Our company, Nextiva, was launched in 2008 with a small team and a small office. This year we are on par to employ over 400 people. While this growth has been exciting for us, it has also come with significant challenges—namely: how can we preserve a cool startup culture of hard work and fun while growing so quickly year-over-year? Will it be possible for us to stay “cool” in the eyes of our customers and employees or are we destined to become a staid corporation?
I fight against anything “staid” or “conventional” or “sedate” and think a lot of entrepreneurs agree that preserving the same culture you started with is a top priority. Here are a few ways to fight against the status quo.
Keep the underdog mentality alive
Yes, your profit margins may be soaring through the roof, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to act hungry. Instill a culture of hard work in each of your team members by inspiring them to get consistently excited about your product or service and convey that enthusiasm to your customers in the same way you did back in the early days. Reward employees who go above and beyond by doing things such as staying late, coming in early or going the extra mile for a customer.
Communicate like you still share a desk
Your company was probably a lot like ours in the early days. “Meetings” consisted of you and your co-founders looking up from their computers (since you sat around the same desk) and chatting informally. You knew how each person felt about a new business proposition, why they were angry about a memo that just went out and whether or not they preferred a new software system. You probably also knew exactly what they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the latter is no longer necessary, open communication still is.
Separate your departments into small groups where employees have direct access to their superiors. Mandate that every department schedule weekly (or, better yet, daily) in-person meetings. These get-togethers don’t need to be in conference rooms, but could consist of a huddle in the lobby or in the break room. As long as your employees feel heard, they will continue to exhibit positive job satisfaction.
Hiring the right people is, by far, the most important thing you can do to preserve your company’s culture. As a business owner, pay attention to who is being hired in every department and create criteria that every candidate should meet before signing on. Here, candidates need to be smart (not necessarily MBA-smart, but intelligent), have an entrepreneurial mentality (they won’t wait for others to tell them what to do) and need to sincerely care about other people and be wiling to help colleagues and clients at the drop of a hat. If a candidate doesn’t fit, he or she is out; it doesn’t matter what Ivy League school they may have graduated from.
Focus on fun
Back when you started your company, you probably didn’t think about the fun you were having because you were most likely working with friends. Practical jokes may have been the norm, as were happy hours and off-site retreats. Now that you have hundreds of colleagues—many representing different ages, backgrounds and with different senses of humor—how do you keep the workday light and fun?
The answer: talk to your employees. Ask them what they are interested in. If your sales team consists of a bunch of rock climbers, schedule an off-site at the local gym. If your marketing department is in love with the latest wine releases, bring in a local sommelier to run a workshop. At our company, we do everything from impromptu employees appreciation parties to weekly happy hours and sometimes will even bring in performance artists to spice things up. (The Sexy Sax Man is one of our favorite visitors; I even wrote about him last year.)
Take things off your plate
As your company grows, it gets more and more important to pare down your list of responsibilities. You may have gone after every possible opportunity in the early days, but now that you are growing, as a business leader you need to be selective in what you choose to do. Think about your goals and determine what actions will help you meet those goals. Choose wisely and focus on a few things at a time. As you grow, it isn’t about what you do; it is about what you don’t do. Get comfortable with saying “no” and focusing on what matters and you will see your company (and culture) grow in a positive direction.
Yaniv Masjedi is the vice president of marketing at Nextiva, a leading provider of cloud-based, unified communication services. In his role, Yaniv manages the firm’s marketing and branding efforts by working to create strategies that drive awareness, strengthen the Nextiva brand and share the story of the company’s unique customer-centric culture (dubbed “Amazing Service”). Keep up with Yaniv on Twitter @YanivMasjedi.
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