A small business is similar to a basketball team—each player must be able to dribble, shoot, pass, play defense and grab rebounds. They're all familiar with a little bit of everything. But as a company grows, it becomes more like a football team, where individuals specialize in particular areas and use that expertise to help the entire team succeed.
Unfortunately, few people can transition from one to the other because the implied cultures of the two different teams are exactly that: different. When a company's business model is unproven, but its potential seems massive, it may attract more entrepreneurial risk takers who are flexible, resilient and comfortable with ambiguity. This can significantly contribute to how they prefer to work.
However, when a business model is proven and the focus shifts from innovation to increased quality or customer service, you may need a different approach to successfully hit these new targets. This often means adding different types of people to the team. While some individuals can thrive in both conditions, few people can effectively operate both wide and deep.
Adding more people can bring more perspective, opinions and bias, which is great for adding diversity of thought. However, activity can be easily confused with progress. Managed incorrectly, it affects culture and morale. This tends to add up, resulting in costly errors.
To help ensure your company stays efficient and attractive to employees as it grows and changes, there are three elements of the culture you should maintain.
Make sure your company's vision, mission, values and methods of operation are promoted, understood, rewarded and reinforced. This can help provide the necessary guardrails for innovation. For example, if a company has a stated mission to remove friction from a specific process, team members can come together to identify friction points that need to be addressed. A clear mission focuses the team's activities on what actually matters.
—Chris Motley, founder and CEO, Better Weekdays
As you hire, remember that you may find a correlation between company performance and whether employees' skills and dispositions align with the culture. Growth creates a premium on skill sets and can provide ample opportunities for those who buy into the necessary transition, so hire people who are a good fit.
2. A Die-Hard Customer Focus
Relentlessly keep your customer as your North Star. Putting the customer first isn't just good for the consumer—put into place a client advisory board, co-working sessions or user experience workshops to create constant reminders of what drives the company forward.
These can also help maintain focus and provide a more positive way to reframe challenges. When people rally around solving a client's problem or challenge, it can help reduce internal conflict. It can also be easier to reward individuals based on how their activities align with the clients' interests (or don't).
Remember that handful of intense, creative risk takers you started with? Continued flexibility and creativity can help keep original team members happy and allow them to engage in activities that will move the business forward. Your think-outside-the-box team members simply need enough flexibility to experiment and see what happens. That freedom to explore can breed meaningful innovation.
Ultimately, people want to work for organizations where they can be successful and grow professionally. That often happens when opportunities align with a candidate's skills, professional values and motivations. A lot may change as you transition from being a small business to joining the middle market, but if this is the cornerstone of your value proposition to prospective candidates, you'll attract the right people for your company and let less suitable candidates find a better fit elsewhere.