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How to build a thriving company culture as your team grows

You’ve made the leap and employed your first few employees. It’s an exciting time when you start to expand your team, but when it comes to company culture there’s more to consider than whether you’ve hired the right person.

Creating a successful company culture should go beyond hiring like-minded people and finishing early on a Friday. You need to pay attention to developing processes that fit the culture you want to create: how you onboard new staff, deal with time off and manage their workload, for example.

The early days of being an employer can be the toughest when it comes to establishing a workplace culture, because you’re facing a lot of firsts.

But now is the time that you can set out a blueprint for how you intend to go on. Wait until your company is much bigger and it will be harder to go back and unpick.

This blog post will help you address the different processes you’ll need to establish, lay out a clear probation period plan and think about how to onboard new employees.

Process and culture go hand in hand

Process may not be the first thing you think about when it comes to company culture, but the finer details make a big difference to staff satisfaction.

This includes onboarding, handling timesheets and holidays, and staff management procedures.

It’s a lot to think about when you’re juggling the demands of running a business, so using HR management software like Sage HR can be a good solution. This kind of software can help you streamline and automate HR tasks, manage recruitment and store employee information.

Take time to onboard new employees

Student tasking app UniTaskr has experienced fast growth and the team is growing with it. As co-founder Joseph Black hires more staff, he’s mindful of getting these processes right.

“We’ve gone from being a very small company to a fairly large company over a short space of time and I don’t want to rush ahead of it,” he said.

“For me, it’s important to get the right infrastructure in place and really nail the processes. So when someone new joins the team, we need to know what their initial week looks like.”

To do this, Joseph advises you ask the following questions:

  • How do we onboard new starters into the team?
  • What’s our training mechanism?
  • How frequently do we set up teammates to get everyone associated with each other?

This final question becomes increasingly important as you bring more people into your team. You may have some part-time or remote workers; encouraging everyone to get to know each other will help them feel included.

Afrocenchix co-founder Rachael Twumasi-Corson recommends thinking about the ways that new staff can communicate with each other – and with you. For example, she makes sure all new staff have access to the following:

  • A line manager and a buddy to help them settle in
  • Staff WhatsApp group
  • Google meetings
  • A document explaining how the team communicates

Be prepared if things don’t go to plan

No one likes to think about things going wrong, but if you have a robust process in place, it can help you be prepared for the worst.

“We made a lot of mistakes with hiring and it was really hard. Now we have a clear understanding with new staff that they’re not fully ‘in’ until they pass their probation,” Rachael said.

“When they start, we go through their probation review form and ask them what would happen that could make them leave and we do the same for them. This generally means that it’s not a surprise if people don’t pass.”

Five tips to manage the probation period

  1. Agree the period and the terms up front. When you offer the candidate the job, explain that there will be a probation period and how long it will last for. Tell them how you will assess them during this period and address any questions they have. This should all be documented in a contract that both you and your employee sign.
  2. Hold regular meetings. These could be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, depending on the role and the length of the probation.
  3. Use a probationary review form. Go over the form together at each meeting so you can offer feedback and support if necessary and also flag up any areas of concern. Keep everything well documented in case of disputes later on.
  4. Listen. This should be a two-way process, so hear what they’re saying and respond to any issues they have.
  5. Be fair. If your employee is dismissed at the end of the probation period, give them their entitled notice period and stick to the terms in the contract.

Don’t expect a culture to grow organically

It’s tempting to channel your energy into other aspects of the business and assume that company culture will develop naturally. The reality? Thriving company cultures are usually the result of input and effort from the business owners.

“I think it’s really hard to build a culture in a company once you pass a certain level of employees. So for us, it’s been important to kind of get that culture in from the offset,” said Joseph.

The way that you do this will depend on your individual company, the type of work you do, the industry you work in and the things that appeal to you and your staff.

As Joseph’s business UniTaskr exists to help students, the majority of his team are recent graduates in their early twenties.

“We have monthly meetups where the Manchester and London teams come together for a fun outing, like paintball. We also do a quarterly ‘workcation’ where we take everyone away for a short period,” he said.

Remember that you may have to adjust these things as the company grows. “This is feasible now whilst we’re fairly small, but as we grow these things, we’ll have to diversify,” Joseph added.

Don’t forget the day-to-day social opportunities too. Even if your team is young and keen on fun excursions, they’ll need some structure around regular meetings and catch ups.

Lead by example

Perhaps the most important thing you can do as a founder is to lead by example. If you skip your lunch break and stay in the office until 10pm every night, your staff will think you expect the same of them.

Consider what aspects of your work life impact your wellbeing, such as breaks, working hours, working patterns and holiday, and do your best to set a precedent for a healthy workplace.

Go one step further and talk to your employees about what would make a difference to their work/life balance too. This might not be the same for everyone, so be prepared to be flexible. As your team grows, develop policies that support their needs.

Did you find this blog post useful? The article is powered by Sage. Their accounting and HR software supports startups and growing businesses. It can help you understand business performance, get tax right and be more organised – find out more here!

ChrisGoodfellow

ChrisGoodfellow

Chris is founder and CEO of Inkwell, the company that runs The Pitch. He's a journalist and editor by trade, and his work has been featured by everyone from The Guardian and The Financial Times to Vice magazine.

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