When a company first starts out, it often takes on the personality and values of the founder. Your company culture reflects you, and the people you hire early on often unintentionally fit into this culture, and help to build it.
But what happens when you start to grow? If you open a new office or hire a lot of people very quickly, it becomes harder to keep that culture consistent.
Having a values-based culture is hugely important. How you define your business can play a big part in your success. Values act as a compass for decision-making; they bring your people together and help you get through tough patches. They also help to attract and retain talent. People who share your values will be drawn to you, and people who feel connected to your company through its values will be more likely to stick around.
Here are some key steps to building a strong culture for a growing business.
There are two schools of thought around how to create values. One says that they should be “uncovered”, building on the personal values of your employees. Here, you ask questions such as: “what gets you out of bed in the morning?” and “what’s been the best moment of working here?”
The other school of thought says that values should be “set” from the top down, and linked to the strategic goals of the company.
A hybrid approach is also possible, and may be preferable. Talk to the people who really understand your company and find out what’s important to them. Then try to combine personal information with your founding values to establish the direction you should take.
Check back in on your values regularly to make sure they’re still working. This is especially important in a fast evolving and expanding business.
It’s important to use language which fits with your organisation’s culture and which communicates your messages most effectively.
Generally, your messages should be phrased in positive terms. Use language which stresses the affirmative – “do” rather than “don’t”. You can always break this rule if it works for your company (my firm Vend did with one of its founding values), but be wary of sounding excessively negative.
The best way to get your wording right is to record the language from valued discussions with your staff. Often your people know how to best express your values, without even realising it.
The best way to inform everyone of your new or improved values is within a group setting. This way, you can explain the process and respond to any questions openly.
Your values will then need to be interwoven through all company activity – from how you make decisions and hire people, to how you reward performance. It will help to list out every area where your values can be woven, such as job descriptions, staff meetings and performance reviews.
It can be hard to live by your values every day. It may mean choosing not to hire a very talented candidate because they don’t share the right company values, or even forgoing a business deal. It may even involve apologising to your team if you fall short of them yourself.