There’s a real sense of optimism in the air as the economy continues to pick up and survey after survey tells us business confidence is on the rise.

It looks like small and mid-sized businesses will be driving much of the predicted growth in recruitment over the next few months.  Research released yesterday by the CIPD says SMEs are nearly five times more likely to employ people in the next quarter than larger businesses.

But as a recent article in the McKinsey journal Insights warns, whatever the size of your business, sustaining growth is really hard – particularly if expansion has been rapid.  In its survey of high growth companies, 85 per cent turned out to be unable to maintain their growth rates.

The CIPD’s research suggests having a clear purpose and values plays a critical role in the continued success of a business.  They guide how work gets done, influence the way people feel about their jobs and make it more likely the organisation will achieve its objectives.

There’s a danger, however, that as companies expand and grow, these values can become diluted and may even disappear altogether over time.  So how can companies communicate their values clearly and make sure they stay solid through growth?

Look for subtle signs

Be alert to small but significant signals that employees are becoming less engaged with the business as it grows.  People may lack the passion they once had or are less willing than previously to go the extra mile.  There’s a lot of gossiping and grumbling round the coffee machine and a general feeling that things are not quite right.   In this scenario, keeping the lines of communication open is key.  Talking to people face-to-face is important – but internal social portals, which allow people to share information and discuss ideas, can also play an important role.  Used well, they help to maintain the ‘community’ atmosphere employers want to engender, keep people up-to-speed with what’s happening in the business and create a sense of excitement about the challenges ahead.

Articulate values clearly

How often have you walked into an organisation and seen the corporate values displayed proudly on the wall in reception.  Inspiring statements like ‘we put customers first’ or ‘our people are our greatest asset’.  The trouble is this doesn’t really tell people how you want them to go about their job and what you might want them to do differently on Monday morning.  Organisations need to find ways to make it clear what their values actually mean in practice in terms of attitudes and behaviours. Employee focus groups, where people talk about ‘how we do things around here’ can help to reinforce the behaviours the business want to encourage. Sharing examples on the intranet or in an internal publication about how people have delighted customers or taken an ethical approach to a difficult situation can also be an effective way of keeping the message alive.

Tell your story

People often hanker after the ‘early days’ of a business when there was a ‘family’ atmosphere, everyone knew what was going on and the chief executive had time to pass the time of day in the corridor.  This inevitably disappears as a business grows but helping employees understand the ‘back story’ of your business as well as their role in building its future can help to increase their engagement and sense of ownership.  You might consider including information about the company’s journey in induction programmes for new starters, for example, so they understand where you are coming from and what has gone before.  Making stories an integral part of the way you communicate can also help people make sense of change and understand the reasons you might want them to do things differently to the way they have in the past.

Don’t let formal processes stifle your culture

As a business grows, official processes and procedures tend to multiply and get more complex.  Cumbersome forms and lengthy sign-off procedures can, however, get in the way of efficiency and make people feel disempowered.  HR processes such as authorising annual leave are a prime example of how companies can make a mountain out of a molehill by insisting on laborious, often manual processes that make people irritated and frustrated.  The latest HR technology can do much to simplify and streamline processes.  They help to build trust and engagement and free time up for people to concentrate on their day job.  The latest generation software, for example, allows people to check how much annual leave they’ve got left and submit a request on line.  Their manager can access an up-to-date calendar of who’s off when in the team and can Ok the request at the click of a mouse.

Embed values in your people processes

The CIPD suggests making your values the ‘golden thread’ that runs through all your people processes.  So when hiring new staff, think beyond technical capabilities and look for people whose personal values and ways of working match those of the organisation.  If maximising the potential of your people is one of your values, make sure this is reflected in performance management processes.  It’s no good telling people you want to invest in their development, if the annual appraisal is constantly getting put off and promised training never happens.  It’s about the business walking its own talk.  If people see that HR and senior management are living out the values they espouse – they will follow suit.

What strategies do you have in place to sustain growth in your business?  Let us have your views.

See more information about how a people management software can help.

Keeping Culture, purpose and values at the heart of your SME, CIPD, May 2014

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.

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