In this week’s Secret to Small Business Success series, Donna Fenn shares insights on how to take care of your culture why your company grows. Next week, we’ll kick off a new month of blog posts centered on the theme of embracing your entrepreneurial spirit.
Nurturing Your Culture as Your Company Grows
When your company is young, the heady startup vibe defines your culture. But what happens when your company becomes bigger and more mature? You’ll lose part of that vibe, of course, but you don’t have to lose your culture. You will, however, need to put some effort into systemizing and articulating everything you simply took for granted when you first launched your company.
Alexa von Tobel, the founder and CEO of LearnVest, an online financial planning platform with $24 million in venture capital funding, has taken her company from a startup to 80 employees in just three and half years. In that rapid-growth environment, she has had to work hard to maintain and evolve the LearnVest culture. Here’s how she did it:
Remain true to your values. “Our culture as a startup was to move quickly and to be comfortable making an 85% informed decision,” says von Tobel. “Decisions are progress, so if you have a great idea, you need to start implementing it.” While it’s tempting to be more conservative as your company grows, it’s also risky to avoid risk-taking. LearnVest’s employees know that “it’s okay to fail,” says von Tobel.
Hire smart. Do you hire for skills and talent or cultural fit? Both, says von Tobel. “You have to choose the people who are 100% a cultural fit and 100% a talent fit,” she says. Every prospective employee’s last interview is with her so that she can spend time getting to know each new potential team member. There’s also a generous referral program that rewards employees for recommending new hires – a great way to ensure a staff of like-minded, compatible people.
Keep everyone on the same page. Each quarter, von Tobel calls an all-hands meeting where she delivers a “state of the union” message that lays out the company’s successes, its shortcomings, and what everyone needs to learn. And twice a year, she and her staff leave the office for a full day retreat that includes a good bit of fun (i.e. whisky tasting at a Manhattan restaurant, or a jaunt to an investor’s beach house), team building exercises, and company updates.
Emulate the experts. At LearnVest, everyone reads Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, which lays out the Zappos’ customer service philosophy – a model for LearnVest. From Google’s playbook, von Tobel got the idea to allow her tech team to take a day off every few weeks “to build stuff that they’re excited about, whether or not it has something to do with work.” And like Jet Blue, LearnVest has a work at home policy for its financial planners. “They’re the heartbeat of our brand and we want them to be happy every day,” says von Tobel.
LearnVest has evolved beyond the scrappy startup stage, but von Tobel thinks that the company’s culture has remained intact. “Your culture needs to be authentic to the company,” she says. “As you grow, you don’t change the culture, you let it evolve.”
Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.
Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on August 27, 2013 at 7:02 am