How a Company can maintain a Start-Up's culture during its growth stage

A common observation indicates that children below the age of five learn, grasp and imitate things at a rapid pace. What's even more common is that such households continually discuss the child's ability to do so. Sustaining such curiosity is very important while he/ she grows older. Most successful people have achieved professional laurels only because they have imbibed these skills into their routine and are never tired of learning new things. In other words, traits like relentless thirst for knowledge, constant push for excellence and innovation are very common among successful businessmen.

Now just link the child to a start-up and the grownup with a growing business firm. In the organization context, it is therefore easy to observe the following attributes that have defined their culture during their start up days:

  • Customer
  • Commitment
  • Connect
  • Control

If you have worked with a start-up, you will definitely agree that the above four key qualities are evident features. Here's how it works.

Customer is the king for any business. And it's true even in the case of a start-up. It is a measure of employee success. This parameter must always be upheld irrespective of the company's growth. It is a common observation that start-ups go that extra mile to ensure complete customer satisfaction. This feature enables an organization to have an edge over competition.

Commitment of employees is the highest, as they are primarily assigned with multiple tasks and are also empowered with decision making. Though commitment is not viewed as a problem, talent retention in a competitive market definitely is one. Customer commitments - products or service commitments are fulfilled even if it requires extra effort from the employees' side. Lot of innovation happens in the course of fulfilling these commitments. New or specific policies are designed to help employees, which again acts as a tool to retain talent in the organization.

Connect with the employees and amongst workforce is the highest in a start-up. Most employees are connected with each other and successful team work is clearly visible. Employees take help of each other in overcoming any difficult situation and in case of any personal issue even the organization comes forward in support. That's how the top management maintains connect with the employees. Being small also helps them have frequent meetings with the top management. This in other words keeps the communication line intact between the employees and the management. Ensuring such connect among employees and high team spirit is a key to an organization's success when on a growth path.

Control in the organization is often centered at the top management/ primarily promoters. Often financial and other key decisions are management centric. This often helps in maintaining healthy finances for the company. As the company grows, it becomes increasingly imperative that the finances are better managed, so that they don't come in the way of progress. This is true in project scenarios as well. On time escalation ensures effective control. Quick resolution of key issues is due to fewer hierarchy levels.

Having understood the key ingredients for a successful start-up culture, here is how we can maintain the same enthusiasm and zeal in growing companies.

Maintain the customer focus that the company had during the initial phase of business. Companies need to constantly ensure that customers are satisfied. Nothing can replace the company's standing/ position in the market other than a good customer feedback. Frequently designing and evaluating customer centric policies is very important to keep the momentum going. Understanding changing customer requirements, adoption and finally fulfilling them will definitely help maintain a long term relationship with the customer. Questions like “what made the customer come to us?” and “what will make the customer to be with us?” go a long way in ensuring customer base intact.

High performing organization need to consistently maintain healthy employee commitment levels . Innovative means to ensure commitment levels must be explored. Commitment of employees can be gained by following fair and transparent policies in the organization, challenging tasks, providing opportunities and employee care. India has one of the highest young population and with most start-ups hiring young graduates it is imperative that the concerns faced by them are addressed. Primarily with much of the young workforce coming from middle class or below it is important that the organization takes care of their genuine concerns. Simple initiatives like family medical cover, providing assistance in accommodation search during relocation, loan facility during medical/ personal loan etc. Such employee benefits are typically extended during the start-up phase and need to be strengthened as the company grows. Providing opportunities to employee as part of entrepreneurship programs and making them partners in the company's growth is definitely an option worth exploring to gain long term employee commitment.

As employees grow it is essential that the company maintains a connect between them and the top management. The same needs to be ensured by providing innovative programs that will help employees knit together. Designing an effective induction of new recruits and laterals goes a long way in building connect as well as team spirit among employees. Team and family based events ensure the spirit of togetherness is encouraged. Providing opportunities to showcase personal talents at such events, providing support for participation in various competitions/ events help nurutre employee talent. It is critical to include various mechanisms to ensure employee connect with top management. Town halls, notice boards, secret polls are some of the common ways to ensure that connect. Employee reward and recognition is also an important parameter.

Control in the organization needs to be selectively decentralized. A combination of both centralized and decentralized control will help organization better. Centralizing only key decisions that define organizational strategy and positioning or those having higher impacts while decentralizing those which help in serving the customer/ employee better. Setting up governance mechanism at different levels also helps in effective control of the organization. This also limits excessive involvement of top management in day to day issues or matter which does not require their time and which can be effectively solved at the lower levels. Design effective Management Information Systems (MIS) with clear escalation mechanisms to ensure control of projects/ issues and aids decision making.

The fundamental success of every organization lies in the way it sustains its childlike enthusiasm, learning calibre and implementation which it had during the start-up days. Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar is a living example for his enthusiasm and zeal to learn even after achieving great heights in cricket. Software companies like Google are a standing example of maintaining such culture and thus have grown big. Though emulating them does not necessarily result in similar success, but understanding these inherent qualities and culture and sustaining them definitely will.

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