The past decade has seen an explosion of ‘hypergrowth’ businesses. Start-ups and SME’s from a range of sectors have emerged, often disrupting traditional models of business. From virtual banks to video on demand, home delivery, music streaming and professional services, there seems to be a torrent of growth companies everywhere we look.
If you are a SME, scaling your business is as exciting as it is challenging. The natural focus for leadership teams during this phase is around sales pipelines, customer acquisition, operational delivery, and courting investors, so it’s easy to overlook one of the less discussed but critically important aspects of scaling- your people and culture.
It’s possible that your culture has formed intentionally by the top team, or perhaps it has just emerged over time. Either way, you need consider if you have the right culture to support you through the next phase of growth?(What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith). As your business strategy evolves, your culture needs to evolve to support that strategy.
Even venture capitalists and investment firms are increasingly using company culture as a measure of success when looking for investment opportunities. We’ve found a few key points that make the business case for embedding the right culture.
The Importance of Culture to Business Growth.
The 2016 Workforce Purpose Index showed that 58 percent of companies with an articulated, understood sense of purpose experienced over 10 percent growth, compared to just 42 percent of companies that don’t make purpose (culture) a priority. (LinkedIn and Imperative’s 2016 Workforce Purpose Index).
We know that engaged staff are more productive, but businesses with highly engaged staff also see a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism and a 17 percent increase in productivity. (Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report).
More strikingly, The HBR recent report Time. Talent. Energy, shows that an employee who feels engaged and inspired is 125 percent more productive than the satisfied staffer. (Bain & Company’s Time. Talent. Energy).
Clearly, there is a direct correlation between people and sales/cost metrics. Costs are reduced when absenteeism is low and staff retention is high. Sales grow through customer service excellence and high staff productivity.
What Are The Likely Growing Pains?
It’s not always easy to focus on people and culture during growth. Invariably, the leadership team are managing multiple priorities and stakeholders, juggling a range of new considerations and trying to strike a balance between working ‘in’ the busines and ‘on’ the business. It’s easy for people concerns to drop in priority; but doing so can create risks that undermine other growth efforts. Here’s how to spot that your culture needs to evolve:
Underperforming or Misaligned Leadership Team. Are your original team able to grow to take the company on the journey? Do they need upskilling or replacing? As a business scales, the leadership needs to scale too. All the attributes of a good leader are needed in even greater quantity as business grows. Keeping the staff and leadership team focused on both strategy and culture is paramount, as leadership team misalignment is a common challenge at this time, when teams shift from a small centrally focused group to specialist teams.
Customer’s Leaving for the Competitor. Have your customer experience levels dropped? Are you losing customers or market share? Your brand is brought to life by a positive, aligned internal culture. Teams grow as our customers grow, and where once your small team was closely connected to customers, over time they may become a larger team increasingly at arm’s length from your service culture. Communications become less personalised, individual emails become mass email blasts, we lean into automation, and it becomes harder to keep connected to our end user if your customer facing teams are not flying the flag for the business.
Low Morale, Performance or Productivity. Just like customers, employee experience can become disconnected as you grow too. Seemingly small things like moving desks, floors or buildings may be a necessity, but can be unsettling to staff, particularly if the moves happen regularly and the working environment becomes less enjoyable than it once was. Growth often requires new tools and equipment, so not having them ready for teams as they are needed can affect both the working environment and productivity. Staff can feel they are not on the journey with the leadership team, communication can decrease, focus can be lost.
Key Staff Attrition.
Where the employee experience drops, the risk of attrition rises, particularly for high performers, who are the key to exponential growth. The 2020 State of Talent Optimization report told us that on average, 47 percent of high-performing employees left their company last year (The Predictive Index’s The 2020 State of Talent Optimization).
Losing key staff just when they are critically needed is a huge blow to scaling businesses. The damage can include increased costs of recruiting, lost time and momentum from skilling up new staff, lost corporate knowledge and intellectual property.
Decrease in Innovation.
When businesses are small, an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach is expected. People cross skill and collaborate more. Teams work closely and understand each other’s roles. Through scaling, departments become more structured, roles narrow, and risks rise of information blockages, process failures and productivity slowdowns. Silos occur, and collaboration can reduce. When a collaborative culture disappears, so too does innovation.
Thankfully, it’s not all downside, there are ways to mitigate all of these pain points. It starts with embedding the right culture for your next stage of growth. At Culture Consultancy, we use our award winning 3-Stage methodology to help our clients navigate their growth.
The first stage is to gain a full understanding of your current culture- we deep dive into your business and distil your unique attributes. We identify the things that work well to build on and uncover the challenges that are holding back performance or may prevent your strategy being realised.
We then move onto designing the culture that will mobilise your people to execute on your strategy or business transformation. For some companies this is about growth, innovation or customer experience, for others it’s about employee experience, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion.
Our top tips for people focused growth
- Design Your Culture. Define what you need for the next stage of growth and fully embed it
- Keep Communication Open and 2-Way. Ensure there are multiple active channels to capture staff feedback and opportunities for leadership to keep you ream regularly updated.
- Hire For The Future: Hire those with skills that will take your business into the future, but make sure their values and behaviours are in line with all the things that you want your culture to be.
Whatever the focus, we work with you to design the right framework for your needs.
Once we have a robust culture plan defined, it then needs to be fully embedded. We do this using our 4Es Human Change Principles™ of Educate, Engage, Empower and Enable, a programme which uses a combination of effective internal communications, behavioural change techniques, organisational design and talent management tactics to develop and implement a roadmap which will fully embed the culture in an agile but robust way.
In order for your company to achieve the next stage of growth (without too many bumps in the road), you need the right strategy and the right culture to mobilise your people to deliver.