For the last several years, not a month has gone by without at least one well-meaning, concerned employee pulling me aside and asking me, something like, “Clate, how are we going to preserve our amazing culture as we continue to grow at such a fast pace?” I always tell them that we’ll be true to our Core Philosophy and we’ll be just fine. But the truth is, a few years ago, we had just raised venture capital, we were about to begin hiring at a very brisk pace, and I wondered the same thing: “How would we preserve our great culture while hiring very quickly.”Since that time, we’ve grown the company from 50 to 175 employees, our revenue has quadrupled, and our culture has never been better. As I’ve considered what we’ve done to make this happen, I came up with 5 Keys to our success. I share them as suggestions for anyone serious about keeping a great culture while going through a rapid growth phase.
1. Establish your core philosophy, built-to-last style
If you haven’t read Jim Collins’ book Built To Last, you must read it. In it, Collins explains that to create a great, lasting company, the foundation of the business must be firmly set. The way to do that is to establish what the company stands for—the core philosophy—which is the company’s core values and its core purpose. We did this a few years ago at Infusionsoft and it has made all the difference.
2. Hire and fire to your core philosophy
Don’t hire the best or smartest people. What?! Did I really say that? Yes. Don’t hire the best or smartest people. Instead, hire the best or smartest people who fit your core philosophy. Bill Gates is brilliant. But Apple should never hire him. Hire for fit. And fire people as soon as you realize they’re a misfit. At my company, we try to make this easy on ourselves: after our new hires complete their initial two weeks of orientation, we offer them $5,000 to quit. It’s a great way to get rid of the misfits and it increases the commitment level of new hires who are a fit and don’t take us up on our offer.
3. Constantly teach your people, especially the leaders, your core philosophy
Every employee must understand the values and purpose of the company. If the leaders don’t firmly buy into the core philosophy, the people will never buy in. Ultimately, it’s the CEO’s responsibility to entrench the core philosophy. When we were in the process of ingraining our core philosophy, I was just about to let up, feeling that my team wasn’t fully bought in and perhaps I was being too dogmatic in my approach. About that time, I read something in Verne Harnish’s book “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” that nudged me to keep preaching our core philosophy. Verne said that if my people weren’t mocking me about the core philosophy, I wasn’t pushing hard enough. And if they were mocking me, I was on the right track. I pushed a little harder and within a few weeks, the tide turned, I got full buy-in, and our culture has been rockin’ ever since.
4. Hire a senior leader to oversee the culture
There are so many little details to developing a successful culture that the CEO or executive management can’t effectively manage the culture. I hired an Organizational Development professional to be our “built-to-last director” and it has been one of the best hires I’ve made. His over-arching objective is to ensure our organization is preserving the core and stimulating progress. He does a fantastic job and he keeps the leaders and employees constantly focused on our core philosophy.
5. Dedicate time each month to evaluate the culture
Once you’ve got the core set, the mechanisms in place for hiring and firing the right people, and the leadership in place to ensure a strong culture, the last piece is to allocate time to review the culture. Each month, my built-to-last director and I spend a morning reviewing our culture, discussing leaders and assessing any emerging “wedges” between employees and management. Without these meetings, I’ve found that “cultural weeds” spring up in the organization; but when we hold these meetings, we identify course corrections and improvements that make our culture stronger.
I wholeheartedly reject the notion that a great culture must die as a company grows. We have studied Disney, Netflix, and Zappos as examples of companies that have grown and maintained a great culture. (I guess that’s one other thing I suggest: study companies with great cultures!) We are determined to do the same at Infusionsoft. I believe that if you’ll follow these five suggestions, you can grow your company and preserve a great culture.