Transform your corporate culture without losing its essence

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

For a founder, few things are more challenging than relinquishing control of a company that has been built tirelessly, often over a lifetime. However, nothing more is needed if the founder intends to scale up his business. And while entrepreneurs usually understand at a fundamental level that the culture that got them “here” won’t get them “there,” they worry about how to grow while preserving the essence of their organization.

As a human capital consultant specializing in corporate cultures, I can say with complete confidence that it is both possible and often essential to maintain a company’s “secret sauce” as it grows. But that doesn’t mean that cultural nuances, such as decision-making paradigms, can’t and shouldn’t change. Founders who allow and participate in purposefully growing their culture will inevitably see their business scale faster and become more sustainable over time. Crucially, they can achieve this while maintaining their mission and values, carving out the vital elements of their organization that must last.

Better understanding of the nuances of culture

For many, defining an organizational culture incorrectly boils down to whether it is simply positive or negative: a great place to work or a place that drives good people away. The reality is that culture is much more complex. It is defined by a series of behaviors around areas such as power, perspective, and creativity, along with time, interdependence, communication, and inclusion. Every organization consists of these normalized behaviors that actually exist along a spectrum. This means, for example, that an organization does not allow or prohibit creativity, but does so gradually.

With this in mind, founders should understand that evolving their culture to grow can involve both subtle and dramatic changes. In addition, it can shift their companies’ standards in ways that are much more nuanced than most initially understand.

As an illustration, a leader who is growing rapidly may decide that he wants to keep most aspects of the company culture, but make isolated team members more collaborative. In addition, expansion into new geographies may require the organization to become more inclusive to better support team members who bring increasingly diverse perspectives, local knowledge and life experiences.

Adding data and analytics to culture-shaping initiatives

Similar to human capital-oriented work, culture formation is often viewed as a soft-skill area of ​​the right hemisphere, leading to inaccurate perceptions about the process of evolving organizational cultures. In reality, there are smart, data-driven ways to approach this work, always moving towards a bigger picture strategy.

For example, scrutinizing institutional materials, from mission statements to engagement data to exit interview reports, are all the beginnings of rigorous, deliberate culture-building initiatives. This analysis — coupled with in-depth interviews with founders, as well as in-depth conversations with board members and employees, surveys and walkabouts — reveals a wealth of contextual information, giving organizations the data they need to map their current versus ideal culture. design workflows that facilitate the desired cultural transition.

This rigorous, context-driven approach helps take the guesswork out of culture-shaping initiatives. Plus, it makes founders feel heard and respected, and the companies they built retain their most critical cultural elements, even with potentially different looks and feel in phase 2.0 of their evolution.

Embrace the act of letting go

There’s no escaping the fact that significant organizational expansions usually require founders to step away from many of the responsibilities they previously championed and often enjoyed. Understanding this, they would be wise to prepare for times when relinquishing control creates a complex mix of feelings, including concerns that their organizations and respective cultures are also changing too radically.

Within my own company, our founder Dr. Foster Mobley experienced this change. Reflecting on his experience, he advises other founders to keep a healthy distance from organizational departments or areas identified for transition. He also believes that outside experts can help distinguish between situations where a founder’s involvement is warranted and situations where only emotions arise. According to Foster, who himself oversaw the transition from CEO to Chairman Emeritus, nothing brought more peace of mind to his company’s culture and heritage than knowing that he shared the vision and values ​​of the leaders he brought to the organization to drive growth. to guide it.

Given the blood, sweat, and tears that founders pour into their organizations, it’s understandable that they feel protective of their company’s direction, even as they try to step back from their previously defined roles. Fortunately, it is possible to honor these heroic efforts and build them into established origin stories and corporate stories, even during culture building to usher in new eras of growth.