It pays to work on company culture as your business grows. Here's how.
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The term ‘scale-up’ evokes a certain level of excitement in business. For many it represents the successful jump made from start-up to a flourishing, revenue-generating company.
For others, it’s the beginning of a sustained period of growth on many fronts – product, customers, revenue, investment, personnel, workspace. Whatever the specific implications for a company scaling its business, it’s without doubt a time of change.
Many companies going through a period of scale tend to place primary focus on hitting revenue goals, particularly those with VC funding, to make sure they continue meeting stipulated financial targets. Most of these are ultimately to bring about the next wave of capital.
However, such financial-centric strategies risk compromising a company’s original vision, and the morale of the employees that have helped, and will continue to help, achieve scale in the first place.
Having scaled previous companies and spoken with peers in the midst of growth, I’ve seen and heard how beneficial it is to use this phase as an opportunity to not just prioritise the wellbeing of your employees, but significantly ramp up how you’re engaging with and rewarding your team.
Whilst there are many priorities, and some potential pitfalls for businesses during scale, having a values-based culture that you then live by will pay dividends in terms of output and employee contentment while creating a vibrant and engaged workplace.
‘Company culture’, often positioned as the holy grail for young, prospering companies, is undoubtedly best cultivated in a motivated and energised staff environment.
An employee-centric culture is critical in hiring and retaining talent. As mentioned earlier, scaling up usually involves regular goals and targets to hit to ensure a company stays on the right path during a period of high growth and it’s your staff who’ll will ultimately enable you to hit your growth goals.
Keeping your talented employees throughout this period and beyond is vital Making them feel valued and part of an employee-centric company will give you the best shot at doing that.
Moreover, your company will generate a reputation for being a progressive, enjoyable place to work that will attract the best new talent, and those that also rate cultural fit as important feature of their job search.
Perhaps the most important benefit to those that haven’t considered a more employee centric growth strategy is that it is proven to create a more productive workforce. As shown by analytics firm Gallup, organisations that are the best in engaging their employees achieve earnings-per-share growth more than four times that of their competitors.’
In their recent US study on employee engagement, Gallup noted better customer engagement, staff retention, fewer accidents and ‘21% high profitability’ as further outcomes from employee centric cultures. To the more financially driven company executives, that alone should be incentive enough to improve employee welfare during scale.
So, with the benefits being clear, what are the ways to improve your employee engagement and welfare during a time of growth?
First and foremost, it’s more than adding a few beanbags or table tennis to the office. Whilst that may improve lunch breaks, leaders must go further to properly engage with staff and improve long-term employee welfare.
Initiatives that incentivise or encourage well-earned time away from work are extremely effective. At Upgrade Pack, we recently introduced a four-day week, giving our team Fridays off to explore out of work interests, hobbies, and vocations.
With YouGov reports last month showing 75% of UK workers back a shorter working week, we conducted a company-wide survey to hear directly from our people if they would welcome such an initiative. The concept was met with overwhelming positivity, with no one voting against the idea.
Two months into the scheme, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Early indications from members of the team, and from others I know that have adopted a shorter working week report improved work-life balance, increased productivity and reduced sick leave.
Even as we successfully scale on a market-first product, onboard clients and partners and plan regional expansion, it’s proof that it is indeed possible to scale back whilst scaling up.
Moving from 40 to 38 hours in the week, we’ve also given employees the freedom to choose their in-office hours. While some prefer the earlier start, others prefer a later working day.
Recognising and acting upon the diverse nature of a business’s workforce is an essential part of ensuring each person feels valued and heard during a period of growth.
Giving employees equity in the business is also a great way of increasing employee engagement, as well as more collaborative working. Offering share options creates a heightened sense of ownership and, of course, personal gain from individual and collaborative efforts.
Companies like Riverfood, Aardman, and Richer Sounds are choosing to go down the employee equity route as a much more value-driven financial boon for employees, where they feel more driven in the workplace to contribute to their company’s success.
Having done just that to create the UK’s first employee-owned tech company last year, I would highly recommend more boards look into it.
Other practices that boost employee welfare include providing benefits that encourage taking paid vacation days (a basic benefit still sadly under-utilised by many workers), regular team away days (we have a two-day retreat every six months), working out of the office initiatives and paid-volunteering days.
Companies like Uber and Revolut are bringing yoga classes into their offices to encourage staff to get the necessary physical and mental exercises they need.
Others such as Google, Salesforce and LinkedIn are well known for placing emphasis upon employee mental health by hiring therapists or psychologists for people to engage with whenever they need.
For scale-ups that may not have the workforce or capital to take it in-house, access to a paid-for resource like Headspace or Calm is something that could be just as effective and valuable to employees during high growth.
I would urge those going through, or set to hit, a period of scale to use it as an opportunity to prioritise their approach to employee welfare and overarching company culture. It will be the best decision you make.