Reward Gateway had just under a hundred staff when it first became a private equity owned business in late 2010. I remember that sale process well. We were negotiating with several bidders at the same time and the questions they each had were common :
- The company is really successful; Why its that? What are you really doing differently?
- You’re outperforming everyone else? What are your USPs? Are they sustainable?
- The culture, the people feels special. How will you maintain this as you grow?
Company culture is the real sustainable USP
It didn’t take me long to be certain that the first two questions were, of course, answered by the third one. Our culture is our only true competitive USP and its the only one worth investing in. And I said to our new owners back then
“If it’s important to us, then we’ll make it happen. And culture is everything to us so I’ll figure out how we scale it.”
In the years that have passed, I’ve realized just how common this issue is. Every single day, our front line staff in sales and service are talking to and helping, amongst others, companies just tipping over that pivotal, one hundred people mark, where it starts to become harder for the CEO to know everyone, it starts to become harder to keep everyone on the same page.
But the good news is it’s far from impossible.
So here are just 3 of the things we’ve done that have stood the test of time and are worth drawing out.
1. We documented our company values
Around 2012, we asked for a group of volunteers covering each department to get together and document the values that they saw the company do every day. Their brief was “just look and what we’re doing that you don’t want us to stop doing, and write down what you see“. That resulted in our Culture Book which every member of staff gets on recruitment and we live by all the time. I refer to mine almost daily.
2. We implemented continuous employee recognition
There are many forms of employee recognition, but continuous recognition is without question my absolute favorite. Rather than having annual or quarterly award programs, or employee of the month, you simply integrate employee recognition into every single day. We use our own product, as you’d expect, and any employee can send any other employee an online recognition card, sometimes called an eCard, for any reason.
We have an eCard that matches each of our 8 company values and we also have a few extra ones, like the simple “Thank you”, “Congratulations” and “Good Luck” ones. They have no financial value, so there is no limit to how many can be sent and each one is public in the company so everyone can see who is sending and who is receiving them. Scanning down our online “recognition wall” and seeing how people say thank you to each other is one of my favorite things to do.
3. We started to make a bigger effort to connect with important life events
When you’re small and you have that wonderful family feel, you naturally connect with the important life events of your employees. You’re there for them with their ups and downs and you share in their celebrations and disappointments. As you get a bit bigger, you need a bit more structure around those but you can still do them.
Here’s what we did :
- We created a bonus when you get married or civil partnered.
- We created a bonus when you have or adopt a baby
- We started to make a little more of a fuss of service anniversaries
These are just three things of the many that we do at Reward Gateway to maintain family feel and culture as we grow. And the truth is your culture does change, it has to, you just can’t do or operate the same things when you’re 300 staff as when you are 50. But whilst it has to change it doesn’t have to degrade or stop being special. You can work hard on your culture and it can keep getting better and stronger as you grow.
So that’s why I’m starting this new theme on my blog. Every couple of weeks I’ll be writing more specifically on the topic of maintaining and improving your company culture as you grow your small business. So if you’d like to stay with me, you can subscribe to my blog’s email or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.