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The 5 Stages of a Thriving Company Culture

Your company’s culture is constantly evolving.

Culture is a living, breathing emblem of the experience that people — both internal staff and customers — have with an organization. Like any living organism, a company’s culture develops in a series of stages with each stage building off another, and heavily influenced by its surrounding environment. Forbes defines culture as a “set of shared values that a group of people holds,” and Harvard Business Review defines a great culture that includes six (6) core components: vision / mission, values, practices, people, narrative, and place.

Forbes defines culture as a set of shared values that a group of people holds.

No matter how clearly we define culture, it often simply comes down to the collective feeling people have about a company. This feeling informs whether people want to work at a company, buy from a company, or invest in a company.

Our post will introduce the various stages of company culture and provide leaders an overall framework to identify, review, and navigate their own cultures. In future posts, we’ll dive deeper into each particular stage of a growing company.

Stage 1: Personality

When a company takes its first breath, its culture largely reflects the personality of its founder(s). How work gets done, what aspects are prioritized / emphasized, communication practices — all of it naturally stems from the founder’s personality and working style. In the very beginning, this is natural and expected, but it shouldn’t stay this way for long.

Stage 2: Foundation

This stage occurs when the founder(s) begin to look outside of themselves and think about the overall mission, vision, and core values of the company. While still reflective of the founder(s) personality, this stage begins the process of the company’s existence as a separate entity from the founder(s) themselves.

Stage 3: Flux

Once the founder(s) start to build out the team, the culture starts to take on a life of its own that the founder(s) cannot as readily control. Other business leads may have different ideas of how work should get done and have fundamental differences regarding what they look for when hiring new people.

This stage can be especially challenging for leaders to work through as the company’s culture requires persistent attention. Leaders need to proactively invest in culture through time, money, and resources.

Stage 4: Stabilization

At this stage, the company’s culture begins to stabilize. The mission is clear and the core team is solidified. The question of “What is it like to work at your company?” (staff perspective) or “How would you describe their product?” (client/customer perspective) should garner consistent answers.

Stage 5: Nurture

This stage is often taken for granted, and therefore requires the most work.

Once a culture has solidified, thinking that it will remain stable without constant thought and attention is quite dangerous. Similar to a long-term relationship, it is what happens after the honeymoon stage that determines the quality of the culture and whether it will last.

At this stage, leaders must constantly develop themselves and their people, monitor industry trends, and make necessary shifts, and frequently remind themselves of the classic Marshall Goldsmith quote: “What got you here won’t get you there.”

by Matt Dubin, Advisor, Instill Science Advisory Board

Matt completed his PhD in Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University under the tutelage of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the creator of the flow theory.

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