The Life Cycle of Company Culture – Where Does Your Culture Sit?

workers sat round table in an office on their laptiops

The Life Cycle of Company Culture - Where Does Your Culture Sit?

A lot of people often ask, “How can businesses know when they need help with their company culture?”

And it’s a valid point.

To explain how people know that they need company culture help, it’s all about awareness.

It’s like anything within our lives, until we become aware that there’s a problem, we don’t see it as a problem. Even in life, even in our own personal lives, we’re perhaps going along and then there might be an inkling, but, until it becomes a real problem and we’re no longer happy or in pain, then we don’t change it.

It’s exactly the same with company culture.

Company culture has a life cycle. Very similar to us humans.

Three colleagues are sat having lunch with their laptops, showing the reality of start-up company culture.

Start-up / Infant Phase

Let’s say, for example, a start-up is like an infant. Everything’s very fast-paced and energetic and everyone’s go, go, go.

Obviously what we do as infants is we mimic and learn from others.

So the first thing a start-up is going to do is look to other company cultures and other cultures they’ve experienced and take little parts from that and mimic others.

“Ooh, that looks like a good idea. That will help us look like an adult, look like a real business.”

A picture of an open plan office showing a small business company culture.

Growth / Teenage Phase

So a start-up has a tendency to take on all of these mimics of others and then they grow up a little bit and perhaps they become a teenager, a child, and, they start thinking, “Ooh, we’ve got a few more people now. We’re perhaps hitting 30 people. We’re now longer in a start-up mode. We’re a small business, but hang on a minute! There are lots of other people. There’s a lot of diversity and some of these things that we’ve adopted don’t work anymore and we don’t know what to do.”

And this is where a lot of the time – this teenage business stage, is ultimately where businesses first understand that they have a culture. They need to think about culture. So they either do one of two things.

They either add more work perks and plaster over the cracks and go,

“That will do. Yeah, we’ll add some more work perks in and we’ll make the office look nice. We’ll get some plants in and we’ll do a few things and we’ll plaster over that.”

Or they get a culture consultant like myself. “Hang on a minute. How do we refresh our culture, rejuvenate it so that we can continue to grow?”

The big problem with plastering over culture problems is honestly, it’s not going to change anything.

You’re going to start having recruitment issues. People are going to start dropping off because they’re not engaged with the culture. You’re going to find that you have a lot more customer complaints because if your people aren’t happy, your customers probably aren’t going to be happy.

It’s business common sense. Some leaders just lose it and it’s frustrating because I see it where it’s like, “Oh, we’ve got this new work perk.” I look at it and I think, “Honestly?” And I’m sorry for the language, but no one is going to give a crap about free cinema tickets or free fruit Fridays when they’re getting so annoyed with broken processes, and poor communication. They’re just not going to care.

So ultimately even in that teenage phase, businesses go in two very different routes – and you can see it. You can see the businesses that invest in their people and do a lot for them and want to see their company culture thrive or the businesses that just think, “Actually I’m not that bothered.”

To be honest, that just says to me that they’re not bothered about their people.

A big corporate meeting taking place in a large company, showing large company culture.

Dominance / Adult Phase

Then obviously after a significant period of time, the business becomes an adult. The business has grown to a level you’re happy with but maybe you want to expand or you just want to increase revenue.

That’s where ultimately again it’s this adult stage where we start questioning a lot of things. Why have we done things this way?”

Perhaps you’ve got some outdated legacy culture habits that you’re taking on and that doesn’t fit your dynamic anymore.

You’re five, ten years old now and the culture you created all those years ago, doesn’t feel relevant to the culture you want to create now.

So again there’s that sticking point because your workforce has probably changed. The workforce needs have ultimately changed and therefore your company culture is going to need to change.

There is a life cycle to a company culture that I see and that’s why I always find it interesting working with SMEs. They’re at so many different stages and there’s not one pain point that every business is going through.

In that life cycle, there could be many different businesses that get in touch with me to help them with their culture.

Forward-thinking start-ups that have got a bit of investment, often want to get the culture right from the get-go so that they have something strong and resilient to help them grow and recruit talented people.

And then you’ve always got those sticking points as you get a little bit older about questioning your values and whether it matters.

I think the life cycle of company culture is something that many businesses don’t think about, but it’s something I see all of the time.

The first things to do is become aware of the stage you think your company culture is at now, and where you want it to be. Like with anything in business there needs to be a plan.

For further information on how I can help your company culture contact me about my company culture training or my culture consultancy programme.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.