Organizational Culture in Growth-Stage Companies: Beyond poster slogans

August 15, 2020

In a webinar I recently gave I was talking about the importance of cultural resiliency for growth-stage companies. “ ‘Cultural resiliency’ sounds like consultant-speak,” one of the attendees posted in the chat box, “What do you mean by that?”

I welcomed the question.  As a startup, everyone on the initial tight-knit team has a clear idea of its culture – the values and behaviors that the team lives by. They may not be explicitly stated but with a small team, the values and behaviors that tie everyone together are the implicit norm. Anyone who steps outside of the norm can be assured of pretty quick feedback.

But as the company grows, adding dozens of people quickly – almost all of whom by definition weren’t there at the beginning – and the stresses of growth multiply, that culture gets tested. ‘Resiliency’ in this context is the ability to withstand the inevitable tests, and find a way back to the values and behaviors that are critical for a company to succeed. As the saying goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Culture is behavior, and behavior is shaped by a host of elements: what gets recognized, how things get decided, what gets resourced, where lines are drawn in the sand, what gets frowned upon and what gets rewarded. For a healthy organization in growth mode, the goal is to link your strategic cultural characteristics to the things that drive supporting behaviors.

What constitutes supporting behaviors? Here are some examples:

●     Want to encourage risk taking? Supporting behavior: How do managers respond when things fail? Do they get angry? Are they encouraging?

●     Is agility important?  Supporting behavior: Who’s empowered to make rapid decisions?

●     Is creating a culture of trust key to success? Supporting behavior: How doyou approach decision delegation?

●     Is a results orientation important? Supporting behavior: How effectively areyou providing folks with all the tools they need to succeed and then really holding them accountable?


Tips for building cultural resiliency

●     Please…don’t rely on an exercise that ends up with a list of aspirational statements on a white board in the conference room, then declare victory. There’s more to do.

●     As a leadership team, go through an exercise to explicitly identify the key cultural attributes that are critical to your strategy and success. In a growing company, don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone – even among members of the leadership team – is on the same page.

●     Take the time to think through what types of behaviors you need in place to reinforce the values that are important to you. Check if that’s really how you’re operating today.

●     If you’re on the leadership team – and especially if you’re the CEO – you have to create opportunities to demonstrate that you’re “walking that talk.” Nothing works better than leading by example.

The attendee posting in the chat box is not alone is dismissing organizational culture as a ‘soft skill’ or just a ‘poster slogan.’ A strong company culture has been found to attract the best talent - it’s simply a better place to work. A happy employee is 12% more productive than the average worker, and is much more likely to be a brand ambassador for the company. A company that makes the effort to build in cultural resiliency is far more likely to get to their next-stage growth goals.

Contact Andrew Green at BroadReachGrowth here.

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