Poor culture can emerge for several reasons.  Perhaps the culture was great when the company was small, but the need to grow fast meant a big influx of new staff.  If the new staff weren’t given any information or guidance about the company culture, they settle into behaving in a way they did at their last company.  This may not be the behaviour practices you need in your company.

So, right now, does your company has a great culture?  Excellent.

How did you get that culture? Did you build it deliberately, and then spend time nurturing it? Did you prune and shape it until it reflected the values of your company? Or did it kinda, sorta, just … emerge?

If it’s the latter, that’s not a bad thing.  As I wrote last week, a company’s culture is made up of the worst behaviours it tolerates.  If your culture has emerged over time and is strong and healthy, we can infer your company has a good level of behaviour from its current staff.  Great job, seriously.

Of course, the bigger you get, the harder it is to build and maintain your company culture unconsciously like this. 

Let Me Explain How Using A Short Scenario

Imagine you have 50 people and a great culture right now. 

Next imagine you are going to recruit another 10 people over a relatively short period of time.

That means 17% of your company don’t know what it means to belong in your world.  That’s quite a big percentage.  Even so you might not see a huge impact at first.   A little degradation of behaviours is easy to miss, especially if you aren’t looking out for it.

So, when the next group of new hires joins, they join a marginally less-great culture.  The behaviours that they bring with them are then absorbed into your culture too.  They morph and change it until it finds a new (lower) point of equilibrium again. 

Now let’s assume that the next intake of new starters is of a similar size to last time.  Now that’s one third of your company who don’t explicitly know which behaviours are acceptable.  And that is a BIG proportion.  Your company culture is now out of your control (whether it was consciously or unconsciously developed).

Suddenly your existing staff are unhappy, and complaining to you that this isn’t the company they joined.  They say that things aren’t like they used to be.

Rather than listening to them and looking around at what has changed, often we tell them:  things change, nothing stays the same, things always move on!

If you don’t address this problem, one of the main things that will be “moving on” is your long-serving staff, who no longer feel like they belong in your company.

What Could We Do Differently?

Step 1: Avoiding this scenario

This horrible scenario might be avoidable if you have recorded your culture in some way. Either some from of straightforward culture document or a ‘who are we’ pdf is a good start. Alternatively what about a short induction video? Or an assigned ‘buddy’ for each new employee – someone who shows them around culturally as well as physically for a the first week or 2.

Some or all the above suggestions may look contrived or stilted to you – maybe they are.  But elegance here is of less importance than function.  Both are nice, but only the latter is essential.  Having something – ANYTHING – that tells people what to expect and how to behave as they seek to belong is vital.

What will work best for your company is as unique as your company. The important thing is that you have something to help a new starter align their behaviours with your existing culture.  Even if it is stilted, or contrived, at least it is explicitly saying: this is us, these are our shared values and this is how you belong.

Step 2: Make It A “Trip Hazard”

By this I mean make sure that reviewing the information is part of every new starters first week. If they don’t KNOW this exists then it might as well NOT exist!
It is the lightest of light-weight processes. On their first day they will have tasks. They might need to see personnel, get a login, get shown their desk, meet their boss. If you can now add just one more thing to that list, you’re half way there:
“watch the culture video
read the culture document
Explain about the buddy system, and here’s Bob to show you round.

Step 3: The Hardest Bit

I am afraid that, even though steps 1 and 2 are essential, they can be completely voided if you don’t do step 3. Make sure that you nip poor behaviour in the bud, as soon as you can.

This is essential to preserve culture, and requires solid management practices.

Like the company culture, this is another thing that you may be unaware is not quite up to scratch … until things start going wrong….

You need a mechanism for the new starter to receive feedback from the person to whom they report. For a good manager, this will be both good feedback, where the new starter has done well, plus corrective feedback when the new starter went about things poorly. Feedback is always about behaviours, never results. For example: they wasted time because they didn’t ask for help when they should have, or behaved in a way that does not align with the company culture.
Managing your staff well takes discipline, commitment and consistency. This is true whether they are existing, long-serving members of staff, or new starters this week. I’ll write more on staff management in coming weeks.
For now, be reminded that every single person can tell you tales of great company cultures within which they have worked. They learned how to belong there, and if you ask them to uphold and preserve your culture too, they will probably do so with real enthusiasm.
All you have to do is to actually ask them.
If you are interested to see how your culture stacks up in terms of maintenance, or how your recruitment and retention are doing have a go at the “50 to 250 People: Are Your Ready? Scorecard”.