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Preserving Company Culture During High Growth

Operations & Management

Joshua Davidson wrote this article


This was a wonderful question asked on Twitter by @BeLikeAStartup that I agree should be addressed on the blog to help the startups and companies that read this blog daily.

Entrepreneurs often say that one of the hardest things to do is growing, and more importantly, preserving a company culture. This is especially true when a company is reaching a high growth stage, with a lot of new team members, a lot of new clients, introduction of new services, better pay, and increased revenue. This becomes even harder when you use as an example, a company like us here at Chop Dawg, where we are completely remote, and don’t have an office for face-to-face interactions.

First and foremost, here is the most important thing to state about company culture; you can’t just one day say you will establish a culture.

It is built from the very beginning and molded by your team. You can embrace a culture, you can expand upon a culture, but you can’t just set it up and make it happen. The people who handle your day-to-day operations will ultimately do that. Example: if you hire a lot of pessimistic, under-achieving individuals, no matter how much you try to have an optimistic, always delivering workspace, it will happen. The cast you have put together does not support that type of environment. That is one of the reasons why first hires are so important, and here is how to go about doing so (click here to see one of our older blog posts).

So how do we go about preserving a company culture here at Chop Dawg, and more importantly, what are the fundamentals that we use that can scale with any company?

1) Always focus on team health
Though personal health is incredibly important, I am absolutely referring to the health of a team in this circumstance. One of the most common killers of company culture is a horrible work environment. For example, too many hours, not enough pay, not enough gratitude or appreciation, and putting people into too tough of a position so that they will more-than-likely fail are all issues that contribute to creating a negative work culture.

You need to realize early on that except for the entrepreneur (and perhaps the founding team), no one except else will truly care for your company as much as you do. That is perfectly okay. With that said, you need to foster a healthy amount of work to create and maintain focus. Though you should always remain focused on the long term goals, always remember the importance of keeping your team happy and healthy meanwhile.

Focus on working together and supporting each other when someone starts becoming stressed. Do not be afraid to ask someone to take it easy, and to focus on themselves for the day. Enforce the policy that no one can work on a holiday. Do not be afraid to talk about things irrelevant to the task at hand. Your goal is to cultivate a work environment that people enjoy, and a company that people want to work for. Companies experiencing high growth tend to sacrifice this to make every dollar and every minute count. The problem is that you end up focusing on short term results, while creating long term pain due to fatigue, burn out, discouraged team members, and the worst, a lost sense of enthusiasm about your company, which destroys your culture. Don’t let this happen to you.

2) Don’t lose sight of the long term goals
One of our earliest team members here at Chop Dawg introduced this concept to our company culture, which we use every day. Never lose sight of the goal(s) you have. This can be related to accomplishing a task, a project, working with a client, or company growth.

One of the things you see with companies with poor culture; when things go bad, they are ready to point fingers, make excuses, and scramble the jets. With this analogy, you do not let this get the best of you. Instead, you buckle down and ensure the decisions being made are focused on the long term goals, and what you need to do to accomplish them as a team. It allows you not to worry about the things that oftentimes cause stress, anger, and anxiety for a team – so instead, you will keep everyone focused, which not only will help you short-term, it will keep a team bond strong for the long-haul. This is the ultimate win-win scenario as an entrepreneur.

3) Maintain a positive work to personal life environment.
As referenced earlier, you need to give your team breathing room. One of the biggest pitfalls for an early stage startup is that they enforce the concept of needing to work every minute. You see it in the media in the movie called The Social Network which goes from the dorm-room to the startup house. You hear about it from early stage companies all the time, they are all living together in one room, they are not doing anything else except the job at hand. Here is the issue, this may work short-term, especially for a founding team, but it is unreasonable and completely selfish of an entrepreneur to expect this from a team as your company matures, no matter what their role is.

You need to give your team breaks. You need to give them weekends. You need to give them holidays. You need to enforce that having a life is perfectly okay. In fact, it is more than okay. You want them to have a happy life so that they are a happy team member – and vice-versa. If not, a negative mind set will bring down a positive team. There are no exceptions.

Here is an example, we combat this by not providing set hours to our team. Outside of scheduled meeting timeslots and deadlines with clients, they get to work their own hours. Perks of being a remote team (and something we use to combat issues and to have a great culture/environment) are great, they are a way to truly let our team balance their work and life. Figure out how you can make your operations a success while also have them work to your own benefit.

Culture is the most underrated aspect of a company’s operation. Without a great culture, your company will have a ceiling beyond where it cannot grow. Always focus on this, figure out how to hire the best people, how to keep them happy, and how you can give them the best situations to succeed. One last piece of advice is a quote a friend, who has been in the entrepreneur game longer than I have been alive, once shared with me. “Where is as an entrepreneur, you work for your team, not the other way around”. I believe this quote to my inner-core. We as entrepreneurs need our team to always be in the best situations possible, be in the best state of mind as possible, and we need to give them every resource they need to be successful. You will only go as far as your team will let you. Don’t ever let your ego tell you otherwise.

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There are over 2 comments. on this article. Join in on the discussion!
  • Rahul Agrawal said:

    I totally agree that – “it is unreasonable and completely selfish of an entrepreneur to expect this from a team as your company matures, no matter what their role is.” Also that – You need to realize early on that except for the entrepreneur (and perhaps the founding team), no one except else will truly care for your company as much as you do. That is perfectly okay.

    What if you find someone who is not from founding team, but is still showing these traits. What would you do to such a person to keep him happy. Any suggestions .

    • Joshua Davidson said:

      Good question Rahul. It honestly depends. Does he/she have equity? If so, you may want to buy them out. They clearly aren’t truly invested emotionally in your company. If they are a founder without equity, ownership, change that. They have no reason to be emotionally invested even though they founded your company, since they do not have the same chance for rewards as the rest of your founders.

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