As a long-time entrepreneur, I've always set my autopilot mode on growing the business. Startups especially are filled with the stresses that go along with a new business -- and understandably so, as determination and tenacity usually mean the difference between succeeding and failing.
But as the number of staff grows from 10 to 100, the way we operate as entrepreneurs starts to change. While driving the business forward will always be a priority, we begin to see the importance of company culture. People want to work for a successful business, but they’ll ultimately stay because of the workplace environment. Shifting gears from business owner to culture nurturer might not come naturally and can be challenging.
Nurturing your culture takes a bit more effort than just having a beer truck roll into the parking lot on Friday afternoon. This effort demands a constant drumbeat and continuity. At CoreDial, we shaped our business culture around entrepreneurship, innovation, accountability and candidness, and to achieve those goals, I had to learn that there is no easy approach to fostering a company culture. It takes time. But if done right, it can be incredibly rewarding.
For those growing a business, here are four key lessons I learned about how to achieve a balance between running a business and building a company culture.
1. Learn to play games at work.
Accepting that the office is a place for more than just hard work was difficult. The best example comes from when we moved to a bigger office, which included a game room. As a team, we wanted to create an environment where employees enjoyed coming to work and were challenged to bring their A game every day, but could still appreciate fun perks without feeling a sense of entitlement.
I myself wanted to some informal space where employees could recharge their engines, catch up with fellow employees, relax and just get to know one other better. The goal was to create a friendly environment, but I had to ask myself, “Will team members take advantage of the situation, or will this ultimately help workplace productivity?” And I honestly wasn’t sure of the answer.
For example, I saw employees playing when there was lots of work to be done. And I admit that I found it hard at first to strike a balance, but our "games" goal turned out to be a great success. Letting the team know it was okay to blow off steam or take a breath created more team bonding and camaraderie, which went a long way to creating a friendlier and more creative environment.
And that in turn ultimately increased overall productivity for our business. I first had to see the bigger picture of how to make a larger team happy outside of their daily tasks.
2. Learn to host meetings that matter.
No one likes meetings, and making meetings productive can be a challenge. As entrepreneurs, we want our employees to communicate, collaborate and share their thoughts and ideas openly. However we also want to keep meetings focused, and ensure we are efficient and effective with our time.
At CoreDial, I’ve found that adopting the Agile process, with stand-up Scrum meetings, works very well for the software and engineering teams. The Scrum meeting style forces attendees to stand up, share what they did yesterday and what they’ll do today and discuss any issues or challenges they face in their work. Standing up is important. I found that it helps teams get to the point and get moving.
For other departments, meeting efficiency comes down to basic time and meeting management. Get there on time, have an agenda, include the right key stakeholders, and get to the point. We promote a culture of candidness, which encourages people to speak freely. The key is to remind people that as long as they are professional and respectful, anyone should be able to say anything without fear of speaking out of turn.
We quash politics whenever we see or hear signs of it. Having a politics-free environment is empowering for every team member, but to achieve this goal does take the leadership team reminding staffers of the fact that they can and should speak up.
3. Learn to listen from the bottom up.
When the business is only 10 people, it is easy to know and stay in touch with everyone. As the business grows, however, it gets harder and harder to be in front of everyone, everyday. The challenge is to stay connected with employees across the business, and to listen to their needs. To accomplish this has entailed looking at how we hire new people and what kind of support we can put in place.
While, in the past, we focused on bringing top talent into the business -- people who could do their jobs well -- we now look for people that can also nurture young talent and shape a positive environment for them. Mentoring is a really important tool for business culture. It goes beyond just training each employee.
Mentoring can be a tool for listening and developing the business in a way that meets the needs of existing staff, as well as those of millennials, who are new to the working environment and have a variety of different experiences and expectations. It is important to have trusted advisors and mentors, but you also need a mechanism for listening from the bottom up.
A positive corporate culture isn’t just about keeping great workers, it’s also about developing them and providing them with opportunities for continued professional growth.
Learn to practice your culture everyday.
A business takes small steps that grow in importance as it adds employees. Most companies start out with an entrepreneurial spirit at its core, and that is critical to building an awesome company, with a compelling product or service.
But if your business experiences rapid growth, sometimes that entrepreneurial spirit can fizzle out. It takes an ongoing commitment from all levels of leadership and a bit of hard work to make sure that entrepreneurship becomes part of how all employees operate. It can get lost when only one-off events occur. The key is consistency.
I’ve learned that success in building a business culture means regularly meeting with employees at all levels, making the effort to organize activities, communicating openly and recognizing contributions on a monthly basis. We have a committee dedicated to this goal, and we are all challenged to contribute.
The payoff is new ideas, happier employees and better products and services for our customers. And that's worth the effort even if it isn’t easy.