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Preserving Company Culture

Preserving and scaling culture at a glassdoor top workplace

By Maureen Calabrese / April 23, 2018

What’s the most difficult part in managing a rapidly growing workforce?

Sure, budgeting, team structures and work bandwidth are all challenging to scale.

But it’s company culture that can be the hardest aspect of your organization to maintain and evolve as you grow.

At a high-growth tech company like Sprout Social, certain operational standards tend to grow alongside your success. Culture is a little more ambiguous. It’s more than free lunches and aesthetically appealing office nooks.

At its core, culture comes down to establishing a belief system and making sure those beliefs are reflected in every joint of your organization. The elements that make up the foundation of our culture at Sprout—diversity, inclusion and opportunity—have a shared responsibility and passion in evolving. These values are reflected in everything from our communication and learning initiatives to our office art.

We strive to continually make Sprout an environment where employees can be true to themselves. But as a team that’s nearly tripled its headcount in less than a year, this hasn’t always been easy.

Growth has forced us to answer some really tough questions, particularly–how can a company scale an award-winning culture?

What was best for our organization eight years ago may not be best for it today. In order to remain true to our roots, we’ve had to reevaluate what makes a “good culture fit,” find alternative ways to encourage collaboration and redefine our communication practices.

Culture add vs. culture fit

In recruitment we often talk about “good culture fits.” But the idea of a “good fit” reinforces certain aspects of a culture that your organization may have outgrown and, subsequently, can hold your company back from maturing.

It’s time to drop the idea of the right fit and pay closer attention to what moves your culture forward.

There’s a certain amount of unconscious bias at play in hiring employees that “embody company culture”—thinking like you, talking like you, behaving like you. This mentality makes for a pretty homogenized workforce that doesn’t bode well for any aspect of your community or business.

More companies are shifting focus toward intentional diversity and inclusion—places like Pandora, Facebook and IDEO are reframing the notion of how diverse candidates can add to culture, not just maintain or fit into it.

Atlassian is one of the many brands flipping the script on the traditional hiring mentality. What began as an exploration in implementing their core values ultimately evolved into a redesign of their interview process, the addition of unconscious bias training for interviewers, and a set of behavioral questions specifically designed to assess whether or not a candidate could potentially contribute and thrive in an environment structured by such values.

Atlassin’s Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion has been forthcoming on the steps that the tech company has taken.

“Shifting our focus from ‘culture fit’ to ‘values fit’ helps us hire people who share our goals, not necessarily our viewpoints or backgrounds,” Blanche, told Fast Company.

Removing the notion of a “good fit” won’t completely eliminate biases. But it’s a start to effectively building a more powerfully diverse and inclusive workforce.

Community and friendship aren’t synonymous

Everyone who works together doesn’t need to also be friends.

There’s this myth that goes along with boasting about a sense of community in the workplace; that the office should be a place where everybody knows your name. But that’s not essential to actually fostering community.

At Sprout we emphasize respect and the familiarity of family, but casual culture is a cornerstone of our brand and something that has grown and matured throughout our culture journey.

But specifically emphasizing the idea of friendship with coworkers isn’t as healthy as it sounds because a workplace cultivates it own type of relationship and doesn’t follow the same guidelines people place on their personal relationships.

If you’re going to lean into anything about professional relationships, make it collaboration. Encourage inclusivity, productivity and learning by allowing your workforce the space and encouragement to step out of work cliques and apply their skills to cross-team projects and initiatives.

Reshaping and reinforcing communication

Your business is growing, efforts are scaling and everything seems to be evolving accordingly. But there is one critical element of a successful workplace that is often overlooked as we adjust processes for account for growth: Communication.

Communication is a roadmap of a company.

When you’re a company of 20 people, all of you can get into a room for an announcement and the message is shared cohesively.

When you’re a global company of 400 you have to rethink your process for effective communication. As much as we want to hold on to our startup roots (and we try) there’s a tipping point where the dynamics of a company fundamentally change.

At Sprout, we’d be frauds to have the motto, “open communication creates progress” and not put every effort toward upholding the value of that sentiment. Bottlenecking communication defeats our purpose and impacts our culture.

As we’ve grown, we’ve invested in strong internal communications tool like Slack and Bambu. But we also keep in mind that these tools don’t take the place of a solid strategy that offers every voice the opportunity to be a part of the conversation.

Similarly to how we encourage people to bring their whole selves to work, we allow the space for employees to bring their whole selves to the conversation. During open and informal All Hands, our CEO, Justyn Howard, opens the floor for candid and honest questions, ranging from our recent acquisition of Simply Measured to the return of his favorite sandwich, the McRib. Outside of All Hands, that openness is extended to Slack, where Howard frequently jumps into conversations to add his perspective.

Different cultures and subsets within your organization are going to emerge if not everyone feels like they’re a part of the conversation, so be thoughtful and proactive about identifying what your hurdles are and continually re-emphasize your company’s beliefs.

Be proud of the environment you’ve created

A company’s culture doesn’t just come down to the dynamics of bonding. It’s the soul and character of your business and how you’re perceived. But that doesn’t mean that as your organization grows, you won’t have to evolve how you maintain a healthy employee community.

You’ve worked hard to create an environment that stands for something. The belief system you’ve built is what attracts new candidates and motivates your current employees to put forth their best work.

Sure, major changes in culture can feel disorienting and of course there will be growing pains. But in order to maintain the community you’ve fostered, you have to enable your culture to bloom alongside the expansion of your business.

Maureen Calabrese

Maureen Calabrese

is the Chief People Officer at Sprout Social where she is responsible for leading Sprout’s people function. Calabrese's primary mission is to work across all facets of the organization to foster a culture where great people are inspired to do great work–thereby delivering great results. When not at work, Calabrese spends her time finding elusive Lego pieces with her husband and three children.
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