The early years of building a business can be an exciting and inclusive experience. When people join an organisation at the start of a journey, they can believe they are really part of something. Assuming everyone gets along, work colleagues can feel like an extended family.
But what happens when a business grows? When a company expands quickly, staff numbers can rise rapidly, and camaraderie is not always so easily achieved. How can that wonderful sense of belonging be maintained?
Growth can be difficult to manage. All too often, the business owner becomes distant from new joiners and that makes tight-knit bonds harder to nurture. It can be especially hard when new offices or branches open up.
Becoming a leader
The reason why growing can be so difficult is that the dynamics of a business can change dramatically. Back in 2007, Robert Kiyosaki wrote: “Just because you’re successful building a small business doesn’t mean you’ll be successful building a big business.”
Eight years later, Samuel Edwards, writing for the same Entrepreneur platform, provided his take on the dilemma. He wrote:
“A business owner looks at things through a black and white lens. Numbers have to add up, spreadsheets must be organised, and people are nothing more than assets. A leader, on the other hand, must have both business intelligence and emotional intelligence.
“A leader cares about employees, takes their interests and suggestions to heart and makes decisions that benefit employees, customers and the business.”
The conclusions of both Kiyosaki and Edwards remain relevant today. So how does a small business owner make the all-important shift to becoming a leader of a larger organisation?
It is crucial that everyone is on board and understands the business goals and its purpose. It is incumbent on a leader to communicate this effectively to everyone in the organisation.
One of the biggest hurdles is that by introducing new people, long-standing members of staff feel more detached from the owner, which can be hard to accept after being at the heart of the company.
To keep original staff members motivated and positive, communication lines need to be kept open. If possible, leaders should take the time to have individual conversations, so people still feel involved and heard. Being available and approachable will go a long way in achieving this.
Communication is even more important when new senior members of staff are appointed. Sometimes, there will be a need to bring in a manager or director at a higher level than existing staff. This can create disillusionment and even resentment if it is not handled sensitively and with openness.
Building a culture
As much as an owner will want to take everyone on the journey, the growth can be too fast to maintain individual relationships. Owners who have experienced fast growth have often noted with regret that there comes a time when you no longer personally know everyone who works in the organisation.
At this stage, company culture has to be worked on. It doesn’t happen naturally. The owner can no longer rally the troops with a chat and a beer at Friday drinks.
While growing, the business should have clearly defined values that are meticulously observed. Airbnb experienced meteoric growth and the co-founder Brian Chesky stressed the importance of living the core values in everything he did. He said, “Culture is a thousand things, a thousand times. It’s living the core values when you hire; when you write an email; when you are working on a project, when you are walking in the hall. We have the power, by living the values, to build the culture.”
So, what does this mean in reality? Building a culture means focusing special attention on the following:
Trust works both ways. The business must demonstrate that it trusts its people and ensure the people trust the leaders. Allowing people autonomy and flexible working is a good start. Mangers earn trust by being true to their word and not making false promises. They must be approachable and honest.
If you feel that others are treated better than you or there is favouritism at work, your morale will undoubtedly take a hit.
A recent study of ‘Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For’ showed these companies excelled at equal compensation and recognition. They also had fewer reports of favouritism or damaging office politics.
A business with a great culture looks after its people’s physical and mental health. Office furniture must be optimised for good posture, and premises should be safe and well ventilated.
Mental health issues are not always obvious, yet the warning signs can be identified. Although work can sometimes be stressful, there are ways to ensure the levels of stress are mitigated. A good starting point is introducing a Wellness Action Plan, as outlined by MIND.
To find out how people are coping at work, try WeThrive’s Mental Health Survey.
A growing business needs to be innovative, and some of the best ideas can come from the team members. A great working culture invites suggestions and feedback from the team.
Listening in general is essential for a positive work environment. When leaders or managers don’t bother to listen, their staff members will feel ignored and unimportant. Managers may believe that they are approachable and that they listen to their team, but it may not always be the case. Employees may not feel confident to offer frank or critical feedback.
As well as encouraging in-person feedback, an effective way of finding out what people really think is through regular and well-structured employee surveys. Find out more about employee engagement surveys here.
The importance of employee engagement
By building a positive company culture, you will inevitably see an improvement in employee engagement – the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.
The more engaged a person is the more committed, loyal and productive they will be. They will likely be less stressed, more content and feel like they belong.
A growing company can have a great culture and engaged employees. It just needs effort and commitment from the organisation’s leaders. As well as chasing new sales and contracts, a growing business must channel the same dynamism into looking after its people.
There are plenty of large businesses which are regarded as great places to work at. Probably all of them suffered growing pains at some point but by staying true to the organisation’s values and purpose, the culture remained intact. Growing businesses can achieve successful outcomes and maintain a great culture at the same time.
Need help to keep your magnificent culture intact? With WeThrive, you can create a thriving culture for everyone, everywhere. Book a demo now.
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