How to keep culture alive in a growing business
By Mike Pongon
In his book “Tribes,” Seth Godin makes a compelling case that we are all tribal members—that being tribal is part of being human. Godin notes only two things are necessary for a tribe to form: shared interest and a way to communicate. By this definition, every business is a tribe.
But not every tribe has a healthy culture. Tribal leaders must nurture their cultures in order to increase not only the size of the tribe, but its effectiveness in reaching the goals that its members are passionate about.
Here are seven ways that leaders can strengthen their tribes and create cultures that grow stronger as their companies expand and evolve:
1. BE HIGHLY SELECTIVE ABOUT WHO IS ADMITTED INTO THE TRIBE.
You want to hire people who will reinforce and extend the culture you have. Finding them takes time and intention. Your recruiting team needs strong processes and programs in place to ensure a cultural fit. Make cultural questions part of your interview process, and give them weight.
Clearly define cultural measurements and use them to hire for the best fit. And allow culture to be the reason not to hire someone who might have all the right skills and expertise. When you get this right, building a strong culture becomes a lot easier.
2. EXEMPLIFY WHAT YOUR TRIBE STANDS FOR.
As CEO, I meet with each new employee who comes in our door. Yes, it takes time. And no, it’s not always on their first day. But the best way to exemplify the culture is to have it start with me. One of our cultural tenets is to take a genuine interest in people—not just for what they can do for us, but because we care about them intrinsically as people. My goal is to show each associate that I care about them, and I expect them to do the same with the people they encounter.
3. TELL STORIES THAT KEEP THE TRIBE STRONG.
It takes more than a list of bullet points to build culture. Stories reinforce tribal unity—that intangible sense of community that’s so valuable in growing your business.
We keep stories at the forefront of our daily communications—stories of successful client interactions, of growing pains that we learned from, of a rockin’ good company getaway that resulted in some masterful karaoke.
Give your company’s stories the spotlight. Let them permeate meetings and informal gatherings. And accord proper respect to “tribal elders” who pass along the cultural legend from the early days. They are pure gold.
4. BRING TRIBAL CULTURE TO LIFE THROUGH TRADITIONS.
Define your traditions and celebrate them often. In each of the seven cities in which Point B has an office, we have a cultural leader who is charged with ensuring that our traditions don’t fall by the wayside.
It’s critical to be deliberate in building traditions that celebrate your culture in ways that are visible and engaging.
For us, that means both the big stuff—such as annual associate getaways and quarterly practice meetings with a major fun component included—and the small stuff, such as having one-on-one coffees, recognizing a great contribution to a client on internal social media channels like Yammer, and taking care of one another during tough personal times.
5. PROMOTE LEADERS WHO VALUE THE TRIBE—AND WHOM THE TRIBE VALUES.
Building a strong tribe is everyone’s business. Promoting leaders who don’t believe in what the tribe stands for would be suicidal. By the same token, the tribe must be proud and supportive of the leaders it produces. As a leader, I look for every one of our employees to not just sustain our culture, but to actively promote it.
This expectation leads to a hand-to-hand exchange of cultural values among leaders and all employees in the organization.
6. INSPIRE FIERCE LOYALTY AND OWNERSHIP OF THE TRIBE.
Making culture the foundation of your business can inspire employees to think like owners. Consider how lucky your customers and clients are to be served by people who have the mindset of an owner.
I work with my teams on a daily basis to keep culture at the forefront of our firm, and I attribute our ownership culture to our business gains—including adding nearly 150 people since the Great Recession and experiencing over 40 percent revenue growth in that same period.
7. PAY IT FORWARD.
Great cultures are not scalable if they rely on a small group of people to stoke the fires. However, great cultures can scale infinitely if each new member of the tribe feels accountable for building the culture up for the next generation.
At Point B, we like to say that each of us needs to be a “net investor” in the culture. Sure, there will be times when you need the culture to support you, or you simply need to fall into its safety net during a work or personal crisis.
However, most of the time you should be making investments in building the culture up so that it’s strong and healthy when you need it.
Great tribal cultures don’t happen by chance. They take time and attention to flourish. In return, a healthy tribe will instill unity, resilience and momentum in your company—some of the most powerful assets you can have as your business grows.
Mike Pongon is Chief Executive Officer of Point B. Over the past decade and a half, Pongon has served clients in a number of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, retail, government and high-tech to improve performance, increase margins, and become more competitive. His roles have included programmer, business analyst, project leader, program manager and interim executive in a range of environments from Fortune 500 companies to three-person startups.