It's one thing to build an organization with a youthful, vibrant culture - and it's quite another to keep it that way.
Why is this seemingly straightforward challenge (keeping an organization flexible and entrepreneurial) so difficult? One word - Complexity.
It works like this: Having a young, vibrant culture brings success. Success brings growth. Growth brings complexity. Complexity overwhelms the culture. It's an inevitable cycle - one which even the most Visionary business leaders struggle with, whatever the size of the company, and however famous the leader.
You would think that dealing with this issue would be in itself a complicated matter - and in some senses it is, as Tony Hseih and Marissa Mayer's struggles show. But looked at another way, you can actually staunch many of the issues by focusing on just one area: hiring.
Why does focusing on hiring have such a large impact on maintaining corporate culture? Because it's the river that feeds the lake. Whatever your existing culture is, it is changed more radically by new hires than it is by anything that happens purely internally. In other words, if you're hiring poorly for cultural fit, you'll increasingly poison the water - eventually to the extent that no amount of mentoring and coaching, training or leadership development can overcome or compensate for.
So, if you're concerned about keeping your culture vibrant, here are four things to look for when hiring:
1. Don't 'hire from within', or 'hire externally' - hire competitively.
Don't imagine that you can find everything you need to grow your business from your existing employees - but don't overlook them either. Make every hire a competitive one, encouraging internal and external candidates alike.
2. Hire for cultural fit.
That 'competitive' hiring process? It's not just a skills competition, it's an attitudinal / behavioral competition too. You're looking for people who both have the skills you need, and who fit with your culture.
Don't compromise. They're out there. They just take longer to find.
3. Use a defined, cross-functional hiring process.
To maintain culture and scale, it doesn't work for you to insist on approving every new hire personally. Sure, you'll keep the culture strong, but you'll also kill your organization's growth.
Instead, train cross-functional teams on how to hire effectively, using behaviorally-based questions and panel interviews. Build the muscle of great hiring as part of the DNA of your business - not just something a few managers do well.
4. Move people sideways.
Once you've hired people who are a great cultural fit, don't leave them to languish in a silo. Move them around your organization - not so much as to tear at the fabric of learned knowledge, but enough to ensure your culture is strong not just in depth in specific areas, but widely, across the whole enterprise.