5 habits any employee can develop to scale company culture

When I joined pymetrics in January, I spent my first 5 months as the only person on the Sales Development team. At the time this post is published, we’ll be onboarding our 8th and 9th hires (welcome, Jacquelyn and Daniel!). All this growth is really exciting, but a tad intimidating.

If you asked my coworkers, “What is the one thing Carlton cares about most?”, they’d likely say eating fast food or creating an awesome employee experience. For now, let’s focus on the latter — although I’m always down for a judgement-free McD’s run.

The pride and joy of any startup is its people. How we work together to achieve a common goal against all odds, the ways we celebrate our wins and learn from mistakes, and the genuine bonds we forge over time. As pymetrics grows, I try to do my part to ensure we don’t become one of the tech culture horror stories you see pop up in the news. You know, the headlines that leave you asking yourself, “How did that company even make it this far?”.

Here’s the reality those places and countless others fail to embrace: building culture is like running on a treadmill. No matter how good you currently feel, the finish line doesn’t exist. If you stop or rest, you will soon fall flat on your back. A common trap rapidly growing teams encounter is becoming complacent as if culture has an auto-pilot. The moment you take your eyes off the ball to kick the can down the road, your stellar culture will enter its decline.

The bright side is that unlike other high-level business challenges, every employee is empowered to play a role in nurturing their company’s culture and transforming areas that need improvement. You don’t have to be CEO to treat your colleagues with respect, give them encouragement and praise, or share a much-needed laugh.

My team of Sales Development Managers (“SDMs”, if you’re cool) has become one of the fastest growing at pymetrics. I’m obsessive about fostering team chemistry that keeps us all happy and engaged as we expand. Below are, in no particular order, 5 habits I will keep top-of-mind during this journey.

1) Welcome new hires like you mean it

A thoughtful onboarding is vital to employee success. Yet, startups often feel justified to flub this because they’re so busy and would prefer scrappy employees who bootstrap themselves like the ones that came before.

This will stifle employee development. Seize the first weeks as an opportunity to instill cultural values early.

The moment a new team member sets foot in your office, they’re entering sponge-mode. Your tone, body language, interactions with others, etc. are being absorbed non-stop.

Company history and “Dropbox 101” aside, a proper onboarding is most influenced by how current employees engage with the new hire. You can set the proper tone by:

  • walking up and introducing yourself (that company-wide welcome email doesn’t count);
  • inviting them to your lunch table;
  • exploring things you have in common;
  • looping them in on the company’s inside jokes;
  • and doing all of the above even if you don’t work directly with them.

50% of employees believe having friends at work gives them a stronger connection with their company. Though you may not be part of the employee’s onboarding sessions, you are responsible for helping them buy into your culture.

2) Leave nobody behind

When headcount increases, it’s natural for employees to become less connected with the colleagues beyond their regular work sphere. This is because the number of individual relationships in a company increases exponentially with each person that joins.

How does any company preserve the close-knit vibe that’s special in the early days?

Well, they can’t. I’d love it, but my realistic objective is not for everyone to be best buddies. Instead, my priority is setting a common sense of community and values SDMs align with. After that, it’s easier to form relationships and promote inclusivity.

You can do the same by fighting the urge to settle into cliques, staying involved with team events and convincing coworkers to come along, and identifying anyone that needs an extra boost of motivation.

3) Put out fires before they start

If building culture is like running on a treadmill, re-building a broken culture is like running on water: impossible. This isn’t a bug in your code that can be rewritten overnight. Once employees are accustomed to toxic standards, morale will tank and weeding out bad apples has significant fallout.

Be proactive. Looking around the office and thinking “oh wow, people hate it here” means you are too late.

For the average employee, this means holding yourself and coworkers accountable, while giving your honest opinions to higher-ups. Notice something that makes you uncomfortable? Speak up! Everything going great? Sweet, you should relay that information so those in charge know what works.

Management, carefully monitor employee sentiment and act on it. It may sound presumptuous, but one of the questions I ask people on my team is, “What would it take for you to leave this company and go somewhere else?”. Do your best to answer this question for employees before they answer it for you.

4) Avoid playing gatekeeper

My initial 5 months at pymetrics were spent creating the SDM role from scratch: day-to-day processes, our (amazing) sales stack, best practices, hiring and onboarding, you name it. Early employees understand the ownership that comes with being an OG, and how weird it is to then share that ownership with newcomers.

Don’t block people from proposing fresh ideas. Your team will not perform well by just falling in line behind you. When their suggestions continue to get shot down, employees give up and the company suffers as a result.

Establishing psychological safety is invaluable to a culture of open communication. The trust and respect in those environments goes a long way towards driving innovation.

Step back and appreciate everyone’s contributions. Not only will they enjoy having their voice heard, but you will learn a thing or two from someone else’s perspective.

5) Start with yourself

No matter how great your company’s people strategies are, it is all for nothing if you don’t put forth a solid effort to meet them halfway.

Everyone agrees that working at a startup can be stressful. That’s not an excuse to allow your demeanor and adherence to cultural values slip. Stick to what you can control and impact those areas to the best of your ability.

Some of my tips to staying upbeat are:

  • don’t make a mountain out of a molehill;
  • reflect on what’s going great;
  • and share your issues with your support system.

Should all that fail, just ride someone else’s wave. Your day being suckish doesn’t mean other people’s are. Recognize a job well done and feed off your peers’ energy.

Positive workplaces are proven to be more productive and all it takes is one sour employee to suck the life out of a team. Don’t be the one.

Wrapping up

A lot goes into whether a startup thrives or dies. I can live with losing to competitors, failing to acquire customers, or even running out of money. What would make me most unhappy is collapsing from within.

The fact that you finished this post is a great start to taking actionable steps towards preparing for your company’s next chapter. If you value preserving culture during a hiring sprint of your own, I sincerely hope these points are useful!

Please send any ideas that you’ve seen work well to carlton@pymetrics.com or connect with me on LinkedIn to continue the discussion.

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