On the road from a few bucks to a few billion, every company creates the same problems for itself. One of those must be solved in order to achieve lasting success:
Preventing growth from destroying culture.
You see, every successful startup has a special culture – whatever it is – that propels it to those early successes. Most don’t think much of it. It’s just “the way we do things around here.”
But something happens when most companies start growing; that culture that everyone felt in their bones starts to slowly leak away.
I read another of the many examples of this in Play Nice But Win, an autobiographical account by Michael Dell of the early years and recent transformation of Dell Technologies.
From its start in Dell’s University of Texas dorm room to #28 on the Fortune 500, the company knows a thing or two about growth. One of the topics Dell covers is the challenge of creating a healthy culture in a company with explosive growth. He writes:
Back in the beginning, when the company was just me, I had this set of values that I knew were important, but I didn’t have to communicate them with anybody. But as more and more people came on board, things got more complicated. As a company grows it becomes compartmentalized. Our salespeople understood our values because they were interfacing with the customer all the time. As were the technical support people. But our manufacturing and supply chain team members were a little farther away from the voice of the customer. We battled this by going out of our way to have customers visit our manufacturing sites. What we learned was that the best way to tell the story of our company was through their stories. What were our customers trying to accomplish? What were their challenges? Especially the new and unsolved challenges? Understanding these new and unsolved challenges is at the core of what we must continue to do as a company to succeed. Why was what they were doing important in the world – and how were we helping them to do it?Michael Dell, Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader
Out of that challenge came one of the five key tenets of Dell’s values: “We believe in creating loyal customers by providing a superior experience at a great value.” Some of the new people who had joined Dell were more motivated by a big financial payout than they were by Dell’s set of values.
The answer was that Dell had to get really clear about what was important to them. They had to define their values and repeatedly communicate them so that they would attract people who were committed to upholding those same values.
Defining the culture is the first step in our proprietary 4 step process at FiveFour to get companies growing from the inside out. It’s a necessary first step in order to cope with the growth that success brings.
And the best cultures call people to some kind of larger purpose, like Dell was talking about in the quote above. If you don’t do that, you’ll likely end up with a team of mercenaries who are motivated by a paycheck.
Could an undefined culture be what’s holding you back from future growth? Maybe even from a future spot on the fortune 500? Read Dell’s book to learn more and reach out to me for a conversation. I would love to help you define your culture and start you growing from the inside out.