When it comes to organizational culture, the challenges that mature organizations face are very different than those faced by startups or fast-growing organizations. With large, established businesses, the question is not how to build and maintain culture through change, but how to preserve or improve an already-embedded culture while helping new employees absorb a well-defined value set.
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On the other hand, small, fast growing organizations tend to have cultures that are less established, driven by entrepreneurs who are personally engaged and very much involved in day-to-day operations. As the business grows, however, and there is less and less personal interaction, how does culture stay intact? When an organization is expanding quickly, here are three aspects to keep in mind to ensure that a desired culture is maintained during periods of growth.
1. Culture Is Personal In The Beginning
Typically, successful entrepreneurs are extremely invested in their business. They had great idea for a product or service, and conceptualize the business model. They identified the target markets and figured out how to reach them. In a very hands-on way, they implemented the business model by moving ahead.
An intense passion and zeal shines through as they begin to grow their business. As they become successful and the business expands, they need to hire employees. In these beginning phases, employees understand the mission and vision and embody the culture. Because they frequently interact with the “boss” they understand the bigger picture, and their role in helping the company to get there. They’re familiar with the specific values and mindset of the organization and its leader because they know him or her on a personal level and they’re very much engaged themselves.
2. Growth Necessitates Specialization and a Support Structure
After a period of time, the entrepreneur can no longer demonstrate the organizational culture through his or her passion, charisma and personal relations with the team, simply because the team is too large. As the business grows, there inevitably comes a point in time when it becomes necessary to build a formalized structure to support growth. As more and more employees come on board, it’s no longer possible to sustain the one-on-one relationship-building and morale-boosting directly from the CEO. The boss will realize quickly that he or she can no longer manage employees directly, but needs an additional layer or layers of management. Through no ill intent, those layers of management become a buffer through which the CEO needs to disseminate the organization’s vision.
3. Formal Systems Work Together to Further Culture
Once organizations begin to specialize, whether it’s the creation of the sales department, specialist product development, or off-site production, it becomes necessary to put formal systems in place. These systems ensure that all individuals within the organization truly understand the value set that guides how work is done. A personal plan now becomes an organization-wide strategic plan. Strategic implementation replaces informal ways of accomplishing work. Financial, administrative and management systems become part of a codified mission statement so everyone is clear of not only their roles, but also, how to collaborate in the best way way for that organization.
There is an inherent risk as an organization begins to implement systems. It is also possible to allow the pendulum to swing too far, and to create systems that are too formal or too rigid and create an unwanted bureaucracy. This can have an effect that is opposite to the intention, and create a situation where managers are overburdened with policy, and the CEO becomes disenfranchised from the employee base. It is critical to find the right balance, and right-size systems as the organization grows.
Corporate systems need to be a tool of the CEO to create and sustain that all-important culture, and to enable effectiveness of all employees in the organization.