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How growing companies can keep that small feeling

As companies grow they often lose their startup vibe. But a few manage to avoid the trap of bigness. How do businesses like TradeMe still somehow feel like they’re made up of real people who treat their customers like human beings?

mara tolja idealog?I’ve been looking at growing New Zealand companies recently – companies like Xero and TradeMe – and noticed that they still show the positive signs of the best startups.

They seem to have a purpose that unifies the people there and creates a positive culture and it resonates in their brand. They have a personality. Or, put another way, it feels like they’re a company made up of real human beings who treat their customers as real human beings.

As companies grow though, those traits can sometimes fade.  Big companies can feel like corporate machines. A place where competition beats collaboration and where personal agendas override a shared purpose.  By growing bigger, these companies risk losing the things that made them special in the first place.

But a few manage to avoid the traps of bigness.  In implementing an enterprise social strategy, I’ve seen five ways you can grow big and still feel small.  These are seen in the power of CLICK.

The power of CLICK

Be Connected
A sense of connectedness comes from an understanding of how your employees and your customers fit into your company.   As you grow you want every employee to understand how their role is connected to the customer experience and to your products.  At Zappo’s (an online shoe company in America), every employee knows that their primary job is to keep their customer happy, and they are empowered to make this happen.  They don’t need permission.  Your employees should know what your company stands for – and should feel empowered to make this happen.

Be Learning
When you are a small company, you are continuously learning.  Asking questions and gaining skills.  As you grow, you want to maintain this culture of learning. Companies such as Google are well known for allowing employees time to develop ideas and innovations.  Everybody should always be asking questions.  As new people keep joining, you need to cater to onboarding them and providing a way for them to quickly understand who does what.  Your enterprise social network should be connecting these people to each other. It is the source for questions and answers and curated product information.  But don’t think it is  just for new people.  People who have worked with you for some time will be upskilling and adapting, as will you.  Empower the entire company to learn and grow together.

Be Interactive
Every entrepreneur has a personality that they bring to their company. This personality is easy to convey when they are a small team.  But as the company grows, you want this personality to scale.  Think of your enterprise social network as a virtual open door to your office.  If you want everyone to share and be a part of the company’s collective strategy, then you need to take everyone on the journey with you.  Share what you are doing and why.  Your employees should know your company success stories and be able to own these too.   By being open and allowing people to have a voice, you have the opportunity to open up real conversations.  By listening and interacting – you can respond, grow and adapt.

Be Creating
When a company grows beyond four walls it is crucial to know what is happening.  With multiple teams, goals and agendas, working collaboratively can help connect the dots within the company.  By embedding a culture of content creation – where knowledge sharing is rewarded and encouraged – you can help people work out loud and stop the silo mentality that begins to creep in.

Be Kind
It really is that simple.  A company is all about people.  Recognise those who are living the values and sharing the personality that you want to maintain.  This way you can be sure to have the greatest people, and the greatest company.

What now?
Don’t be trapped into creating layers of hierarchy, complex processes and bureaucratic policy.  Prioritise the people in your company, the personality – and it may just all CLICK into place.   

Mara Tolja is the Head of the Collaboration Centre of Excellence in a large financial firm. This post originally appeared on her blog

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