How to build your culture past the founding team

If your company has less than 10 people, there's a good chance your culture has developed organically. Maybe you've put together your core values, or thought through policies like vacation time and remote work, maybe you haven't. Either way, everything has probably been pretty fluid up til now. Even finding the right hiring fits was probably fairly easy since you didn't have huge budgets to bring on people with super senior salary demands, rather, you attracted the people who were naturally passionate about helping bring your vision to life. 

But what happens after your company starts to grow? 

Passing on elements of a company culture can be a little like playing telephone. The message is super clear when it's passed from the founders to the founding team, but as the company grows, that message can become muddled or diluted. This is particularly true if the founding team and department leads aren't 100% clear on the company's why, longterm vision, core values, communication structures, and philosophies.

There are a countless options and opinions on how to scale your culture. We'll explore five, but we'd love your feedback and ideas in the comments below.

Co-Creation 

When Tony Hsieh was creating Zappos' official culture, he spent an entire year going back and forth with everyone on the team so that the entire company felt bought into the values. As a result, Hsieh and the leadership team truly feel confident hiring and firing based on culture. 

Some companies bring in a culture consultant to help them define their culture, while others take a more DIY approach based on books and articles they've read. If you want to take this exercise in house, we recommend first starting with the your values and your why, then working outward to things like policy, perks, and office design. Colourful sticky notes are highly encouraged! 

Publication

To ensure your culture exercise experiencing life after the brainstorm, consider publishing your values physically and digitally. Companies like Hubspot, Netflix, Buffer, and MOZ are creating public culture guides or handbooks that state their values, vision, mission, and philosophies. Other companies publish their values on the walls of their office, on notebooks, mugs, or other places that remain front and centre. This not only helps aid as a reminder, but creates a sense of company-wide -- and public -- accountability. 

Celebration

Once you've formally established your culture, made sure everyone at your company is aware of what you stand for (and are willing to hire/fire on), and published your documents, it's worth thinking about how you can use a little positive reinforcement. Establishing how exactly you'll do that is a great team exercise, and will be personal to your company. 

Quarterly pulse checks

Culture requires a sort of corporate (for lack of a better term) self-awareness. If you have a value, you should be able to directly track it to how resources are spent, and why you said yes. The hardest part about culture is not just paying it lip service.

As projects develop, fires get extinguished, and unpredictably tasks pile up, the trusty culture guide you created might start to slip out of your brain space. To ensure your cultural DNA and posters don't start to blend in with the furniture, it's a good idea to do quarterly pulse checks.

Doing so shouldn't take more than 5 minutes per department. It could be as simple as reviewing your guiding values and any other cultural collateral you created with your leadership team. From there, ask yourselves honestly how you did that quarter, how you spent your resources on the things you said you valued, and how you can improve next quarter. 

Annual audit

At the end of the year, make it a practice to revisit your culture. Do all your values still a fit? Did you learn anything new that should be integrated? This is a great (and fun!) all-hands exercise, and an easy way to get people re-invested, remind everyone of what truly matters at the company, and it gives you the opportunity to update your culture. 

How did you develop your company culture?

We'd love to learn about techniques other companies have used to define their values, create their cultural DNA, and make sure they stick to it. Feel free to leave your comments below, or send editor (at) hrisdead.com.