Sustaining a winning company culture during a time of high growth isn’t easy.
Whether you define culture as a reflection of core values, the way you recruit, even the incentives you offer, building and then preserving a good one means a lot of listening, learning, and engagement from the top level.
I view culture as a reflection of the people within the organization, rather than a set of ideals or rules. It’s an amalgamation of shared attitudes, beliefs, and values. It can impact everything – including how problems are solved and how products are sold – and it’s often in flux, especially in times of change.
Fidel API is in a state of hypergrowth right now. As head of engineering, the goal for myself and my team is to double the total engineering headcount before year-end.
Maintaining a great culture, in my experience, is one of the biggest challenges a company can face when scaling. New faces, new expectations, different ways of working, and aligning everyone at the same pace become even more difficult.
If you’re embarking on a major hiring push, keep in mind these realities about culture during times of growth:
- A company’s culture in an organization with 100 people will not be identical to the culture it had with 10 people.
- It’s incredibly difficult to sustain a culture ‘artificially’ or through enforcement; it begins and thrives organically amongst the people that form your team.
- A company culture is, by and large, a mirror of its leadership.
The above are observable in organizations of all sizes, industries, and markets around the world. One of the biggest issues in scaling any organization is an influx of new dependencies that will arrive with those new hires. They can slow any organization’s output down to a crawl. You have to combat it in such a way as to allow new starters to hit the ground running and feel confident to contribute as soon as possible.
In order to prioritize culture and support the many new joiners arriving during Fidel API’s high growth period, I focus on three simple, key priorities: autonomy, alignment, and accountability.
All of them are necessary for allowing a culture to positively evolve. Here’s why.
The three A’s explained
Alignment: Everyone needs a North Star, that guiding principle of where the company is heading and why. It’s not specifically about needing everyone to buy into a ‘vision’, and swearing allegiance to the cause, but providing clear expectations for each team member. Clear guidance is provided upon arrival through objectives and measurable key results. This is then reinforced by how we communicate internally, from all-hands meetings to sprint planning initiatives.
Autonomy: We aim to remove blockers and empower all teams to make informed decisions. For example, we trust colleagues can make the best decision for them on how, when, and where they work. If a process isn’t working, let’s proactively replace it with a new solution. This approach helps reduce top-down dependencies to a minimum and empower our engineers to be comfortable driving decisions that help move us forward.
Accountability: With all that individual empowerment comes great responsibility. That’s why accountability is key to being aligned and having an autonomous vein right through a company. We all put skin in the game by collectively deciding and committing to team-wide and even our own individual OKRs (objectives and key results). Alignment and autonomy are given in exchange for accountability across the organization.
To change a culture, be the culture
I’ve written a few times about company culture and here’s something from a past piece that still feels relevant today:
‘One thing rings true to me above all else: the people we employ are the brand and culture matters for long-term, sustainable success. But culture doesn’t exist only to benefit organizations. Culture must always benefit both employees and the company.'
Culture always has something of an organic root, but from a leadership standpoint, we must embody or be the culture or cultural change we want to see. Culture isn’t the launch day of a new product or the hitting of an OKR at the end of a quarter. Culture is a way of working; it’s the little things, the way we talk to each other, the way we fix something that’s broken or figure out what to build next – material growth and success come as by-products of a winning culture.
That’s why it’s important not to over-engineer a culture because it can become a rigid framework that can’t handle inevitable, but often unexpected changes.
So, how will we double headcount? We’ll continue hiring talented people, putting them in positions of real responsibility, and providing them with alignment and autonomy to do the best job they can, which naturally manifests greater accountability.
If your company is taking a big step forward in terms of hiring, remember to be the cultural change you want to see and use the the three ‘A’s to set your teams up for success. This is how we allow our company cultures to evolve, and retain their best dimensions, no matter how large we grow.