How should your culture grow with your company?
Last week, Andrew wrote about the 3 stages of growth that a company experiences. While a company needs to adjust what it does as it grows, it also needs to change what it is, and this parallel change in being is a cultural journey.
- Stage One. When a company is in the first stage of growth, the culture is highly collaborative and creative. A small group of people are all working closely together, with few formal lines of communication; possibilities, solving problems, and building something new or different form the main focus of work. It's great fun and this cultural place can be hard to move on from. But some discipline is needed to ensure that the pursuit of perfection doesn't win out over a viable product or service that fits the market.
- Stage Two. With a viable product or service in hand, the company is ready for the next cultural phase. Revenue is needed and that comes from paying customers. More people are needed to take on the extra work of selling, marketing, product engineering, IT, accounting, and maybe HR. As more people come on board, they start to dilute that initial collaborative and creative culture; they work differently, and so new people mean that processes and procedures are needed to keep them all organized and 'in control'. More costs mean greater focus on the task of revenue generation. The stars of this stage are the hard driving business development people and so the culture solidifies around gaining and then responding quickly to orders. For some, this more controlled and task focused environment may be uncomfortable, and some of the early members of the company may leave. This is a critical time, because the company must once again culturally move on.
- Stage Three. The third stage builds on the previous 2: a strong R&D capability to keep the product competitive and fresh, and the ability to reach customers while internally scaling all operations. The company now has an established place in the market and from now on must grow and evolve with the market. Culturally, it is time to find a different internal balance. I liken this phase to that time when you are first driving a car and there comes a point where you stop gripping the wheel so tightly, and the car feels like an extension of you - you feel the road and respond. Here the company has a strong core and so can focus more on the external world and its customers. Internally, a better balance is achieved between just enough control while enabling creativity, and also keeping an eye on the goal while creating a caring environment where people can thrive.
Your culture is created by the people within your company. Cultures often naturally drift and evolve over time, but they can also be held firmly in place and become immovable. Culture is led by the natural leaders in your business, and they may not be your appointed leaders. As a business leader, you should regularly consider if the culture in your company is appropriate for your current stage of growth and where you want to go with your company. As Peter Drucker said "Culture eats Strategy for breakfast"
Is your culture where it needs to be?
If you would like help with assessing your culture and mapping out an evolution plan, let's talk.
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