4 Ways to Maintain Culture When Your Start-up Goes Global
How we maintained the core elements that made our company strong and unique.
Today, more than ever, companies that start small and expand quickly face a common challenge which is to effectively answer the following:
How do we maintain the core elements that have made our company strong and unique?
During a period of rapid growth, organisations have less time to focus on ensuring that new employees embrace their core beliefs and preserve the culture of the company. Whilst improving and diversifying products and services, venturing into new markets and opening new offices take priority, thought must be given to the preservation of the core company’s values, beliefs, and culture.
According to Forbes, employee turnover rates in 2018 were at the highest level in the last 10 years. Since employees are spending a shorter and shorter amount of time with their employers, their appreciation of the company culture is limited — hence not enough time is given for immersion into the culture and certainly no contribution to it.
Losing people who play a pivotal role in an organisation can change the direction it takes. Hasty recruitment processes that rush through a thorough evaluation of candidates’ personal values can disrupt culture. It’s like putting an unknown ingredient into a tried and tested recipe and hoping for the best.
In most cases, the company growth consists of two main elements: increasing the size of the workforce and commencing operations from new locations. Global expansion can lead companies to rely on communication technology channels more than they have in the past; this usually prevents people from building real relationships and getting to know their colleagues on a human level.
We at Quick Release, a managed service provider focused on Product Data Management, faced similar issues during expansion. Spreading across three continents in a short period of time requires mass hiring, an online structure that facilitates business communication across multiple time zones, and a lot of hard work. Among the successes and failures, here are four of our standout lessons learnt.
1. Keep everyone in the loop
Communication technology has only come so far in keeping us connected. While tools exist that keep the lines of communication open across multiple time zones, they will never be a substitute for the real thing.
We realised that when you take an organisation that started in a small room and globalise it, you are prone to weaken the sense of connection at every level as the company further matures. You’re constantly playing catch-up to get back to where you started from a communication perspective. While virtual meetings and electronic tools kept us connected, they don’t make up for the face-to-face interaction that built the culture in the first place.
Having a clearly defined company culture, holding virtual team meetings, working together in internal working groups, getting coffee together, having team lunches: these were elements that facilitated the building of our culture. When no longer in the same city, we’d happily hold an online meeting with no agenda, just to catch up, video calling our international colleagues from social events — these aren’t perfect solutions, but they remind employees that communication is more than just discussing work.
2. Socialise more
We’ve always held the belief that social events help build stronger teams. For years, we’ve seen the corporate world exploit employees’ inherent sense of competition, however, when put against each other in a friendly, unmonetised competitive environment, those emotional barriers are broken.
Most people have been caught on the wrong side of Dave from Finance during a paintball skirmish or something similar. But these social settings are an environment where people feel the most themselves. Company hierarchies fall by the wayside as relationships build between people instead of colleagues. At QR_, one of our core values is centred around building Quality Relationships — we noticed that these relationships are accelerated as the connections are built on a foundation that is not predominantly incentivised by career progression alone.
Indeed, during expansion, a large portion of our workforce were not new employees. It is these experienced employees who are most encouraged to participate in social events. If we wanted a chance to instill our core values in the next generation, these values should be nurtured across boundaries of age or seniority.
3. Hire based on beliefs
You can’t always tell if a candidate truly embraces your values from an interview because they come prepared with knowledge of your company and are probably acting in the way they believe the interviewer would prefer — this makes interviews generally a difficult place to assess the true personality of a candidate. We intentionally introduced casual dinners with candidates and team members, not only to expose candidates to different people in the company, but it can be an effective way of seeing how they interact.
For company growth in the desired direction, we needed to ensure that our employees’ personal values match our company values. This consequential task is tackled through recruitment and the subsisting employment and involvement of our employees.
4. Keep your brand
We place great importance on our branding. Having merchandise and standard company colours, for example, is one way people feel a part of a brand, but branding is not only made up of physical features. The way business is conducted, the way we approach clients, create documents, and offer solutions is all part of our brand.
At QR, there is a great appreciation of internally sourced soft skill training — soft skills are already subjective in nature; the direction of, and approach to business comes from our leadership team, so getting them to run the sessions ensures that they are spreading their passion for QR to the newer employees. We have noticed that if your brand identity is truly instilled in your organisation, you won’t be able to depict your brand in graphics or slogans alone. Instead, it will be inherent in everyone that endorses your company and truly believes in its values.
In September 2018, all locations from the three continents that Quick Release inhabits got together in Madrid, Spain for a weekend for the first time. There were around 200 employees, most of whom hadn’t met each other before — but that fact was forgotten during the immersive weekend, emphasising the necessity of these type of events to keep company morale and glue together the teams that were separated by distance.
The people that join your company over time help solidify its vision, uphold the values and mould the culture. Companies that grow quickly will always have growing pains which are felt in all spaces within the company, but a subsisting, unwavering culture is what really helps smoothen this transition.
Find out more about Quick Release and our service offerings on our website, here, or our LinkedIn page, here.
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