Five years ago I wrote a blog about organizational growing pains. This was one year into my journey with Element Three; we were a company of 12 people at the time. The following year I wrote an updated blog on the same topic. By then we had grown to a company of 30. Fast forward to the present and here I go again.
As I started thinking about this again I looked back on my advice from “back in the day,” and it turns out the basics from my first blog are still 100% valid today, regardless of the size of your business. Clear communication, keeping an open mind, and stopping to listen and hear what people are saying will always be the foundation upon which you build everything else when it comes to culture. Don’t just do it and forget it, you have to revisit it and nurture the foundation—because if the foundation crumbles, everything else comes crashing down.
The smartest strategic move we made early on as a company was to integrate true rigor around our meeting structures, our business planning, and our communication cadence. This important structural framework still holds true for us today and has, over time, become rote as an expected and repeated part of our organization. Without this, we would still be operating in confusion around our direction, our values, our goals, and knowing what success looks like.
With that foundation in place, our growth continued in 2017. Last year we hired 21 new employees at Element Three, and the next two years will showcase our final approach toward $10 million in revenue. And as we grow, we’re still learning. While the fundamentals of maintaining your culture have not changed significantly, the complexity grows with each new hire. As we continue our journey and our growth, here are some things that I’m coming into 2018 knowing for certain about how to sustain a strong culture during times of growth.
This is the juncture where companies have a tendency to shift their focus externally to look around and see what everyone else is doing and how they can mimic what success looks like for their competitors. We are not ready to do that yet. Our focus for this year and maybe even next year will remain internal, where we will level set, review, and pivot on processes, systems, organizational structure, etc.
This is the time to make sure your foundation is solid and strong enough to support scale. This is the time to solidify the core players and identify and develop leaders. If you are always comparing yourself to others and setting your sights on what you think you see your competitors doing, you risk completely missing what is happening right under your nose in your own house.
Do Not Compromise on Organizational Rigor
As I mentioned earlier, establishing organizational rigor was likely the most important thing we did as a company early on. When I think about all of the growing pains associated with taking this giant step, I become almost militant in my protection of these most basic systems that created direction, consistency, and clear communication for the organization.
When someone or something threatens the integrity of these systems in the name of moving faster, shiny objects, or fancy ideas of the week, they have to get past me first. As the leader of our organization, Tiffany Sauder is right there by my side, defending the established systems that are most basic to the foundation of her business—because she has seen the value of staying true to what works.
Don’t get me wrong, we pivot and change and evolve many times each year. But the fundamentals (your strategic plan, your communication strategy, your meeting cadence) remain in place because they work.
Fight the Right “War for Talent”
Marcus Buckingham nailed it on this one. The War for Talent is tired. Yes, it is hard to find great talent—this is not news. Anything worth having is hard to get. The problem is that we become so focused on putting on a show to attract new talent that we lose sight of what we should really be fighting for: keeping that awesome talent that’s already here.
“Can you actually make best, most beautiful and coherent use of the talent that has already promised themselves to you?” – Marcus Buckingham
There is your war. Focus on those who have dedicated themselves to your company. Focus on making their experience awesome and helping them write their bold stories. Stop spending all of your time and energy on people who are not even here yet. If you can nail retention of key talent, the rest will follow organically.
This is the time when your employees start to really impact and grow what the culture of your company will be as you continue to grow, so pay attention. Listen. Communicate. Be clear. Care. Be authentic.
Remember Where You Came From
The 2014 E3 kickball team (left) vs. our 2018 E3 kickball team (right)
The hardest part about growing your business is maintaining the integrity of your culture as you grow. There are so many other things to worry about during this time that it is common to get bogged down in the metrics and lose sight of the intangibles that can also make or break you. It’s so important to make sure that you don’t ever forget where you came from.
I wish I had written this blog every year to capture the highlights of sustaining culture at each milestone as Element Three has grown. Are you a growing company? Perhaps you should start now and capture your own so you don’t forget what got you where you are today—and what will take you to that next level.