Act with appreciative inquiry in your interactions. Instead of asking someone who's having a bad day, "What's wrong with you?" ask, "Are you OK? Do you want to talk?"

2. Make an action plan and road map.

A 2013 survey from Towers Watson found that only about 25 percent of change initiatives succeed. How can you better avoid the pitfalls of the failing 75 percent? By driving commitment and making a plan.

If you want to implement any initiatives, there has to be an action plan (for those short-term next steps) and a road map for rolling out your culture to the rest of the organization. What are the most important things to celebrate and challenges to address? What are the projects that come out of this? Who will own them, who will support them, and what are the milestones in three months? It might seem like you're falling down a rabbit hole when you're looking at all of the problems, but it's digestible and doable when you take it step by step, stage by stage.

An example of an early road map initiative would be to get agreement on what your ideal company culture is. We always recommend an executive alignment session to get this foundation down first, but businesses with only a few leaders might be able to sync up on their own more easily.

3. Create a culture team.

Having a thriving and sustainable company culture requires ownership at every level -- from the leadership team to your frontliners. In your workplace already, there exist employees who are natural culture leaders (we call them culture champions or ambassadors). Take notice of who they might be. Yes, they can be people in your Human Resources or People Operations teams, but, just a head's up, there is probably an unofficial culture leader in every department you have.

With these culture teams, you can train them to facilitate your culture implementation in a localized way. Within these teams, some will be ambassadors while others will be actual facilitators who can train the rest of your employees on how to bring your ideal culture to life.

To scale culture successfully, you can't just rely on senior leadership or the founders to push it from the top down. Culture is co-owned by leadership and your on-the-ground culture teams to make sure it's bottom up, too.  

4. Embrace subcultures.

As you roll out your culture strategy, expect that subcultures in your organization will arise to switch things up a bit. These subcultures might form as a response to differences in regional or work-related functions. For instance, it could be the cultural gap between the Shenzhen and the San Francisco office. Or it could be the delta between IT and Customer Service.

Though they may take on a different form, these subcultures are still in line with the foundation of your culture, so embrace them. Think of them as an adaptation needed to get full commitment from that department, location, and team. Even with the possible threat of toxic subcultures, your culture teams will have the tools and resources to help sustain alignment across the company.

Culture, like life (and happiness), is a journey. To think that you're scaling it now means you've created a business that serves a purpose for the world. So be intentional about how you scale. Without a plan, your business could go wayward and deviate from the ideal culture you've envisioned.

Published on: Mar 20, 2019