Scaling your culture in fast-growth tech businesses

Read Time: 4 Min

The tech industry has long been in the spotlight for its innovative company cultures. Silicon Valley has to some extent shaped our vision of workplace “cool” – office bars, ping pong tables and giant slides associated with Big Tech have captured the imagination of what workplace culture could be. However, culture is not demonstrated by office interiors, but by the values and team ethos instilled in your people, something proven by the past year of virtual working. 

Creating the right workplace culture is especially important for technology companies due to the industry-wide scarcity of talent. Businesses must establish a workplace culture that not only resonates with its current staff, but also helps attract and retain future talent. 

The founder’s influence

Naturally, culture comes from the from the top-down. In a small company, it’s common for the business’ values to mirror those of the founder – from dress code to work ethic and opinions, the founder sets the tone. As businesses grow, this becomes difficult to maintain, and active planning will be needed.

In an interview with ECI, Peter Bauer, CEO at Mimecast, remarked on how he has grown his business’ culture:

“As you grow, especially with M&A, you do need to be more deliberate around the values you want to communicate and the behaviours we expect. You can’t legislate for this stuff, but you have to be programmatic about how you keep those front and centre.”

Peter Bauer

CEO at Mimecast

Whilst it seems unnatural to think about putting processes in place that enforce culture, it’s vital that when a business grows, time is taken to distil what the company’s culture is and how that can be reinforced as you scale. These should be reviewed regularly to not only reflect what the business is trying to achieve, but also its people. Communicating these regularly is essential, and should form part of the Board’s decision making framework. 

For example, when it comes to rewards and recognition, in a small company, it’s easy to be spontaneous and reward the team with a company trip to the pub to celebrate success. But as a business grows, there needs to be a more structured programme in place to ensure that recognition is given fairly and across the business. 

Moreover, rewards need to be as diverse as your workforce is. As your workforce grows, so will the range of interests that the team has, and therefore it’s necessary to consider creating a rewards scheme that caters to everyone – you can no longer assume that a trip to the pub is everyone’s idea of fun. It’s also important to consider how you can make your rewards and recognition schemes fit for the current remote working environment. Although more difficult to foster, company culture is now more not less important, so take the time to assess and improve your activities in this context. 

Businesses that do this well reap the reward, but it will not happen by accident. In an episode of ECI’s podcast, Building Successful Businesses, we chatted to Gurman Hundal, CEO of MiQ, about how culture drives growth. Gurman stated, “In everything that you can do, figure out how you can just slightly over-index for delivering for your people. If you can get that level of trust – and that includes inclusion, good values, culture, good decision-making – then that is the ultimate driver of your business even if you’re strongly technology-enabled or you’ve got a unique product in the market.” 

Creating a diverse workforce 

In a tech start-up, it’s possible that the founder will have hired like-minded individuals, with similar interests as they begin to get the business off the ground. However, this business model isn’t scalable and can lead to what Matthew Syed, author of Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking, calls a ‘workplace of clones’. A workplace that is filled with people from similar working backgrounds can result in a scarcity of ideas, which in the tech sector can be detrimental to business growth.

Similarly, by creating a workplace culture that appeals to a more diverse range of thinking, you will get access to a wider pool of talent. Creating a diverse workforce has become crucial, for example MiQ recently hired a Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity. Gurman explains, “You can’t build a great business unless it’s an inclusive business, you can’t. It’s actually probably one of the regrets I have is that we haven’t been quicker at taking inclusion diversity seriously and not just hiring a person but a department… If you’re not that inclusive, you aren’t going to get a highly motivated workforce. And if you don’t get a highly motivated workforce, you aren’t going to drive financial growth, basically.” 

Thinking globally

Looking at ECI’s own portfolio, many of our technology businesses operate in multiple countries – notwithstanding current challenges, the world is definitely smaller than it was 10 years ago. It’s therefore important that firms consider how they ensure that their culture translates across borders, and that regardless of location, the workforce feels like one team.

Where possible, it works particularly well when an individual that lives and breathes the culture is transplanted into the new office. Often when hiring a local person, with no prior experience of the business, they bring their own cultural values, and therefore you risk creating a sub-office that feels disconnected from the rest of the business. 

Establishing and maintaining an authentic workplace culture is no easy task, and shouldn’t be underestimated. As your business grows, so does the importance that culture plays in the ongoing success of your company. Above all, it’s vital to remember that culture transcends beyond the office environment and workplace gimmicks, it’s the values on which your business is built and operates.

If you are a fast-growth tech business we’d love to hear from you.

About the author

Tom Wrenn

"I’m one of the four Managing Partners at ECI who make up our Investment Committee and run the firm. I’ve spent most of my career working with tech and tech enabled businesses helping them to achieve their global growth ambitions whether organically or via M&A."

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