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Scaling Culture: Don’t Mess It Up

It’s critical for any organization to establish a set of common values or a mission statement for employees to feel connected to the business and to feel that what they do matters. Business 101, right? It’s those values that create culture - which is arguably the most important aspect of a company’s long term success.

Culture is truly the foundation of a company and it creates the framework for all future innovation. If a culture breaks, it breaks what makes a company special and successful.

So, what happens to culture as a business grows? What happens when you can no longer control what that culture looks like in multiple locations or when subcultures start to form? Scaling culture within a growing organization is certainly not something that you can standardize. And it’s certainly not something that you can make happen overnight.

DON’T MESS IT UP

Brian Chesky, Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, sent a letter to his team in 2013. Since then, the letter has received attention from business owners and entrepreneurs alike who are striving to build strong and meaningful cultures within their own walls.

Chesky writes in his letter about an important piece of advice he received from Peter Thiel at a pivotal time of Airbnb’s growth:

“Don’t f*ck up the culture.”

Thiel’s view was that it’s pretty much inevitable for a growing company to lose their culture once they get to a certain size. Sounds depressing, right?

The good news is that not all companies are destined to eventually break their culture. It’s possible to defend and continue building culture, no matter how big a company gets.

SO MUCH MORE THAN FUN THROW PILLOWS

Yes, unique and innovative spaces absolutely contribute to the building blocks of culture. But it’s so much more than fun decals and bright throw pillows. Culture HAS to start from the very beginning. This means that things like the application process, onboarding initiatives and training materials all need to set the culture’s tone.

Chesky mentions that “culture is a thousand things, a thousand times”. It’s the consistent living out of a company’s core values that builds culture. This means that these values should be upheld within everything that happens in the workplace, big or small. It means living and breathing them when writing an email, working on a project or bumping into a co-worker at the coffee machine.

CULTURE OVER PROCESS

A key importance of culture is pretty simple if you look at it in a certain way...

The stronger the culture, the less process a company needs.

Have you ever noticed that companies with a weak culture are always the ones with tons of rigid rules and processes? A strong culture means there is an unspoken understanding of trust that everyone will do the right thing. This level of trust allows people to be autonomous, confident and independent. It fosters an entrepreneurial spirit to live within everyone, superseding any process that could be in place.

Let’s use the BPO industry as an example. There is a distinct link between a contact center’s company culture and its success. In this type of environment, culture impacts things like first contact resolution, service levels, quality, productivity and customer satisfaction. That’s why creating a culture of empowerment is so important - it ensures personalized and extraordinary customer experiences become second nature to front-line teams, ultimately affecting the bottom line in a positive way.

SUBCULTURES ARE GOOD

All employees should be empowered to interpret culture and a company’s core beliefs in a way that makes sense for them. It allows everyone to feel part of an intimate group, while also contributing to the bigger picture.

Organizational subcultures are inevitable. It is literally impossible to keep a tight grip on a one-size-fits-all culture narrative, especially when there are multiple teams in different parts of the world. But this should be viewed as a good thing. Subcultures can help a business become more agile by discovering new ways of doing things and seeing situations from diverse perspectives.

Subcultures will move and bend naturally, but it’s also essential to know when action is needed to pivot them back to the overarching core values of a company.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about how training and measuring culture are also important factors to focus on. Culture truly is a learned behavior that takes intentional effort. And at the end of the day, culture is what people will remember about a company 100 years from now.

Read our thought paper to learn more about how it’s possible to defend and continue building culture, no matter how big a company gets.

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