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Culture grows

Ask me Anything: Culture grows through interactions

  • 21 December 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Here’s part 2 of answering this question: “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?”

In part 1, we saw that there are three phases to keeping a culture alive, vibrant and strong even when the number of employees grows rapidly:

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

This week, we’ll continue with phases 2 and 3: Show up and Support. The bottom line is: culture is learned and grows through interactions. Interactions need people…!

Show up and embody the culture

I just used the word “show up.” You cannot share anything until you show up. A culture develops everywhere people get together. They copy each other automatically, and a “normal way we do things around here” emerges. That happens anyway, so you’d better direct that process consciously if you want to keep the culture going in the “right direction.”

Because of the copy mechanism of culture, you need people that embody the current culture to be the role model that the new hires can copy. If you put a bunch of new hires together in a team, they’ll develop their own little subculture - that might not fit your organization. So, you’d need to mix old and new people carefully. You need great advocates of the current culture, who walk the talk. They can lead some newbies to fit in as well. Action speaks louder than words.

This is really important. There’s only one of you, as the CEO of your own company, or the middle manager in a growing organization. So, we’re tempted to issue a mission statement with values, or a culture decree and send that to all.

But those will be a “paper tigers” if you and other culture-models do not show up. People need to see, hear, and do the culture behaviors to copy them on a consistent basis. Reading won’t do it. The famous culture handbook of Zappos wouldn’t be effective if new hires wouldn’t also notice the majority around them actually doing those behaviors.

That’s why you’d have to find the “culture agents” if you don’t already know them and work with them. Do the “awareness session” with them, so they’ll see all the successful behaviors that form the core of the culture you’d like to preserve. 

Next, disperse them through the organization so they can inspire the new hires to do the same. People learn fast if they can copy others!

Support and spread

The third phase is to further support this process and help the current culture spread through the growing organization. It’s in the support phase that you can use “mass media” for convenience to help the culture spread. Now you can produce and spread the culture handbook, the videos showing the core of the culture on the Intranet, the HR onboarding sessions with new staff and the mission statement, if you must. That’s all internal communication.

Next, you can help it spread by offering all leaders, from supervisors to the C-Suite, culture sessions where they find their specific daily behaviors that align with the culture. Afterwards, they’ll be more aware of culture, and it may be easier for them to show up and share those behaviors with their people. 

Check for impediments that block support as well. How are the structure, procedures, and policies? Do they help or hinder the current culture? Do they consciously embody the values? If not, they need to be adjusted so there won’t be any confusion.

For instance: If we say we care about people but we ask them to justify all their business expenses, including those below 5 USD, and they have to prove them by submitting receipts: does that exemplify trust? Does that embody efficiency?

Conclusion

So, looking at the answers asked at the beginning, I’d say:

Growing from 100 to 600 people and keeping the core values alive is possible if you embody and role-model them. People will not copy value statements on the wall, they copy real people, be they, leaders or colleagues. The organizational culture won’t be diluted if you educate people and show them the way we do things around here.

To the CEO with his growing company: Keep showing people that you care for them. Go through these three phases of carefully crafting and scaling the culture. Make sure to engage your middle managers in the process so that they become role-models and they breathe care for people, too.

Good luck and please share your stories and questions below.

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With gratitude, Marcella

© Marcella Bremer 2017, all rights reserved