This is a guest post by Kirsti Grant - formerly VP of talent at Vend. Kirsti's pretty awesome (we invited her to be on the Weirdly advisory board for a reason), but more than that, she's got first hand experience of scaling startup culture in a crazy high-growth, highly competitive market. She's a pro.Prior to working in a role where my responsibility was to scale the company culture at Vend all I really wanted was to find a role in a company with an organisational culture that fit me. I didn’t realise it at the time but now it’s really easy to look back at what it was that was motivating me to join the company and how closely those motivations ended up being linked to the values of the company.
As a company, one of the biggest challenges you’ll find is being able to articulate your culture. The number of people who have launched into pitches on how awesome their culture is because they have foosball and beer is amazing. And by amazing I mean terrifying.That’s not your culture, that’s not why people turn up to work every day. Having cool stuff around is just cool stuff. It’s more important that you provide people with what they need to do awesome work and a purpose that will get them excited about going above and beyond for you.That’s where you really need to get to know your people, understand their motivations and have some company values & behaviours that your people can actually buy into.
Joining Vend as VP of Talent I was given a perfect culture to scale. It had all of those above points I wanted plus a whole lot more which made the pressure that much greater. The message from all the people was very much “don’t fuck the culture!”.Thinking about how we managed to grow the Vend team so rapidly over the past couple of years, without doing that is tricky. There’s no particularly easy answer. It comes down to every little thing every single person in your company says and does - and let’s not forget that every company is different. This is one of the advantages you have as a startup, it’s a blank canvas and a huge opportunity.For me, one of the things that made my role at Vend easy is how linked to the company values I was - it was easy for me to live and breathe “delighting customers, doing the impossible, taking care of the Vend family” and all the sub values & behaviours that are linked to those core values. It all came naturally because I (fortunately) was the right fit.Scaling the culture starts at the beginning of the recruitment process. It begins at the careers page and lives within the application form, communications, interviews and into how you make offers and onboard new employees. Your mission as a recruiter is to give the most accurate portrayal of what life at your company is like. You can’t be surprising people when they start with behaviour that is the opposite of what you promised. It’s never words and always actions.If you have a hardcore, boring, form-filling process how do you think candidates will take that?
If you build a good process your candidates don’t even realise they’re going through a process, the communication is natural & personalised, even if you do have a template it should be so good that the candidate doesn’t even realise. If you’re really getting to know candidates and it’s authentic, the guards come down, they open up and hey, if you slip an x onto the end of an email you’ll probably get one in return. Remember, your job is to make sure that every single person that walks through your doors as a new employee is aligned to your values and wants to be a part of your story, for all the right reasons.You can’t always get this right but know that you need to do something about those situations where you got it wrong as quickly & humanely as possible. If you weren’t to address these situations what would your employee’s think about your ability to be up to the task of scaling your culture? While you’re busy hiring for culture don’t think for a second that your business isn’t evolving, that components of the culture aren’t changing and that people themselves aren’t evolving. Taking people on the journey of change is hard when it comes to culture, you’re always going to have people that refer to the good old days. Knowing what parts of the culture should and shouldn’t evolve, knowing how to communicate, what to compromise. It’s all a juggle but one you can’t avoid.Just remember, the 2nd worst thing you can do is not change. The very worst thing you could do is fail to hire people that fit & enhance your company culture.
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