It's easy to forget how important company culture is. It isn't something you can touch, see or smell. Yet it may be the reason your business is so successful.
But keeping a company's culture can be tough if your business is growing and evolving, no longer a group of people in one office but lots of groups of people in offices around the country or even the world.
This is a problem many growing businesses face, as they get bigger and more spread out across the country and world. If you have certain guiding principles that have made your company what it is, from stellar customer service to always doing the right thing even when it's costly, you want those principles to be followed in all of your offices.
If you're interested in ways to help keep your company culture intact as your business grows, consider adopting any of these strategies.
1. Start hiring with your company culture in mind.
Say you hire someone who will be working remotely or in an office four states away from the headquarters. Sure, you can hope that they catch onto your company's culture. But it makes sense to try to make sure you're hiring somebody who fits into your business's personality from the get-go.
One way you can do that is by telling your new employees what the culture is, says Rebecca Cenni, founder and CEO of Atrium Staffing, a New York City-based talent solutions firm.
"Clearly define your core values, principles and priorities," Cenni says. She adds that if you really want your new hire to embody your company's culture, "include employees from different levels during the interview process and, if possible, different locations. Not only does this give the candidate a window into the company's culture to see if it aligns with their own ideals, it also allows the different employees to weigh in with their perspectives."
2. Remember your company culture when you're doing your promotions or transfers, too.
If you're moving one of your key executives from the headquarters to a new office, you may have trouble if that employee isn't much of a company cheerleader.
"As a business expands its physical footprint beyond the HQ, if you don't hire the right person at the top in these other offices, your culture has no chance of being replicated," says Lou Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency, a public relations and communications company headquartered in San Jose, California, with 140 employees scattered in Hong Kong, London and other cities around the globe.
"This doesn't mean that every person leading another office needs to be carbon copy of the owner, CEO or president," he continues. "But those office leaders do need to share the same value system and business philosophies as [them]."
3. Share your company's culture and mission with your employees and new hires.
There's a saying in writing that you should show and not tell. And we've all heard the old cliché, that actions speak louder than words. This is all true, but words do matter.
Talking about the company culture is important, says Suz O'Donnell, president of Thrivatize, a management consulting firm headquartered in Chicago. She says that too many business owners think that the feel of the culture will translate to new and far-flung employees. But too often it won't.
—Lou Hoffman, CEO, The Hoffman Agency
"Regardless of whether you are expanding an existing organization or creating a completely new company, the key is to know what you want your culture to be and be sure you clearly communicate it to employees," O'Donnell says.
She suggests having a clear mission statement with three to five core values that are vital to your company's culture, and that those values are written clearly enough that employees can easily understand and repeat them.
4. Set up video conferencing to communicate with your remote team members.
Video conference is a tool that can help foster friendships in the workplace, no matter where people are located.
"The absolute must-invest-in tool for geographically dispersed teams is limitless video conferencing," O'Donnell says. "Be sure there is no internal cost or limit to the video conferencing so that people use it freely, and consider making it the expected standard for all geographically dispersed meetings. Seeing a real person's face is a thousand times more engaging than being on a conference call."
There's another benefit, too, O'Donnell says. If you're having a meeting via video conference, it can be harder for the person you're talking to to also be checking their email or working on a report.
5. Conducting meetings may be more valuable than you think.
A lot of people think meetings are a waste of time—and certainly, some can be. But meetings can help foster relationships in the company.
"Whether it's a daily meeting, phone call, group chat or some other form of communication, keeping lines of communication open and consistent is imperative to making sure everyone is engaged and on the same page," says Stephanie Troiano, an executive recruiter at The Hire Talent, a recruiting services search firm in Orange County, California.
6. Start up an office hobby for your team.
Badger Maps, a company that makes an app for sales field reps, has offices in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Granada, Spain, as well as remote employees scattered in other cities. One "trick," according to CEO Steve Benson, is that "all of the Badger offices have a foosball table."
It's one of those games that everyone seems to enjoy, Benson says, and it can help with company rapport: "When people go to different offices, they all have this shared hobby in common."
7. Be consistent with your company culture efforts.
This may be the most important thing of all. If people don't believe in your organization's values—and you and the upper management aren't encouraging your business's personality—your company culture may be affected.
For instance, Hoffman says that he and his fellow teammates take a lot of pride in their company's culture having an egalitarian bent.
"If the head of another office is asking an intern to fetch his or her coffee every day, it might seem like a little thing, but it starts to erode this cultural attribute," Hoffman says. He adds that it's also been drilled into the company culture that everyone should treat everyone the way they'd like to be treated.
That can be tricky, though, the more your company expands.
"Years ago, the head of our Hong Kong office would sometimes get angry and yell at individuals. It's not an easy issue to manage when you're sitting so far away in Silicon Valley," Hoffman says. "I spoke with her on the phone about the need to change. She didn't change. Two months later, I flew to Hong Kong and fired her. Otherwise, I would have been condoning behavior 180 degrees from the culture we aspire to."
And while hopefully you won't have to go that far—in mileage and to the point of terminating someone—it's a path some business owners decide they have to follow. When a company culture really is the cornerstone of your business's success, sometimes you have to fight for it.
Read more articles on company culture.