Scaling Up Your Small Business’s Culture

Having the right culture is vital for your company. Here’s how to scale it as you scale your business.


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What to consider when creating and maintaining your company’s culture

Depending on the organization you’re part of, the definition of culture can greatly vary. To some employers, culture begins and ends with the ping pong table in the staff room. To others, culture might mean providing free lunch and snacks.

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote that “Culture is how a company makes decisions. It is the set of assumptions employees use to resolve everyday problems. Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say in a company-wide meeting. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. Who you are is what you do.”

If you are a small business in the early stages of scaling your company, it’s important to be purposeful as you create your culture for the future. Let’s discuss how small businesses can think about scaling up their culture as they think about the future.

Tactical first steps to think about

Christine Song, Founder of TopscaleHR always begins her process with founders by helping them define their values. She begins by doing an exercise with them to discover the values that are most important to them. These values can then guide their future behaviors.

She says that, “Values can’t just be solitary words like ‘integrity’ or ‘humility.’ They have to go beyond that, so that they become actionable verbs that people understand and relate to.”

“Values can’t just be solitary words like ‘integrity’ or ‘humility.’ They have to go beyond that, so that they become actionable verbs that people understand and relate to.”

Once those values are clearly defined, she tells leaders to “to ensure that the values are actions they plan to live by and hold people accountable for. Nothing kills cultures faster than a leader who says ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”

Beyond creating your set of values, Ashira Gobrin, Chief People Officer at Wave HQ says that that a tactical first step is to create a very well-defined and articulated purpose statement of “Why does your company exist?” and “Why do you do what you do?”

She says that “Having an understanding and connection to this purpose will help you behave, act, and make decisions so you can get from where you are today to where you want to be.”

Make culture everyone’s job

There is a common misconception that culture is “HR’s job.” This is why Song explains the importance of culture early on to the people she’s working with. She says that culture is an outcome of the decisions and the environment which we create every day.

“Culture is owned by each and every one of us. We don’t work on an island as individuals and we are accountable to each other for how we behave.”

In the best organizations, employees recognize that each person owns culture, not just HR. Song reminds us that “No one person or department owns culture. Not the Head of HR, not the CEO, not the social committee. Culture is owned by each and every one of us. We don’t work on an island as individuals and we are accountable to each other for how we behave. As a result, our culture can thrive if we lean in and participate in it, or it can dwindle if we sit passively and let it manage itself.”

She adds that this starts by living by your company values, and holding yourself and others accountable to them.

Institutionalizing culture as you grow

As you start thinking about the future of your culture, Gobrin reminds people that your company’s purpose and values should act as your north star when it comes to hiring. While it is important to hire people who have diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and approaches, the values need to be consistent.

“Great HR departments will capture metrics related to improving culture to ensure that what’s being measured is constantly being improved. In order to do that, you’ll need to be deliberate about what your intentions are so that the outcome matches the desired results,” Song says. “For example, if your company culture values diversity and inclusion, you’ll really need to create the metrics that will allow you to measure your results in this area.”

Translating your culture to the digital world

When thinking about translating your culture, it’s important to over-communicate your message and vital updates.

Consider the following with messaging:

  • Different time zones your company works in
  • Time of day you send your message
  • Time of day that is best for staff to receive messages
  • Different mediums which you can repeat your message to make sure it is truly heard

It is also important to build new social activities and routines to replace the in-office experience when remote work is necessary. Use video conferencing to connect with people virtually whenever possible. Song says that “People are social beings and we crave human interaction. Actually seeing colleagues and company leaders provides comfort and a sense of normalcy over using the phone or chat functions to connect with people.”

Gobrin reminds us that culture is not something that is easy to describe.

“It’s the outcome of leadership behavior. It’s not the perks of an environment or events or swag. It’s the emotional connections, responses, and way you make decisions.”


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