Why Maintaining Your Startup Culture Will Be Key to Rapid Growth

March 29, 2017

9:15 am

Growth inevitably brings changes — some welcomed and some not. And while adaptability is a must in business, there are some changes that, if not managed appropriately, can send a growing company into a tailspin. One of the areas that businesses must remain vigilant about is company culture.

Every company has a culture, whether it’s actively cultivated or not. And that culture serves as the foundation upon which the organization bases all internal and external decisions and interactions. It’s also a huge part of the common belief structure that dictates the direction of the company as well as its mission and values. As such, it is incredibly important to not only maintain a strong company culture, but also protect it from the effects of growth-related degradation.

But how do you know if your culture is being threatened? And if it is, how do you get it back on track?

The Wake-Up Call

In the early days of WebPT, our culture developed organically. The team was small, so we naturally had a close-knit, scrappy culture. We were able to nurture the company culture and communicate expectations simply by being a close group—through osmosis. But after we took a round of angel funding in year two, we added more new people in three months than we had during those first two years. The energy within WebPT was shifting—and the change was palpable.

That’s when we knew we needed to take a hard look at how we were going to preserve our culture moving forward. And I would urge every business owner—regardless of size or employee count—to do this sooner rather than later.

A Team Effort

To get back on track, we used our annual New Year’s company meeting to rally the team around defining our culture. We asked them:

  • What values do you want new hires to have?
  • What values should our organization as a whole have?
  • How do those values align with, and contribute to, our vision?

We ended up filling an entire whiteboard with ideas, which we then distilled down into the set of culture commitments that still shape everything we do today. Enlisting the team to assist in defining and building this was one of the most important things we did.

Before you can truly define your values, though, you must define your purpose. Ask yourself:

  • Why does your company exist?
  • Beyond making money, what deeper purpose do you serve?
  • What do you want your company to be known for one, five, ten, or 20 years down the road?

The answers to these questions will form the basis of your organization’s vision and purpose—your North Star. A strong purpose will give meaning to your work and inspire your team to put heart into everything they do. It also allows them to feel they are part of something bigger.

Vision and purpose have been the key drivers behind our growth. They guide our hiring, firing, and partnership decisions, and they help put us back on track when we make mistakes. They also form the foundation of our core values.

Defined Values

Core values are essentially fundamental beliefs that guide major decisions, provide a behavioral compass, shape your company’s culture, and ultimately serve as the bedrock of the organization.

While there isn’t a right or wrong way to define your core values, it was important for us to enlist our team in creating ours. Core values should be as simple and straightforward as possible while still reflecting your company’s personality. These are commitments and expectations that should be used to hold your team accountable every day. A good rule of thumb is to stick to four to 10 statements of no more than six words.

Once defined, find every opportunity to infuse them into your daily operations. This could include:

  • using the language in internal communications as often as possible;
  • tying them to employee recognition and performance review programs;
  • reviewing them at the beginning of strategic meetings; and
  • using them to guide all major decisions.

At the end of the day, our real differentiator at WebPT is our people—and I would argue that is the one thing that sets most successful organizations apart from the rest. Of course, you can’t attract—and retain—great people without a great company culture. So, make the effort to define, preserve, and nurture it, especially if you are in the midst of rapid growth.

Read more about company culture here on Tech.Co

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Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L, is the president and co-founder of WebPT, a four-time Inc. 5000 honoree and the leading software solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She's an APTA member, belonging to both the private practice and sports medicine sections, and she's a member of the PT-PAC Board of Trustees.