Opinion

Preserving the startup culture as your business achieves growth

4 min read

25 April 2016

Maintaining a founding company culture within startups isn’t easy, especially when they begin to grow. So how can entrepreneurs ensure that their staff retain that entrepreneurial drive and innovative thinking that first set the company on the road to success?

To begin with, the culture should be reflected in the working environment. When first starting out, this may materialise in the form of a shared desk in a co-working space but as you grow, your surroundings need to instill a positive effect on staff.

To a large extent, the space you work in dictates working practices. For example, is it easy to pop over to someone’s desk and ask a question? Do you encourage music and in-office downtime?

We have made sure to purchase furniture and art that connects employees to our visual brand. Creating an environment that reflects who you are as a business is incredibly important when looking to deliver an instant, yet lasting, impression of the company’s values.

Hiring for ambition

Your hiring needs will inevitably change as you grow, but in the beginning a good cultural fit should be just as important as looking for a certain skill set. When hiring, we find that people who display a better fit – by demonstrating drive and ambition – can often challenge those candidates with more direct experience.

Many of your early recruits will become your leaders of tomorrow, so make sure to consider to what extent interviewees can be nurtured and developed in-house, over what relevant experience they possess at the start of the journey.

Democratising culture

Company culture committees are one of the best ways to ensure that non-management level employees get their own say in how the culture evolves throughout all levels of the business.

Appointing a committee to meet once or twice a month can ensure that as the company grows, your culture is grounded in tangible ideals. It’s the recognition that as essential as it is for a company culture to be organic, it also needs to be guided and channeled in order to scale.

For example, at Skimlinks our culture committee has looked at ways to improve the induction process for new staff members and has begun exploring how to ensure our satellite offices feel just as connected to our company culture as our London headquarters.

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It’s also important to recognise the diversity of your employees and give them continued inspiration for self-improvement. This can be done via voluntary programmes where any team member can set aside a few hours every week to focus on projects that interest them and will improve their skills.

Our company programme is called Skimovation, and the only mandate is that the projects must somehow tie in to benefit the organisation – how and why though, is completely up to staff. Some people choose to learn a new coding language, tackle a business issue, read an inspiring book or solve an office problem.

At its core, a startup’s culture is only as good as the staff who protect and develop it, so any entrepreneur’s focus should be on empowering those people to build on your founding principles in their own personal way.

Corporate tech giant Samsung, which has over 300,000 staff members worldwide, has revealed a plan to introduce a “startup reform” to the company with a view of changing its internal culture – but is this just a mid-life crisis of the enterprise variety?

Alicia Navarro is the co-founder and chief executive at software company Skimlinks

Image: Shutterstock