By Marc Gingras, CEO, Foko Retail
A software CEO/entrepreneur/angel investor shares real-world advice about how to grow your culture along with your company.
One of the most exciting times in any startup’s life is when it begins to scale up. After years of hard work, all the effort you and your team have put in is finally paying off (both literally and figuratively).
But more often than not, as a startup scales, there’s a tendency to add more processes to how things get done in an attempt to manage growth. It’s around this time that process starts dictating a company’s culture.
It shouldn’t be that way. Here are my top tips on how to scale your company’s culture as it grows, without sacrificing innovation or productivity.
PEEL BACK THE RED TAPE
As your company continues to grow, think about the past and reflect on how it got to where it is today. Your success has a lot to do with you and your team’s ability to innovate — the process of surveying your surroundings, finding a solution to a problem, and putting it into practice.
But the bigger a company gets, the more often it seems like coming up with new ideas is one of the first things to go. It’s easy to understand why: After years of effort, you probably don’t want to mess around with the recipe for your success and risk ruining everything you worked hard to accomplish. But it’s important to remember that revolutions and industry upheavals (software and otherwise) didn’t come from the minds of people willing to settle for the status quo.
So think differently: Make it not only easy but mandatory for your employees to share ideas and bring them to life. Eliminate red tape by analyzing the rules and policies that got put in place as you grew. Although many are probably there to help things run smoothly, there’s likely a few that involve needless paperwork and layers of supervisory approval that are inhibiting innovation. Work with your team at identifying and removing them so creativity can flourish.
Encourage collaboration by allowing engineers and developers to work on projects outside their comfort zone and areas of expertise. Not only will they be able to foster a multifaceted skill set (an integral part of any burgeoning startup), but perhaps a new set of eyes will spark a new idea in an area worth improving that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. Don’t hold them back from experimenting. After all, rules were meant to be broken.
FEWER MEETINGS, MORE ACCOUNTABILITY
If a startup wants to grow, it’s crucial that everyone involved — from fresh recruits to the head of the company — is held accountable for their actions. For a lot of executives, that means hosting more meetings so everyone has a better idea of everything that’s going on. But research shows that the majority of today’s executives and their co-workers feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings they’re subjected to on a weekly basis.
Instead of filling your schedule with meetings, try hosting only one at the start of each week to trace out each team’s trajectory, reinforce the company’s overall vision, and make team members feel accountable for its success. People take pride in what they’re doing if they know where things are headed and how they fi t into the puzzle. Just don’t make taking part a mandatory activity — if meetings start to cut into team members’ productivity, allow them to skip if they feel it’s a waste of their time.
And don’t feel the need to be involved in every decision. In fact, aim to actively remove yourself from some. In a lot of instances, your presence simply adds another step to the process. Identify what decisions you need to be a part of and which you don’t. If your team’s accountable, they’ll be happy to take on the added responsibility.
REWRITE THE HIRING RULE BOOK
It’s easy to get lost in meaningless minutiae as your number of employees expands, and that’s especially true when it comes to hiring them.
Don’t ask the same questions in every interview. By now everyone knows how to prepare answers ahead of time about where they find themselves in five years, or which weaknesses can be reframed as supposed strengths. Instead, focus on finding employees with the right mindset, because hiring too many people who don’t fi t in with, or understand, your core values and trajectory can make or break a company.
To paraphrase American business consultant, author, and speaker Jim Collins, part of hiring has to do with “getting the right people on the bus.” So bake a sense of purpose into the recruiting process every time. At Foko Retail we do that starting with the job postings, which describe not only the roles and responsibilities we seek in an applicant but how they, too, can shape and impact the business. During the interview process, we openly talk about our longer-term plans, and how we envision prospective candidates being a part of it.
Steer away from questions that make them reinforce their relevant experience (most of that can be found on their resume, anyway), and instead focus on scenarios that shed light on who the person is beyond the CV.
And don’t drag out the process. Allow team leaders to vet out prospective candidates, and only sit in on a select number of meetings, or the parts that apply to you. Onboarding and training a new employee are already an expensive and time-consuming process. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. If the people you trust have a good feeling about a candidate, go with their gut.
PRIORITIZE WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Studies show that giving your employees flexibility over their schedule is one of the top factors in employee satisfaction. You can start by not being so strict about vacation days. Have an employee who’s been putting in extra hours to get the job done? Give them some extra days off — they probably deserve it.
Try finding time in your business hours to give your team a much-deserved break. We recently started hosting weekly yoga classes to help rejuvenate ourselves halfway through the week, and already we see the benefits.
Have a new parent in your ranks? Let them cut out a bit early to beat traffic and spend some time with their family — they’ll make it up to you when you need them to step up.
And, above all else, don’t track time off. If someone needs a breather, let them have it. If you’ve been hiring people with the right mindset, they’ll be honest about if they’ve had enough time off, and will return to work even more refreshed.
REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE EQUATION
Every startup springs from a single idea. Over time that idea changes as more people get added and start giving their input. For someone who’s been at a startup since the beginning, that can probably seem scary. Wouldn’t that mean your product, or original idea, is being more and more diluted as time goes on?
Not necessarily. If you’ve hired the right people, instilled your company’s philosophy properly, and ingrained in them a need to innovate and be accountable for their actions, your business will be able to function fi ne whether you’re there or not, and that’s a good thing.
As your company grows, it’s easy to believe that more people necessitate more hierarchy, more meetings, and more rules. Above all, beware of unnecessary process and red tape. Avoiding these pitfalls allows your team to focus on doing what they do best, which is creating value for your company, not navigating the bureaucracy of endless meetings and strict company policies. As the old adage goes: Less is more. Remove the clutter from your organization to make scaling less work.
MARC GINGRAS is the CEO of Foko Retail, a platform that delivers the art and science of retail execution. He is an entrepreneur and angel investor, and sold his last venture, Tungle.me, to BlackBerry. Marc holds an MBA from INSEAD, a master’s in management sciences from the University of Waterloo and a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.