MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Stay grounded in a growth spurt

Away-days, ping-pong tables and share incentives are all ways a company can stay true to its roots...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

With recovery finally in sight, Nick Jenkins, founder of online greetings card business, tells MT how a growing company can achieve its full potential without losing sight of its original values.

1. Be clear about what your company does
The phrase ‘mission statement’ sounds a bit like consultancy gobbledygook, but it is the best way to summarise what your company does and what it aims to do. You need to make sure that everyone understands it and actually believes it.

2. Hire people who will grow with the company
When hiring new people try to understand their aspirations and choose people who will grow with the company. This needs to be done from the very start. Look for people with great potential who haven't yet had the chance to prove themselves and think of them as your management team of the future - employees will stay in the company or for longer if they can see how their career might progress.

3. Identify your company culture and reinforce it
The culture of a company often reflects the values of its founders or leaders. We have always tried to encourage a good work/life balance and a collaborative, friendly working environment because we know that is how people like to work. One word of caution: when hiring senior management from a different work culture you need to be careful they understand and accept the new culture and don't try to replace it.

4. Create an office environment that reflects your culture
Offices don't need to be drab places to work. As a creative business we like to have some fun with our office design - our second meeting room has a ping pong table, for example. If it isn't being used for a meeting there will usually be a couple of people from different departments playing ping pong instead of taking a fag break. We also have a large kitchen/dining area where staff take their lunch around one big table. We like to encourage people to socialise. We sell humorous cards; we don't want an office that feels like a bank.

5. Don't change too much too quickly
All companies need to change with the times but new CEOs can be tempted to make their mark by making radical changes. In that case, the role of the founder or chairman is to ensure that the baby isn't thrown out with the bathwater. Change can be good, but sometimes new hires don't grasp all the subtleties of a company's culture.

6. Manage the succession process
At some point it is usually a good idea for the founder to step back and bring in a management team. In our case I felt that I wanted to step back to focus more on strategic issues and hand over the day to day management. I started by bringing in a commercial director, with the aim of spending a year working together while I gradually handed over responsibility. A year later he had absorbed the culture of the company and I was happy that he was capable of running the business, so he took over as MD.

7. Share ownership with the staff
If the business already has more than one shareholder, it makes sense to give staff a sense of ownership of the business in the form of shares. The right scheme will reward loyalty and enable staff to benefit from growth without giving away too much.

8. Introduce new staff to the business
You can't just assume that all employees will absorb your company culture quickly and easily of their own accord. But you can speed up their understanding of the company with a well thought out introduction programme so that all new employees are taken through the history of the company, and the future plans and aims of the business, as well as being introduced to the other areas of the business so that they see how it all fits together.

9. Talk to your staff
Make sure you have a good system to keep staff up to date with what is going on in the company as a whole, and also to allow staff to communicate their ideas and concerns.

10. Get out of the office
There’s nothing like time out of the office to encourage inter-departmental mingling, but you need to be mindful of not encroaching on personal time by expecting everyone to give up a weekend to go fire walking or something. It needs to be something which is fun, engaging and enables people get to know other people in the company out of the office context.

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