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Organizational Culture Dilutes

Ask me Anything: Culture dilutes as companies grow

  • 06 December 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Here’s a question that people often ask me: “Our company grew from 100 employees to over 600 in the last three years. How could we keep the core values consistent and in front of everyone?”

Someone else: “The organizational culture becomes diluted as new employees join in and bring in characteristics from other organizations.”

A third respondent to my Ask Me Anything offer: “I’m expanding my company into a different state but want to keep most of my company's values. I have made it clear that I value creative ideas and encourage everyone at all levels to submit ideas. I also show concern for my employee’s well-being. Moving forward, I want to keep most of my values because it is important to me that my employees are happy. Happy employees exhibit behaviors that would ensure the quality of their products and reputation of the company.  One thing that cannot or might not be brought forward right away is the personal care that I take with my employees.

Another issue is while being in a growth phase; our organization needs to maintain its quality of customer service that brought the company to where it is today. These are growing pains….”

The core of your success

Do you recognize this? Yes, it’s a challenge. How to keep your successful culture intact when you hire many new employees in a short time or expand and add multiple locations? How to prevent the culture from diluting? How to preserve what made you successful in the start-up phase and take that with you to a much larger organization? 

Every organization is a unique system, so there’s not one-answer-fits-all. But, in general, there are some things to keep in mind when your organization is growing, and you’d like to keep the core of the culture constant, to preserve your identity and the difference that makes you stand out and thus successful.

There are three phases to keeping a culture alive, vibrant and strengthened even when the number of employees grows rapidly:

  • Phase 1: Specifics
  • Phase 2: Show up and Share 
  • Phase 3: Support and Spread

Awareness of daily specifics

It starts with awareness of the current culture. What is making us successful? What are the core values? And, more importantly, what are the core beliefs and behaviors that organization members practice on a daily basis? This last question is making the current organizational culture operational. That is important because just focusing on values runs the risk of staying too abstract and ending up as hollow phrases in a mission and vision statement. 

If you find that your culture is built on caring for people, including customers, then your homework is to collect some examples of daily behaviors that exemplify that value.

“We care for people, so we take time for both colleagues and customers. We ask people how they are. We listen to the answer. We might spend 5 minutes extra, but we’ll win back that time because we’ve built the relationship. (The colleague will collaborate and share more, the customer will recommend our company and buy more next time).”

or

“We care for people, so if a customer wants something customized, we’ll go the extra mile to arrange it. For instance, when … [add your example here]”.

or

“We care for people, so when our colleague fell ill during the launch of her project, we stepped in. The project launched in time and she returned a week later. She was so grateful that she transferred 1 of her days-off to the colleague who’d done the most. HR facilitated this.”

Next: Show and Support

Wow. If you’ve got this, you know your values-in-action. You’d best collect these stories and examples with a group, so you’ll get more diversity and a larger quantity of “the way we do things around here” specifics.

Next, you might like to assess whether these examples will still fit into a larger organization. It is a fact that we cannot give everyone the same attention as the CEO when there’s 500 people instead of 50. So, you’d have to see how to adjust your behavior of “knowing all employees” and team up with other leaders who can do the same, and know “all their employees”.

Or, customizing all perks or contracts may not be possible in a “corporation” like it was in the small, cozy start-up. How can you adjust this behavior and still radiate that you are flexible and care for people? How to add some standardization but make up for it in other ways? If you do this consciously, you can still keep the value of caring for people, but the translation into daily behaviors will be slightly different.

So, what does your culture look like in the reality of everyday life with all its dilemmas and in a larger organization? This is powerful stuff. This is what you can explain and show to others so they “get it.”

Part 2 of this article addresses phases 2 and 3 to bring your culture to the next phase: Show up and Support.

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With gratitude, Marcella

© Marcella Bremer 2017, all rights reserved