As a business takes off, many founders fear the tight-knit culture they worked so hard to cultivate will be diluted in the process of bringing new faces from different backgrounds on board. With the proper communication strategies, however, you can make small changes that will enable you to preserve the heart and soul of your organization.
Fourteen entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share their tactics for maintaining a well-defined culture no matter the size of the company.
1. Deploy a “culture captain” program.
At ZinePak, we democratize culture with a program called “Culture Captain.” Each month, a different member of our team is given a budget (around $40 per employee) and is in charge of planning fun activities and events for our team. Whether it’s an after-work karaoke party or a pop culture-themed scavenger hunt, the program has been a really fun way to keep our team connected.--Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
2. Stay connected across layers.
As upper management gets further away from some of the more junior positions, it can be easy to drift away from the rest of the team. Management should be front and center at social events, actively participating and making an effort to connect with some of the newer staff, demonstrating the company’s culture and mission.--Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile Swim School
3. Retain an executive coach.
At RTC, we have a coach on retainer to support staff through challenges. This helps them more effectively communicate with one another, grow through blind spots and develop key skills important to their lives and our business. By investing in their personal development we increase loyalty and inspire love throughout the organization.--Corey Blake, Round Table Companies
4. Build in rituals.
We’ve designed some creative office rituals that keep us aligned as a team and help us to step back and get perspective from time to time. A very simpleexample is a daily stretch break where everyone stands up to stretch as soon as the clock hits 11:11. As we scale, the rituals will become part of the company identity and something we can share with new employees to welcome them into the fold.--Martina Welke, Zealyst
5. Reinforce your company values.
First, codify a set of company values that distill your culture. Ideally, these values are not generic points like “be nice;” instead they are stances, like “value accuracy over speed” (or vice versa!) that actually help employees make decisions. Then, reinforce these values by empowering your employees to distribute awards, totems or something else quirky that matches your culture.--AJ Shankar, Everlaw
6. Encourage team bonding.
In this case, I don’t only mean fun and games, but consider a matrix where employees from different departments can work together on projects to get to know each other. Get them away from their computers and require collaborative meetings where ideas can be shared. Then, have them work together to complete the project. If you see “cliques” forming, do your best to separate them immediately.--Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now
7. Put your money where your mouth is.
It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes who you let go sends a stronger message than who you hire. The team needs to see that culture is paramount, even more important than resumes and impressive accomplishments. Cultural mismatches need to be weeded out, and you know you’ve done it right when they opt out in a mutual decision because they realize they don’t fit.--Jason Henrichs, Startup Institute
8. Hire slowly.
If one of your top priorities is to maintain control of the business culture, you need to focus on your hiring process. The people who enter into your organization form part of that culture, and it is critical to bring in only those who can fit within your desired culture. Take your time with each hire while making sure to follow the same hiring process you have already defined.--David Tomas, Cyberclick
9. Run a daily huddle.
Holding a brief daily meeting to share information is great way to create a positive culture. Our daily huddle is an all-hands meeting at 11:50 a.m. where we run through a recurring agenda of good news, key numbers, system changes, upcoming events and a word of thanks. It’s these moments that create the venue to communicate a consistent company-wide message and to celebrate successes together.--David Ciccarelli, Voices.com
10. Measure it.
It’s that simple. Our COO uses a monthly scorecard that serves as a checklist for all the culture-building activities we do. For instance, we check off three lunches, one book club, one BAMmy (our staff award of the month), two client gifts, one big field trip, two “Fitness Fridays” and so forth.--Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications
11. Don’t grow just to grow.
The fastest way to kill your startup’s culture is to hire for the sake of growth. It is vital that no matter how frenzied things get, you maintain the same standards to continue hiring for fit rather than for numbers. This doesn’t mean hiring clones of each other, but rather people who share the same values and motivations.--James Simpson, GoldFire Studios
12. Show you care about your employees.
For leaders, the amount of genuine caring they show for employees through their actions is a huge step towards keeping a tight-knit culture in their organizations. Saying hello, introducing yourself to people you haven’t met and making an effort to ask them about their lives sets an example for managers. It also encourages employees to start conversations with people from different teams.--Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com
13. Focus on the 9-to-5 culture.
I believe it's all about the culture from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Your employees technically spend more time at work than they do at home, so it makes it worthwhile to maintain a healthy 9-to-5 culture. I only hire people that I know my current employees will get along with. Team outings are the icing on the cake, but you need the cake, first.--Jayna Cooke, EVENTup
14. Don’t settle for new hires who don’t fit the culture.
Take the pain of being understaffed for a short period of time rather than adding people to your team who are not a good fit in the long run. As soon as you start to settle, you get people who don't fit the culture and whose presence just waters it down.--Robert Glazer, Acceleration Partners