Lately, my company has been experiencing rapid changes. We've hired a lot of new people and let many old ones go. Some of the latter had been with us from the beginning; others had come on later, but they were big personalities and brought fun and excitement to the culture.
I was discussing this with an employee who'd been around awhile, and he said something interesting. His statement was short, flat, and full of melancholy: "Man, it just doesn't feel like Nav anymore."
It got me thinking. I could empathize with his feelings on one level, but on another, something in me pushed back. My co-founder and I started Nav to help small business owners strengthen their credit and gain quick access to affordable financing. The fact that our we're expanding means we're creeping closer to that goal.
At the same time, I do miss colleagues who've moved on. And the dramatic expansion of our team has forced me to abandon practices that I've cherished as CEO--conducting one-on-ones with new employees, for example. That kind of personal intimacy, once a hallmark of our culture, is gone forever.
But is nostalgia really an appropriate response to these developments? Isn't excitement a better emotion, which inspires us to face the future rather than dwell on the past?
If your company is currently beset by growing pains, consider the following points to find a little perspective:
1. Stay true to your values.
Ultimately, a company's culture is defined by its vision, mission and values. Especially values. Stay true to these, and your culture will take care of itself. Stray from them, and it won't matter who you hire or fire--you'll have lost sight of your reason for existing in the first place. This will result in apathy and demoralization.
Drill your values into your people until they become second nature. Hold company meetings dedicated to exploring and defining those values. Publicly celebrate and reward employees who exemplify them, and make it a crucial part of your hiring process. A prospect with the most impressive resume in the world won't last long if their values are different from their team's.
2. Help others to accept that change is inevitable.
A company is composed of individuals. Individuals come and go. When they enter the culture, they build a picture or paradigm of it in their head, and gravitate towards those with similar personalities. They'll naturally view their happiest time at the company as a sort of golden age, because that's what humans do.
But it's all subjective. There's no one best version of a company, just as there's no one best version of a team within the company. The addition or subtraction of a particular individual simply means that a given group is now different, not better or worse.
Encourage your people to embrace the difference rather than pine for a missing friend or tradition. Avoid constructing fantasies about the good old days. Cultivate an attitude of "the best is yet to come." If you can accept culture as dynamic--a collection of individuals whose mission is unwavering but whose makeup may alter at any moment--you'll go with the flow rather than resist it. In the long run, you'll be more content and effective.
3. Be creative and find substitutes for the practices you've had to abandon.
This is the first time in my career that I have enough employees that I can walk through our main office in Utah and see a face whose name and story I'm unfamiliar with. I've had to make a profound shift from personal emotional connections based on frequent conversations to broader emotional connections based on my knowledge that these folks have signed on to Nav's dream and are playing their part.
It's still my responsibility to do everything I can to make newcomers feel that their CEO is accessible. If one-on-ones are no longer feasible, I can choose a day when folks are welcome to contact me on Slack and ask any question they want. If gathering the whole company at a single table in a local bar is now impossible, we can still throw in-office happy hours where folks are free to let their hair down and establish connections based on factors besides work.
A friend once told me that childhood and adolescence is like a rose garden; you fight through it, getting scraped and torn every step of the way, but as soon as you're in the clear and your wounds are healed you look back and only see roses.
It's unreasonable to believe that a company of three is going to maintain an identical culture as it swells to 3,000. As your company moves on from its childhood and adolescence into the fast-paced, businesslike, often indifferent world of adulthood, keep this in mind.