As a company grows, the founder has to learn to give up some control - probably one of the toughest tasks. Paul Ephremsen discusses the lessons he’s learned having grown his business from a 2-man band to a 60 strong team.
At first, the culture of a company is defined by the entrepreneurs who start the business. Of course the founder's influence over the company culture is based on their character, and the personalities of the other team members.
As the business grows other 'cultural influencers' join the team and eventually the company culture comes close to being dictated by them, who are no longer representative of the founders' original intentions. That's the point when a company must give more thought to vision, values, company communications and recruitment goals. You'll start to think about the kind of characters your business really needs.
In a high-growth business the skills required by the founders to define values and cultural norms are not necessarily the same skills that were required to start the business in the first place. What sets a great company apart from a good company? It's whether you are able to develop a great business culture as the company matures.
This journey will inevitably come with a few cultural speed bumps. You'll encounter your first culture change when communication between staff becomes less about chat and more about emails.
When the team is too large to allow you - the leader - to know each person as an individual (I’d say as soon as the business has more than 25 staff) the relationship with each individual changes. At this sort of size more formal company communication is required – monthly company updates to the whole team, and formalised social activity to maintain familiarity between departments.
As you reach around 50 employees it’s time to let go and put more emphasis on department heads who will need to manage teams on a slightly more de-centralised basis. Directors will now set the norms and values of each individual team, but these department heads are also empowered to implement the company processes and ways of working. The director’s skills in culture systems and delegation become imperative at this stage. Growth calls for the need to empower the senior team to make decisions and act as a solid management team. Having a strong management team gives a business the backbone required to prevent haphazard growth.
Beyond 50 staff there are an increasing number of new starters, freelancers and unfamiliar faces within a company - a difficult stage in terms of ensuring all employees receive an equally effective induction into the business, constant training, and all understand the culture of the agency and its vision and values. The challenge for the directors during this phase is the balance between systems and process and the need to maintain the cultural values that are so central to business life.
Ultimately that growth requires new and different 'cultural' skills by the founders or management team that were not required in the formative years of the business. Entrepreneurs who are culturally aware will thrive and those that are not will struggle to build business value over the long term.