I had the opportunity to speak with some senior HR professionals and CEOs during this year’s Great Place to Work Small and Medium Business Conference. Every single person I spoke with said their biggest challenge is managing growth. Not just growth in terms of products, services and customers. But growth in terms of employees and morale.
It occurred to me that the key to successful growth is values. Great places to work are built on company values and how they are defined. They come to life when they are being lived and breathed in the organization. Organizations must figure out how to grow and, at the same time, maintain their values.
Now the answer to this question would be easy if organizations were stable and never changed. But they’re changing all the time. Michael C. Bush, chief executive officer at Great Place to Work, says there are four actions that have a major impact on company culture. You’ll notice that they do have a direct or indirect relationship with business growth:
- CEO leaving or transitioning
- Organizational merger and acquisition
- Rapid growth within the company
- Employee layoffs
Michael added that organizations need to be concerned when faced with major change. “Our research shows that cultures are vulnerable during periods of tremendous change. It can weaken organizational culture – first in the area of fairness, then credibility, and finally respect.” And we all know that once respect is lost, it’s very difficult to recover.
Before being faced with challenges, organizations should ask themselves, “What kind of culture do we have?” and “As we grow, what kind of culture are we moving toward?” There needs to be a clear line of sight between the two.
It totally makes sense that company culture will evolve as the organization grows. That doesn’t mean organizations can’t continue to have terrific relationships with their employees. It is possible to discuss fiscal responsibility and innovative opportunities while the business expands. The key is building a culture based on trust and transparency.
Organizations that want to excel in today’s competitive business environment have to build cultures based on their company values. They need to live those values and protect them as the business grows. That doesn’t mean that telling employees about the challenges associated with growing the organization is bad. It’s truth. Employees respect the truth. Letting employees know that their company values will not be compromised as the business expands is the ultimate demonstration of transparency.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the 2016 MBTI Users Conference in San Francisco, CA1