Company Culture is a critical topic for everyone in every company, from founders, to HR managers and employees. The expert agency Multipleexplains to me, that successful businesses and strong company culture are ‘inextricably linked’. For instance; teams may feel disengaged if the founders are dragging their feet to the office; young managers might feel lost if untrained which can then lead to management havoc, but also a culture that used to be efficient for a few employees might need adjustments as the company expands. So culture shapes a company unequivocally and the thought of a company’s growth relying on culture is daunting. That is why I interviewed the team of experts at Multiple to find out what happens when a culture is not working and what actions to take to build it up again.
Multiple is a brand, culture and growth agency based in London who counts WeTransfer and Unbabel among their clients. The agency reminds me of superheroes, like a team of Avengers on a mission to help businesses survive and thrive. The team holds strong and diverse skill sets but most importantly has been on the other side of the table, from starting businesses from scratch to growing international tech companies and investing in them.
Emma Zangs: What are the most common challenges and issues you observe when a company culture is failing?
Multiple: Poor management and communication. They won’t kill you outright but they will severely slow your growth. We are all prone to overestimate how good we are at management and communication. Perhaps because people have often never seen great listening or leadership in action. Therefore asking employees to adopt those skills with no training or exposure to what good looks like sets them up for failure.
Another factor that is harder to address is the lack of focus and inability to prioritize. An issue particularly for early-stage businesses. There is a lot of fear involved, often subconsciously, which makes it harder for people to talk about. The fear of making the wrong decision, of missing out, of finding yourself out of your depth… all can lead to a failure to move forward or for already constrained resources to be spread too thinly. That’s an incredibly frustrating position for those who value ownership and the ability to make an impact, which is most startup people. If they can’t make progress, they’ll leave. Too much bad churn and you’re really in trouble.
Finally, processes, structure, and hierarchy all get a bad reputation. But once your headcount has grown past a few people, putting them in place will actually make you go faster. You don’t have to be overly controlling or bureaucratic but it’s hard for even the best talent to execute efficiently without them.
E.Z: For fast-growing companies, what advice would you give to the founders or leadership team in order to avoid common mistakes?
Multiple: The best advice is to be open to advice! It’s a strength to seek help and it won’t mean that, if you succeed, your achievement will be in any way diminished. Most founders we know are supremely bright, talented, hard-working people. But that doesn’t mean you have all the answers: no one does. There will be some aspects of the business that lie outside of your realms of interest, expertise, or strength. Those are often the areas you’ll neglect or undervalue.
Bring in people who are more passionate, knowledgeable, or experienced than you in those areas (and then let them lead). Many of the challenges you will face may not be on your radar so speak to others who have been sailed that course before, or who have honed their pattern recognition skills as investors, operators, or advisors. They can help you steer clear of some of the more treacherous rocks and prepare you for those squalls that are unfortunately unavoidable.
Finally, don’t expect your employees to develop good habits, attitudes, and behaviors if you aren’t a role model for them. Leading by example is a time-tested truism for a reason.
E.Z: To which extent employees have a role in shaping the company culture?
Multiple: Employees are as integral to creating the company culture as the company itself. The company has to put the right conditions in place – as touched on above – but individuals still need to maintain it. Inclusive and empowering cultures create the environment for employees to speak up and take action to influence “the way things are done around here”.
E.Z: How do you work with companies to help them build or rebuild their culture?
Multiple: We first focus on getting the team aligned on strategic direction through collaboratively creating a purpose (the reason for your existence that continuously drives you), mission (a measurable ambition that provides focus and a near-term goal ), and vision (the world you’ll create by fulfilling your purpose and nailing your missions). These are the foundations for effective goal-setting, prioritization, and progress. Then we focus on identifying a set of common values that capture what they collectively care about and therefore want to optimize for. Once the values are articulated, we harness the brainpower and brilliance of the wider company to generate desired behaviors, processes, practices, and rituals. Embedding and reinforcing these with great leadership, management, and communication will drive a high-performing culture.
The sum up, here are Multiple 4 points that foster great businesses:
- Hire the right people and align them around shared goals.
- Focus on accountability and clarity around roles and responsibilities.
- Create a common understanding of (and recognition for) desirable behaviors.
- Nurture continuous learning and outstanding communication.
If you’re doing all that, you’re taking most of the right steps to build a successful business and a successful culture at the same time. Multiple