Creating a tight knit company culture in which mutual respect, trust and commitment is a challenge for businesses of all sizes. At startups and small companies, it can be easier to build a highly collaborative team due to the limited number of cooks in the kitchen. However, as the company grows, culture can become a casualty as new employees join or leave the team—or, tougher still, when additional offices or locations are added.
“It can be hard to create a cultural blueprint that can scale alongside your business, but feel reassured: It’s doable, because we’ve seen it done before,” says Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness, a business coaching and consulting company that Lim co-founded with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh after he wrote a bestselling book by the same name in 2010.
In a recent Inc. column, Lim lays out the following steps to help businesses retain and strengthen a close culture that’s scalable, adaptable—and profitable, too.
1. DEFINE YOUR IDEAL CULTURE
“Company perks like meditation rooms or gym memberships are not the primary focus here,” Lim says. “It starts with your company’s purpose and values—yes, those things that are often forgotten and left on a wall or plaque.”
Once the core values are defined, the next step is to dissect them into specific behaviors that every staff member can demonstrate.
2. REATE AN ACTION PLAN AND ROAD MAP
This is vital for success with implementing real initiatives, and it should be used as a way to clearly communicate with staff members the ideal company culture and how everyone fits into it.
“What are the most important things to celebrate and challenges to address? What are the projects that come out of this?” are among the questions company executives should have agreement on, Lim says. “Who will own them, who will support them, and what are the milestones?”
3. CREATE A CULTURE TEAM
Since a thriving company culture needs buy-in at every level, executives should look for the natural culture leaders on their teams, or what Lim calls “culture champions or ambassadors.”
Form a team of them, on which some will be ambassadors for the culture and others will actually take part in training other employees on how to bring your ideal culture to life.
“To scale culture successfully, you can’t just rely on senior leadership or the founders to push it from the top down,” Lim says.
4. EMBRACE SUBCULTURES
As a company rolls out its culture strategy, a few subcultures are bound to arise. “It could be the cultural gap between the Shenzhen and the San Francisco office,” Lim says. “Or it could be the delta between IT and customer service.”
Whatever the reason, the important thing is to embrace subcultures—so long as they align with the foundation of your ideal company culture.
“Think of them as an adaptation needed to get full commitment” from each team member, department and location. “Even with the possible threat of toxic subcultures, your culture teams will have the tools and resources to help sustain alignment across the company.”