Hiring Without Cultural Change

When a company undergoes expansion, especially in the early years, there is a risk of changes being made to the culture of the company. When the entire company switches from being able to fit into a single [large] room to requiring several thousand square feet of space in each of their 14 new offices, cultural change is viewed as being inevitable.

One company I work with, though, is currently undergoing such a transformation, and they’ve managed to figure out how to expand without any major change to the culture.The CEO of the company, to date, works in the same room as all the employees of the company. While there’s no pool table in the middle of the room and nerf balls are noticeably absent, it still has the feel of a start-up. The culture is pretty laid back, with a focus on the work produced rather than the time worked. Meetings are generally avoided unless absolutely necessary, and delegation of work rules the day.

With the arrival of several large projects requiring a significant staffing increase, his company is about to be put at risk for changes to this culture. After all, while he is able to both pursue new clients, work on the details of any of his projects, and manage his team of half-a-dozen people, in addition to the inevitable trouble-shooting when incidents arise, with the number of staff about to double in the very near future, and possibly double again within 6 months, the style of the business is about to be shocked.

However, as someone who has worked with large corporations, he understands how management does and does not fit into a business, and he is reluctant to create a level of management that could precipitate the company becoming top-heavy.

Instead of looking outside the company for the needed level of management, he has turned inside the company to create an environment that promotes from within. Forget the MBA-toting personalities – he’s looking for people with solid technical skills who have lived and worked inside the culture he wants to maintain. Those who demonstrate leadership qualities may find themselves directing other people in the company on various projects. As new people are brought into the company, they are given a mentor in the form of a more senior employee who inducts them into the culture.

When sufficient employees have been brought into the company, a new team is formed, with one of the existing employees taking on the role of team lead. That person is intended to act as the CEO of that team, being able to delegate work to the team, manage entire projects, and run small budgets for acquiring resources outside the company.

The CEO himself could then distance himself slightly from his involvement in the management of the individual projects. While he would not want to reduce his involvement to the point where he is out of touch with the realities of the business, he can reduce his workload and begin to delegate more. He could continue to wine and dine new clients, getting them to sign on for more projects. He can work on promoting the business. When problems arise, he can step in and help as required.

However, the culture of the company can still remain unchanged, since growth is being done organically, from within. People are brought in at the bottom, and rise according to their aspirations and abilities. As they are brought in, they are shown the culture, and are given the chance to adopt it as their own.

While this strategy begins to degrade as the size of expansions increases, it can work well when working with smaller companies who are undergoing moderate staffing changes. Start the changes from the bottom, not the top, and you’ll see the culture remain stable. Start at the top, and big changes may occur, with little ability to control those changes.