How to scale up your business and keep a strong start-up culture

To scale up business is a wonderful thing – it means greater opportunities, expanded horizons and, of course, a growing and thriving team. It is what my co-founder and I had always envisioned for our ad tech company.

What I was less prepared for was the conscious effort required to ensure our original start-up culture stayed alive during the process.

Having determined that keeping our work culture strong was fundamental, I set to defining how best to achieve this.

Don’t delegate hiring completely

One of the first things I decided to shed was the conventional wisdom around scaling that I would have to trade intimacy for efficiency.

As much as I have found we need to operationalise our processes, I have also come to realise that there are a few processes I need to deliberately NOT scale. One of these is hiring. I firmly believe that the day I totally let go of hiring the work culture will change. I have carefully analysed this and it is definitely not about being a control freak!

By ensuring either my co-founder or I do a final ‘culture-fit’ check we not only maintain a better overview of the team as a whole, we also get to cultivate a personal relationship with each person once they join.

It is at this point that we emphasise what we believe is our winning formula; working in a place which would have been our own dream job when we were young. We aim to offer excitement, fun and innovation whilst making good money and doing good.

Scale up and emphasise values

Even during a hyper-growth phase I always take the time to ensure the prospective new employee will fit in with the people they will be working with on a daily basis. This is as important as ensuring they have the required expertise to do the job.

I also make a point of keeping our values front and centre during interviews so that the candidate can make a clear decision around whether we are the right fit for them too. In fact many of my interview questions are based on the company’s values.

Keep things that work

Replicating our start-up culture on a larger scale has meant maintaining our original traditions. I could see how these would so easily slip off our agenda if we let them, taking with them the very heart of who we once were.

As a consequence, I ensure we recognise birthdays, anniversaries and significant milestones in my team members’ lives. Now that there are almost 30 of us this takes considerably more time and effort but it is definitely worth it.

Small and often rather than big and once a year

I also make it a practice to do small things on a more regular basis rather than big rewards. I feel the team need regular recognition, we go through some very intense patches together and they certainly deserve to feel appreciated more than once a year at the Christmas party!

Our team outings are always diverse and great fun, and we have become adept at letting off steam over a competitive game of table tennis or during our weekly personal trainer sessions. We have also visited escape rooms and joined karaoke sessions for the more extroverted through to organised picnics, sports evenings and pub nights out.

Keep the door open

Another insidious way to lose the tight-knit feel of a small team is to stop getting feedback from employees. I maintain an open-door policy and believe that goes a long way towards keeping the company grounded.

However, I like to go beyond the open-door policy too. We have regular ‘coffee catchups’ and going out as a team for a walk is a refreshing way of having informal chats. It is often during these times that we come up with some of our best ideas as we bounce suggestions around and build on everyone’s enthusiasm.

Nurture talent

We are only ever as good as our team is and therefore nurturing talent is key while we scale up. A natural kickback of spending lots of quality time together – outside of the work environment – helps us spot what people are truly good at or want to learn. We are very keen to help people shape their roles to enable them to deliver the very best of themselves.

What’s next

From my perspective, scaling up successfully is all about never losing sight of who we once were and taking everyone on the journey with us. This means acknowledging those who were part of the original team, remembering everything that made us who we were then and replicating it as we embrace the new… it is about adding layers to our story as we evolve and unfold as a dynamic team.

Our team is growing. Discover the latest recruitment opportunities at Mighty Social.

(This article was originally written for We Are The City and published in November 2018 – https://wearethecity.com/scaling-new-heights-sharon-baker)

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone