Employee Engagement

How to maintain your culture as you scale

Fred Gulliford

Scale-ups all have one thing in common – they’ve spotted opportunity. It’s usually one of two things:

  • There’s a gap in the market that no-one’s noticed.
  • A big organisation provides the product to some extent, but does it badly.

This gives scale-ups a lot of momentum and motivation, and is often what guides the culture in the early stages of the business. Excitement, small teams, and a clear purpose.

As your business grows, you mustn’t lose sight of what made you special in the first place. It’s therefore incredibly important to track and measure the unique characteristics of your culture and maintain them as you scale.

What are the challenges with culture when you scale?

The challenge comes from keeping that exciting culture that you created at the start.

This chart lays out the stark truth about what most businesses go through as they grow:

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You get started – motivated by entrepreneurial drive and leadership. You get more people, more teams. You then have to put proper processes in place to make sure things are done consistently.

After that you get managers in to look after the process. What’s essentially happening is you’re turning from an exciting start-up into a very conventional big company. You’re still growing, but the risk is that you lose the divergent thinking that made you stand out in the first place. And if you’re not prepared, your culture will suffer too.

Let’s define what we mean by culture

Here’s a definition we find useful:

The pattern of behaviour essential for an organisation to thrive in the long term.

We try and assess organisational culture more specifically. These 4 elements should help you understand what made the beginning of your company so vibrant. Once you’ve established this, it makes it easier to maintain it as you grow.

  • Innovation. At the start, you had a great idea and started a business around it. True innovation. But once you grow, you start refining and developing your product, rather than innovating. It’s important to keep that instinct of embracing change, adapting quickly, and looking for a way to add to what you do.
  • Collaboration. When you were all in the same room, collaboration was easy. You need to anticipate your teams getting bigger and find ways for them to stay connected when they’re not together. It’s important to keep that sense of camaraderie you had at the start.
  • Transparency. Again, when you first got going, the purpose and values you had were crystal clear. You need to make a conscious effort to keep this going. Be open and honest about your strategy, values, success and failures. It helps to keep everyone aligned to the goals of the company.
  • Inclusion. This is something to be especially aware of as you hire new team members and if you grow into a much larger company. Are you creating diverse teams? Does everyone feel welcome


How do you measure and track culture in your organisation?

Being aware of innovation, collaboration, transparency and inclusion is the first step. But if you want to take this to the next level, you need to find a way to measure and track them all. That way, you know exactly how your investment in culture is benefitting your business.

These aspects of your business have always been difficult to measure, so we developed the QlearFit framework to make it quick and easy. It tracks 16 elements of your company’s Organisational Fitness – including the 4 areas that are critical to understanding your culture.

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(QlearFit Map)

QlearFit in Action

Documaster used the QlearFit Map to maintain their culture as they scaled – you can see what their CEO, Anders Johnsen, thought about it here:

Get the research

We verified our approach through independent research of over 2,000 UK companies. You can get the free research here, which goes into more detail about the 16 areas we measure, and how they affect different areas of your business.

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