The Key To Maintaining Company Culture During Rapid Scale

By Guest Post

An Interview with Michael Costuros

“Is it scalable?” This is the first question you often get asked as an entrepreneur.

Scale, scale, scale…everyone wants to do it, and it sounds soooo good. But far too frequently when we think of “scaling”, we think only of the end result – the amazing pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Truth is, that rainbow is more like a rocky road and you will inevitably face many challenges, as well as unforeseen (and unimagined!) obstacles, as you pave the road of sustainable growth.

I recently interviewed Michael Costuros, founder of SaaS company liveBooks.com and currently a leadership coach for startup executive teams.  Michael offered super-valuable insights into the hurdles that companies face when it comes to scaling the culture you want along the growth trajectory.

Shouting above the win

What are the common mistakes companies make when scaling with regards to company culture? And is there a tipping point in company size where major danger zones exist?

You can’t talk about company culture without talking about communication. Most think that culture is created by the mission, environment and personality of the company, but really, the company culture is an emergent quality of the communication style and practices of the people in the organization. If you just design your culture of communication, you can keep the culture you love as you grow.

Startups usually begin with two founders who are involved with everything, and the culture tone is set. As they steadily bring on new people, the culture continues to grow and is embraced by the team. Then something changes around 20 people. Once companies grow to this level, each team member will have less time for each other. Sometimes a few people have been brought on primarily for their skill set, but they are not a great fit for the company culture and can dilute it.

Typically around this time, founders start feeling some concern about their company culture, and wonder how they will be able to maintain what they love about it while they continue to scale. This is the time that setting the mission, vision and core values all of a sudden becomes a real priority. But all too often the key element, communication, is neglected, and despite best efforts, maintaining the culture is a struggle.

Start now

When is the right time to develop a strong culture? Is it ever too late?

The ideal time to identify and solidify the company’s communication culture is when it is small, around 5 to 10 people. If you don’t already have a well-defined culture, start now no matter how big the company is.  Here are some tips for developing yours:

Notice the natural style of your current communication among the leadership team.

What’s working great? What do you want to see more of?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you ACTUALLY, (not just in principal), value speaking your truth, healthy opposition or conflict, transparency, humor, accountability, or whatever other traits you want to cultivate in your organization.

Leaders establish the tone for the company values and culture. Set intentions to increase the behaviors that you want, and remove what is not working. Once the leadership team walks its talk, you can roll it out to the company.

The art of asking questions

Once a culture of communication is established how do you maintain it?

I see 15Five as the perfect tool for implementing your core communication culture. If you just design the questions, and encourage employees to respond using the communication guidelines of your culture, then each time they engage with 15Five, they will be consistently strengthening the core company culture during the most important information exchanges of the week.

In summary, I agree that a company culture is like a complex jungle ecosystem. If you approach it from the wrong perspective, it can seem unmanageable. However, if you focus on strengthening the highest leverage influencers in the ecosystem, like old growth trees, then the ecosystem culture will naturally thrive.

Photo Credit: Billy Gast

Here’s your chance to get some quick coaching! Leave a specific question for Michael in the comments section below.



Some of the world's most successful businesses use 15Five to maintain a healthy company culture. Learn How!


  • Malissa

    I have a follow up question on the next tipping point levels. Are there required cultural adjustments once your company is at 100, 1000, 20,000, 250,000 or a million employees? How do you adjust during those periods of rapid growth?

    • @disqus_EP1iT0RojD:disqus thank you for your comment. There are of course different strategies for different sized companies. But even at 1 million employees – congratulations by the way 😉 – the core values and cultural touchstones set by leadership can trickle down and be managed at all of the different levels via the fundamental principles of streamlined open communication, managers as mentors, being deliberate about employee growth and development…etc… This blog post/webinar recording has some more great advice (and not just for remote teams): https://www.15five.com/blog/how-create-high-performing-remote-company-culture/

      • Malissa

        Thank you @davidmizne:disqus so much for the quick reply. I am not asking for my own company – but that would be cool. I’m completing an MBA at Berkeley and focusing on an Independent Study around how and when to manage change and adjustments to culture as an organization grows. I love at this article included a # around when a start up starts to see the first strain. I haven’t been able to find a lot of research on other tipping point ranges. I will be sure to watch the post/webinar.

Culture

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