How to retain your enthusiastic work culture while scaling your startup

11th Aug 2016
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Entrepreneurs are visionary. They set out broad visions, model ambitious goals, follow revolutionary work practices and sacrifice their comforts to make sure their company grows rapidly and successfully. To most employees, just being around an enthusiastic founder tends to motivate them to make it big along with the company.

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Yet, keeping up the zeal of a growing startup turns out to be a difficult affair, especially with predicaments like diminishing interactions between the founders and early employees of the company. The real challenge is that the company grows cognitive load as it scales up leading to increased complexities at almost each level of operation. But the hard truth is that in order to grow, you need to employ more roles, add hierarchies to the system and create better processes. Very often, these do not go down too well if not executed in a proper manner. Even big companies like Google had a hard time in the early 2000s, when Larry Page finally decided to enter hyper-growth, scaling to about 400 people. Larry Page decided to get rid of all the managers but was eventually left with one manager managing a headcount of 100. This didn’t go well for the company.

The takeaway here is that as an entrepreneur of a rapidly growing startup, you need to find a way to deal with the challenges and complexities that come along with new endeavours. While human limitations could be a major hurdle, experts like Bob Sutton, Organisational Behaviour Expert at Stanford School of Engineering and co-author of Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, suggests to pushing “until things crack, but not until they break.” “The hallmark of successful scaling is knowing when to hit the brakes so you can scale faster later,” Sutton says.

Scaling is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but overwhelming opportunities during the whole process are only going to make you better at your work. So how do you maintain the zeal of your startup as you scale?

Think beyond numbers

When scaling, you need to think beyond numbers, customer acquisitions, users, headcounts and other figures. Focus on the present needs of development. Most importantly, people who are working with you need to be on the same page too. You need to maintain a balanced approach. Your hiring agendas should not make your current employees insecure. But not hiring fast enough can lead you to pitfalls. So the best practice is to analyse, plan and execute a balanced strategy of recruiting more employees. Make sure that your early employees are promoted to better roles and continue to be involved in important decisions. This will also help you cut back on employee turnover, which is something you particularly don’t need at this phase.

Create an open platform for feedback

If you are scaling for the first time, you’re potent to make a lot of mistakes which may or may not affect your business directly. Seeking consultation from experts is one way to ensure that you maintain your agility throughout this meandering process. The other way is to have an open communication channel or a two-way feedback platform where your employees, consultants and even associates can have a one-on-one chat with you, suggesting the necessary changes in the culture. For instance, if you didn’t have a dedicated HR team in place, may it’s time that you have one, and your current employees can help you in accomplishing this agenda. This way, the changes that you are trying to embed in the organisational structure will have everyone’s consent, making the transition easy.

Explore hot causes and deliver cool solutions

Scaling is up not just about adding. It also requires a whole lot of subtraction from a business’ growth standpoint. The first step is to find issues that need some fixing and obsolete processes that don't work anymore for the benefit of your business. Get your employees to work on these issues and link them to a tangible set of solutions. This is the time when you should think of collective interest while keeping employees enthusiastic and committed toward their work. Give them something to look forward to. The key is to channelise small behaviours of your existing workforce that could make a big different in your business growth.

The good news of running a startup is that you learn something new with every passing day. All you need is a wide-perspective and the ability to see beyond horizons. Scaling up is a tricky task, but step by step, you’ll be able to reach the spot that you are aiming for, and other things will just flow along the current.

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