Most companies I work with were founded on a shared mission. When a company is just a few employees, it’s easy to align on the vision, focus and rally behind core values. In those early days, a small, aligned team spends hours brainstorming, communicating, and creating something new together—fostering a shared experience like no other.
Then the company enters the scale-up phase? When you’re racing to recruit enough people to keep up with demand, it’s much more difficult to nurture and sustain a purpose- driven culture. And in today’s “Great Resignation” wave, growing companies are not just grappling with recruiting, but also retaining their employees.
A shared vision and sense of purpose is one of the best ways to ensure employees stay and bring their best themselves to work each day; a recent Deloitte study found that purpose-driven companies had 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of retention, and they tended to be first or second in their market segment. But how do you maintain an intentional culture when you grow from 100 to 1,000 employees? Below I share three strategies.
Focus on the how
One of the best ways to create a purpose-driven company, and to keep that shared vision alive through many stages of growth, is to focus not just on outcomes, but on how you achieve them. Many founders of early-stage companies are so busy they don’t take the time to set up processes that align with their values. For example a company might say, “we are a values-driven business,” but instead recruit people based purely on skillset and never ask candidates about their values.
Always start with the basics: Define your values and what you believe in, and then create processes to ensure these values are focused on. values.
Recruiting is one of the most challenging tasks scale-up companies face every day, made even more difficult in today’s tight job market. Many businesses focus on getting offer letters out the door and contracts signed, but then do cursory onboardings almost as an afterthought. That’s a mistake, because onboarding is the most crucial moment for helping new employees get connected to the overall purpose. In my experience it takes six full weeks for a new employee to be incorporated into the team. Don’t just expect them to start adding value right away, but treat those first six weeks as a vision-alignment period, complete with learning and development, coaching, mentoring, socialising, and team building.
Think of your culture as a product
You will employ your team to design, build, iterate on, and market new products/services essential for growth. But when it comes to designing a culture, most companies leave it largely to fate. Instead, a true purpose-driven company designs its culture like a product. Start with what you want the end-user experience to be, and then design policies that will get you to that end-goal. Ask your team for their feedback via employee engagement platforms, and try different mission statements and iterate on them until they are just right.
No one designs software without bugs the first time; it’s the same with building a company culture. Design, iterate, find and fix bugs, and continually work on your “culture product.” Create a “culture roadmap” based on your growth trajectory and who you need to “BE”, putting processes in place around recruiting, onboarding, training, mentoring, and more to ensure your culture thrives over time.