Maintaining Company Culture Through Hyper-Growth

Grace Pinegar
Grace Pinegar  |  May 1, 2018

Before traveling to another country, it’s wise to research some basic aspects of its culture.

Do servers expect tips after a meal? Are certain body parts supposed to be covered in public places? Should visitors take off their shoes before entering a home? Is eye contact appropriate? Handshakes? Kisses on the cheek?

Misunderstanding or having poor context for a culture can cause a lot of discomfort or unintentional rudeness while traveling. You can’t expect a country’s or city’s natives to excuse your behavior just because you’re foreign to its practices. The best way to avoid these types of faux pas is to ready yourself beforehand, and be armed with the knowledge to deliver a respectful impression upon the people whose land you’re visiting.

When adjusting to a new company’s culture, things are similarly complicated. New employees have little-to-no context as to how this organization operates outside of what they are immediately told. Even information on review sites, such as Glassdoor, fails to go into detail on company culture. It’s something no guidebook can narrate, and only employees on the inside have a decent grasp on.

Misalignments on company culture can lead to employee dissatisfaction, tension, and other conflict. Company culture is important because it’s a shared set of values all employees hold dear. If new employees enter the workspace without understanding these traditions, they can come off as rude or uncaring, and stir up dissent with their new coworkers.

Being so, it’s important organizations have a plan set in place to help new hires understand exactly how things work. Your new hires are going through trainings on the mechanics of their jobs, so why not equip them with the same thorough teachings around organizational culture?

Something that has been established in many employees organically is often difficult to translate to new hires, especially as a company grows. Organizations with unique culture should want to maintain it, as their employees have come to enjoy and even expect this consistency. If your company is having difficulty instilling cultural values with new hires, consider some of the following strategies.

Clarify business values, culture and priorities in interviews and job descriptions.

Is anything worse than showing up to a job interview and realizing it’s not what you thought it would be? Being up front with candidates goes a long way in hiring the right people. If your company is a standard 9-5 with no frills or thrills, you’ll want employees who are used to that style of working, and who prefer that office environment. If your office has flexible hours and a slew of social events, again, make that clear in the initial job copy that candidates interact with.

Job descriptions and listings are a great initial place to showcase what candidates can expect when working for your company. If you’re big on employee health, mention that your office has healthy snacks and complimentary gym membership. If you value learning opportunities, mention the stipend employees are eligible to receive to take classes and attend conferences.

Core values are also a great way to communicate culture. Core values are a company’s way of deciphering what matters most to them and searching for employees who embody these characteristics. For example, G2 Crowd values working with joy and living at the peak. These values stood out to me as they showed how a business-to-business software and services review website values people most at the end of the day.

Including your organization’s core values in job listings and descriptions, and overall hiring and recruiting strategies will attract people who are already more inclined to agree with those values. Prioritizing company culture from the starting gate makes attracting candidates easier over time.

Perform sporadic company exercises that strengthen employees’ understanding of who they work with.

One complaint from new hires, or from veteran employees at a changing and growing company, is that new and unrecognizable faces pop up all the time. Feeling disconnected from the people who work with you is a huge barrier to participating or being included in company culture.

When new hires start at your organization, it could be a fun homework assignment to have them speak to a couple employees on different teams and learn some fun facts about them. This could be a fun quiz or a competition, with incentives to encourage employees to put in extra effort.

Other companies will do a proactive new hire luncheon every so often to get new employees socializing with current employees during their lunch hour. This helps new hires feel involved and welcome without taking hours out of the normal work day. Introductions at monthly or weekly meetings also go along way, as they allow employees to put faces to names in an in-person setting.

New hire email introductions are also a simple way to familiarize your teams with the new faces that will be coming around. Employees may not have time to shake hands with every new hire coming in, but they can say a quick virtual welcome through email.

Include cultural examples in initial company training meetings.

When you start at a new organization, there are a plethora of things to learn. How does my stock work? When do employees come in every day? What software do we use? Where are the best lunch spots near the office? (Some of these being a little more work-oriented than others.)

CEOs and management teams don’t want to overwhelm new hires with superfluous training sessions. However, having a culture training session can really help new hires understand expectations at their new home organization.

Cultural training is all about the people. Who are they, and what are they like? Does this company encourage socialization and close friendships among teammates? Is it a collaborative environment where employees should feel comfortable going to anyone, for everything?

Including examples of cultural events in these training sessions may help not only explain culture, but also excite employees of what’s to come. For example, many G2 Crowd employees value volunteer work and will organize workday or weekend outings to The Greater Chicago Food Depository, or to a build for Habitat for Humanity.

Because our company also values reward and celebration after hard work, they will facilitate holiday parties, team outings to restaurants and sporting events, and more. If your company is able to provide these kinds of perks, don’t be shy about it! A short slideshow or explanation of the kinds of fun things your employees do together will go a long way in helping new hires understand the kind of relationships you’re trying to nurture internally.

Additionally, every company has some culture quirks that have nothing to do with reward or celebration, but rather with everyday life. Are creative employees encouraged to take walks or breaks every so often to fuel brain activity? Are sales employees encouraged to verbally celebrate after closing deals? Are team members encouraged to stick around on Friday afternoons and socialize a bit before going home?

These things are important to communicate to new hires so they have the opportunity to be an active participant in the community. Although cultural events and traditions are all optional, making sure new hires understand popular behavior is an important part of their adjustment to the people around them.

Encourage participation in cultural priorities and values.

As we mentioned before, different companies will offer different opportunities for outside of work engagement. If these events are important, organizations should encourage employee participation.

For example, a new employee might see that an upcoming volunteer opportunity is happening on a Wednesday afternoon. They normally have a team meeting on Wednesday afternoons and, as a new employee, they feel uncomfortable stepping out of the office to miss it. On the day of, they realize their entire team has committed to the volunteer opportunity, and they’re the only ones who remained in the office!

A little communication around priorities could go a long way. Whereas some organizations would rather have employees in the office tending to their tasks, others genuinely want people to feel free to attend these events that build team connections and nurture a sense of belonging in their company.

Communicating these priorities in advance ensures no team members miss out on the opportunity to participate in this, or other events.

While all management teams will still want their employees to complete work at a reasonable pace, encouraging these unconventional daytime opportunities might even spur employees to work harder at a job they now know values their passions and quality of life.

When changes happen, clearly enact them across the board.

As companies grow, so do their policies. An organization with 30 employees might not be able to afford the same resources when they grow to 200 people. For example, frequent office lunches and snacks may become a financial strain, and your organization may decide they can’t offer this anymore.

Or perhaps company outings have become too expensive, and dinners out have to become fewer and more far between.

These changes aren’t necessarily negative. They’re a natural reaction to company growth and, in relation, change. Just like when a family gets bigger, adjustments have to be made so everyone has the same opportunities and resources.

One way to avoid trouble or discontentment with these changes is by communicating them clearly, and making them true for everyone. Perhaps your organization wants to abide by more professional standards and create a standardized dress code. Communicate that clearly well in advance with written regulations, and ensure there are no exceptions.

Failing to communicate these changes clearly will leave your employees with mixed messages. Veteran employees will be upset that new rules and changes are unclear, and new hires will be upset that they’re following rules other employees are exempt from. Various managers, depending on their personal convictions, may enforce the rules differently among their teams, leaving employees feeling unfairly treated or preferenced.

The best way to avoid this is to enact changes across the board, holding every employee or team member to the same standard. Your team members should never feel like they have to guess what’s okay, or like they may be punished for disobeying rules they don’t fully understand.

Changing rules or standards can be difficult, especially as they serve as a sort of mile-marker in a company’s history. The end of an era, if you will. Bypass some of the tension associated with rule development by remaining open and honest with your employees about why these changes are necessary.

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When employees click, it’s a beautiful sight to behold. They begin hosting their own happy hours after work. They celebrate each other’s birthdays and attend each other’s weddings, sharing in their joys and celebrations outside of the office. In extreme cases, they may even plan road trips or tropical vacations together!

These bonds form as a reflection of a cohesive culture. This doesn’t stem from every employee being the same, or from a workplace that functions as an echo chamber. Rather, it stems from a plethora of wildly different and diverse people who can bond over a similar set of values or priorities.

Having a company that works together and plays together is special. It means you’ve done your job well as a CEO or management team and developed a workplace where people actually want to be. A good majority of us spend 40 hours a week, 50 or so weeks a year in a workplace. I struggle to imagine how many hours that accumulates to over the average course of a life. Why settle for a workplace that’s anything less than a second home?

Helping your new hires understand company culture is a huge part of making them feel welcome, cared for, and understood. Work will always be work. If it wasn’t, we’d be there on nights and weekends, happily listening to showtunes and drinking coconut water. (I’m projecting my own thoughts here, but you get it.) You can’t make a workplace perfect, but you can make it a better place to spend a large portion of our lifetimes. And if you can, why wouldn’t you?

 

Grace Pinegar
Author

Grace Pinegar

Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and now content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, and has come to tolerate, if not enjoy, the opposition of Chicago's seasons.