THE BLOG

How to Clone Your DNA: A guide to Keeping Your Company Culture as Your SME Business Grows

27/03/2013 15:59 GMT | Updated 26/05/2013 10:12 BST

Wow - you've done it! At 2am, you completed that deal and now you're the proud owner of a five person complimentary business, allowing your own to continue its rapid expansion. Or you've opened that second branch in a different location and you're ready to rock and roll!

However your business has grown, you're now in that place where you no longer know everyone personally to influence their thoughts and actions in relation to your brand and your culture. It has become a physical impossibility to line manage everyone and sad as it may feel, it's time to delegate and hand over the reins.

So how do you continue to articulate and maintain the company culture you have developed, when you lose day-to-day contact with all members of staff?

As the founder-owner of an SME, I am going through this process myself at the moment, so I really understand the difficulties it presents and the need to get it right, both from a professional and a personal standpoint.

Know who you are

While that sounds a bit deep, you do need to understand your organisation culture to ensure it is transmitted clearly and efficiently through the entire organisation. Your culture (i.e. "how we do things around here") can be several different types: Are there a few individuals in charge who make all the decisions? Then you have a power culture. Are individuals fully allowed to express themselves and make their own decisions regardless of their job role or function? Then it's a person culture. Is this the culture you wanted and envisioned? If yes, replicate it. If not, change it!

The senior team: servants or masters?

The common saying "a bad workman blames his tools" rings true, even of the leadership team. It's really important that leaders see themselves as servants and facilitators of their teams rather than masters and managers. If the values, culture and DNA of the business are not demonstrated on a daily basis by the management team, it will never be accepted by everyone else. As head honcho, your role is to deal with any issues in the senior team immediately, consistently and without fail. To do anything else demonstrates a lack of commitment to your organisation.

Silos: Is the grass always greener?

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how the tiny things can have such a massive impact. In my last corporate role, I worked with many different, disparate offices. One or two did not have the physical space for a small rest area, unlike everyone else. These smaller offices consistently felt undervalued, staff sought opportunities to move to bigger and better offices, and the managers were beside themselves with having to recruit, train and motivate staff to stay. It is vital, therefore, that every site and division be viewed and treated as equal. None can be more "important" (either real or perceived) than the others, including HQ. Every staff member should have access to the same facilities, benefits, opportunities and training, so they feel part of the whole organisation and not just their section of it.

Growing SMEs: recruit the best candidates

SMEs are innovative by nature and can move fast to capitalise on changing market conditions. Those that have done so during the recession are now experiencing rapid growth. In my last blog, I described how SMEs can overcome recruitment issues and really sell their strengths to recruit the best candidates.

It's important to question how this will be replicated when you no longer have sole charge of hiring decisions. Do you have a preferred agency list that knows your organisation intimately and the type of candidates you seek? Have you created an introductory pack for those agencies so your company is always presented in the same way? Will every candidate, regardless of recruiter, experience the same hiring process, and are you using the same tests and selection criteria?

In order to be comfortable delegating management roles, you need to have absolute confidence in your staff. If your recruitment is right, you should already have a team of superstars to work with.

New starter induction

You probably already have a new starter pack. But whereas in the past, you've trained new starters yourself, someone else will now be doing this. An induction programme helps get employees up and running quickly as possible so it's in your interests to make sure it's done well. Inductions should cover: welcome from the MD; company and key people introductions; who you are as a business; systems training; how to be successful in the company; customer service training; and an introduction to each team.

It should be simple enough that any person, even a non manager, could pick up the pack and know what to do. At the very least, include a list of everything that inductions should cover.

Good quality management training breeds excellent managers

If you've recruited and developed capable and confident staff (useful workforce development tips here), the addition of a robust management training programme should make their transition into capable and confident line managers a seamless one. As well practicalities such as sick leave management, training should also cover skills such as good leadership qualities, recognising different employee learning styles, and how to motivate a team.

Don't just hand management responsibilities over and leave it at that. If you want to make sure your culture (hopefully a supportive one!) is continued, also set up systems, training and appraisal processes to support your managers. Give them the tools to know what is expected of them and provide guidance on how they should deal with their reports positively. You should also ensure appropriate support is in place in case your new managers need to deal with a disciplinary or grievance.

Reward those who emulate your values

If you set up your company from scratch, you probably remember that day when you sat down and wrote your list of company values. (By the way, it's a good idea to revisit these regularly and check you're on track). Strong, clear values should be built into every aspect of what you do, from setting competency frameworks and targets to writing external communications publicity. Where people demonstrate them on a regular basis, make sure those individuals are selected and rewarded by a panel of their peers.

I wish you all the best for this exciting new stage in your company development and hope the advice above is a useful starting point in helping you build a strong team of high performance managers to support it.