Don’t Be a Culture-Block: How to Win Culture While Scaling

There’s nothing quite like the dynamics experienced by early stage founders and employees. From inside jokes to being crammed at one table every day, an early stage startup can often feel like a family. But what happens when this family grows exponentially after a Series A or C investment round?

Unfortunately, many companies lose sight of what it is that makes their culture unique when it’s time to grow quickly. This is only natural - as more and more stakeholders get added, the original style and flavor of the company becomes diluted. Many companies at this rapid growth stage tend to overemphasize strategy at the expense of culture (and as we all know, culture eats strategy for lunch, right?).

Here’s a couple of things you can do to avoid the trap of culture-blocking your growth.

Design an adaptable culture

No one has the right formula for culture - not even the best of companies. That’s because there’s so much that goes into creating great cultures that it’s hard to distill a one-size-fits-all approach. The companies that do culture right have their own way that works for them - like Southwest encouraging employees to carry out good acts or Zappos embracing the fun and quirky. What makes these companies thrive is how they integrate their people into this mindset.

The key here is to design a culture where people understand the value in the traditions, practices, and beliefs of the organization. Once employees get the link between culture and a positive working environment, scaling culture becomes less of a hassle as people will build on culture to align with core values.

Empower your culture champions

Culture champions are employees that truly internalize the company’s values and will go above and beyond to advocate for them. These employees are vital to disseminating culture-building opportunities, as well as introducing new ideas. By investing in the development of their ideas, your organization is saying that it cares about the employee experience.

After merging with PayPal in 2002, eBay experienced growing pains as the two cultures clashed. One crucial step to remedy that was to create a culture team that defined what the new company culture was and how it lives out in its employees.

Create an employee feedback loop

You can’t act on something you don’t understand. The same goes for people. Spend time setting up systems in place to listen to what your people have to say, as well as quantifying the feedback as much as possible. While calculating the ROI on people is difficult, any sort of quantifier for the bottom line is going to make it easier to continue to make the case for investment in people and culture.

Hire people that align with your values

In a fast-growing business, it is key to hire the people that are going to live out and further the company’s values. While it’s important to have the right skill sets (you probably don’t want a marketing professional with no coding experience developing your tech), it’s essential to have the right people who will support your business and move it forward, even in the worst of times.

Netflix CEO (and Chief Hiring Officer) Reed Hastings established a “Netflix Culture Deck” that outlines specific hiring policies the company has for ensuring candidates are the right fit for Netflix.

Get creative!

Don’t be afraid to try something new! As there is no one-size-fits-all model, there’s no harm in experimenting (unless it is with toxic chemicals!). Some of the best cultures were developed with innovative ideas. Zappos famously asks its candidates “on a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?” because embracing weird works for them. Don’t be afraid to test and reiterate on culture; the good ideas will stick.


Struggling to keep your culture afloat while your company grows fast? Schedule a demo with Five to Nine for an impactful, data-driven culture solution.