By Mikita Mikado, co-founder and CEO of PandaDoc.
As with life, if you're in business long enough, you're going to face some ups and downs. As a result, your company's culture will likely evolve because of these ebbs and flows -- often in some very unexpected ways. Growth is exciting, especially for those leaders who are conditioned to expect (and enjoy) changes and the challenges they bring.
Navigating Periods of Growth
In periods of growth, one would expect that the team's enthusiasm would mirror the positive trend of the company's trajectory. It's a cause for celebration, after all! However, considering all of the stressors that come along with growth -- ever-changing roles and responsibilities, new reporting structures, a new direction for the company, office relocations, new leadership, etc. -- the enthusiasm isn't always there. Any of these stressors on their own would be a hurdle, but it is a different situation when multiple factors are at play simultaneously.
Speaking from experience and having navigated my company through a tremendous amount of growth over the last two years, I can say with certainty that it's critical to maintain open lines of communication between your leadership and team members. Not everyone has an appetite for change or the experience and coping skills to manage change on their own. Failing to help the team can have negative consequences like employee attrition, productivity loss as well as a loss of cohesion between team members.
All of this can impact company culture in one of two ways: It can cement the current culture because it becomes increasingly difficult to change as the team grows. Alternatively, it can act as a catalyst for the culture to quickly change. As a company reaches its first major period of growth and new hires come on board, original team members may find themselves questioning their place in the new organization, and may leave as a result of the company's evolution. A mass exodus could happen when seasoned team members don't believe in the new direction or they're concerned that their roles haven't been positively impacted by the company's growth.
As such, it is always good to be aware of which direction your company's culture is heading in periods of growth. If it is changing, make sure that everyone is a part of shaping that change. If it isn't changing, make sure new employees are aware of the current culture, and that they can acclimate to it.
What about setbacks, you might ask? When your team experiences defeat like losing a major client, going through a round of layoffs or enduring the wrong leadership hire, your culture will also evolve -- for better or for worse. Surprisingly, these types of obstacles yield a significant opportunity for your company's culture, especially if you perceive the setback as an opportunity to overcome something together as a team.
A setback is a chance for leaders to shore up a team's resiliency, commitment to the mission and adaptability under pressure. These are not facets of a company's culture that can be defined during times of stasis because they're grounded in the emotion of real change -- no matter how many "trust fall" exercises your team practices.
While you're tackling major setbacks and anticipating their repercussions, your culture is being defined in the background. Do your best to go with the situation and be sure that you take the opportunity to make it a team-building exercise, rather than a team-breaking exercise.
Culture is not a result of policy or procedures, or whether your team has happy hours at 4 p.m. on Fridays. Rather, it is about how leadership guides the team during seasons of change. Transparency, communication and trust are what shape culture during growth and setbacks. By paying attention to these things, and bringing them to the forefront during periods of transition, you'll be able to make a stronger and longer-lasting impact on your team's culture.
Mikita Mikado is a software engineer, entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of PandaDoc, makers of all-in-one software for better quotes, proposals, and contracts.