How do I maintain a great culture as the company grows?
We asked one of our People Directors, Jackie Kibbler, how businesses keep sight of their values and culture, no matter how big they become.
When you have a small company or a start-up, you probably don’t think much about its culture – you intuitively do what feels ‘right’ and it’s easily passed on to your colleagues because you work closely together in a small team.
But as a business grows, new people come in and different teams start forming, you might find that the company ethos that marks out your company from others begins to change, especially if you hire new senior people who have a different way of working.
‘The biggest challenge is communication,’ says Jackie Kibbler. ‘With a small group it’s easy to get everyone together but as the company gets bigger, you have to change the way you communicate and get your message out, especially if you have people in different locations.’
Define your company values
Jackie often helps growing businesses to keep (or in some cases, regain) the great culture they had from the start. ‘They’re quite often not sure what their culture is, or what has made them successful so far,’ she says of business leaders. ‘A lot of it is getting them to think about what they’re trying to maintain.’
Having a company-wide discussion to define the company values can be a great staff engagement exercise. ‘Get people to discuss why they joined and why they stay,’ Jackie advises. ‘Then you can define what the good things are that you want to retain.’
If you already have a defined set of values but no-one can remember them, they may need revisiting to check they’re still fit for purpose. ‘You might find they stay the same, but the definitions and wording change slightly,’ she says. ‘But there will be a lot more ownership after that because people will recognise their contribution to them.’
Embed them into your activities
However, once you’ve done this exercise it’s important to ensure the values are not then forgotten. ‘The biggest mistake is to treat it as a one-off exercise,’ Jackie says. ‘I’ve seen people create their values, put them in a drawer and then they never see the light of day. What we try to do is embed those values into everyday activities. So we recruit against the values, review people on the way they do things against the values – as well as what they do, and recognise when people show those values in their behaviour. That’s the difference between having a set of words and keeping them alive.’
Recruiting to the values
This is particularly important in growing companies on a recruitment drive. ‘It’s important to have a clear idea about your values to make sure you recruit the right people,’ says Jackie.
Sending out the right message
Clearly defined values can also attract the right candidates into your team. ‘These days, people aren’t just looking for a job, work/life balance and social responsibility is very important and candidates will want to know what a company has to offer in this respect,’ says Jackie. ‘It’s useful if you can talk about things like flexibility and work-life balance.’ This can give you the edge if you’re competing with other businesses for candidates. And if your values are visible in your reception and meeting rooms it can make a great impression with both candidates and clients.
On their own, these may seem like small steps to take, but collectively, Jackie says, they can make a big impact. ‘Addressing it from all angles makes for a powerful message. But you have to keep it up – communication is key.’
Jackie Kibbler, People Director