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.
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.
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.
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.
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