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How to Maintain Your Culture Through Expansion

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As your organization grows globally, how do you maintain a consistent company culture?

It’s a question we’ve had to answer ourselves. Safeguard Global started with a small group of passionate founders who developed the values and vision that would carry them into the future. Over 10 years, the company grew from that small group to over 500 employees (we’re called “Guardians”) in eight countries.

The landscape changed. Geographical, generational, and culture differences separated the teams. Many employees didn’t see the senior team in their offices every day or perhaps hadn’t met any of them at all. In this new environment, we had to figure out how to continue to inspire our Guardians and maintain the culture of which we were fiercely proud.

Visibility is important.

Think of the best brands out there. Part of why they’re the best is their familiarity—you can immediately identify their look and feel. Now think of your company brand in this same way. What can you do to give your employees that immediate familiarity with your look and feel?

When selecting office space, seek out environments that reinforce the way you work as a business. Do you work transparently and encourage continuous communication between teams? Do you frequently utilize team spaces that people can gather easily for collaboration? Find an office that supports your cultural norms.

Keep visible reminders of your culture, values and priorities present in the workspace. Seeing your company’s logo and corporate colors remind employees that they are part of a wider team. It can be as simple as painting a wall or putting up some posters. And providing corporate swag lets employees touch and hold your brand every day.

Do this at every office, so no matter which one you walk in to, your employees and clients will immediately know it’s your company.

Communication can’t be compromised.

As we grow and get more geographically dispersed, it’s easy to get complacent and assume everyone gets the information they need. We must remain diligent about communication. Put together a corporate plan that ensures that all messages get where they need to go and are fully understood.

Senior leadership must assume responsibility for keeping top line managers informed, and regional leadership must regularly communicate those messages to the local teams. There should be a regular cadence and format that employees can rely on that’s unique to your business. A plan that includes both companywide meetings and divisional or regional meetings helps keep the messages clear and in line with your brand and priorities.

The importance of onsite leadership visits cannot be overlooked. Giving your employees the opportunity to interact directly with senior leadership and to hear their expectations helps employees make a connection with the organization. Things as simple as ad hoc town halls and leadership roundtables are effective. It also makes the team feel valued when leadership makes it a point to spend time with them.

Ensure business priorities are effectively cascaded and employees are working toward a common goal that they all understand and believe in. Using your corporate plan to communicate these goals—and performance measures to reinforce them—your employees can work as a team globally and locally.

“Consistent” doesn’t necessarily mean identical.

You might be tempted to try to clone each office you open. Don’t forget that each region has its unique characteristics, and culture and values may translate differently in different countries.

Some components of your global values will resonate best in certain areas. Provide examples of how those global values can be fit to local cultures and celebrate when employees put values into practice to reinforce those behaviors.

Different cultures have varied working habits and may respond better to modifications to the standard floorplan or schedule. Just as holidays differ between regions, perks in one office may not be valued in the same way in another office

Create global programs and policies that can be administered locally. For example, recognition programs may focus on the goals and objectives of the organization as a whole, but how recognition is awarded may be very different based on what each regional team values the most.

Identify some cultural ambassadors who can carry the corporate culture message and create grassroots support.

And don’t forget home workers. When employees aren’t in your line of sight each day, it’s even more vital to make an effort to help them bond with the organization.

Bring your brand forward when you acquire into new regions.

Integrating two company cultures is tricky business. Not only do you have the cultural norms of the new region to respect, you have to contend with the well-ingrained corporate culture of the acquired organization.

A multi-phased plan that slowly introduces elements of process and expectation for the acquired organization is key. Cultural integration will not just occur; it needs to be managed and monitored as closely as any technical or process integrations.

It’s also important to understand the most dearly held aspects of the pre-existing culture. Some may fit within the new employer brand and some may not. Understand how to reinforce the attributes that fit and delicately massage the ones that need to be transitioned.

Katherine Loranger, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, VP, Global Human Resources

Katherine Loranger, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, VP, Global Human Resources

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