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The Ins & Outs of Global Cultural Transformation

|By Jason White


By Caitlin Allen

On the most recent episode of High Growth Matters, we spoke with Laura MacKinnon about the nuances of transforming a global company during hypergrowth — from reinventing culture to navigating rocky economic times. Laura is currently Chief People Officer at revenue intelligence platform Clari, and has served in similar executive roles at organizations like Logitech, Opsware, Yahoo, Coupa, and SignalFx during significant periods of growth and company transition.

This blog has been adapted from that conversation and covers:

  • Why culture is so important in hypergrowth and how you can assess it
  • (Re)designing culture
  • Navigating culture in tough macroeconomic times

To hear the full episode, visit Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Why culture is so important in hypergrowth and how you can assess it

According to Laura, there is nothing more important in times of hypergrowth than culture.

“One of management’s biggest worries during periods of high growth is how to add and integrate so many new people while moving so quickly,” she says. “Clear culture is the solution.”

When your organization has a definitive understanding of what the company culture is, it’s easier to screen for throughout hiring, reinforce during onboarding and make difficult decisions regarding culture fits. But without a clear understanding of the culture and who you are as a company, it can be impossible to gain alignment throughout the entire employee lifecycle.

“Understanding your company's unique and special culture helps you grow and stay connected to who you are,” Laura says. “When you go through hypergrowth you want to make sure you don’t lose what makes you special.”

Culture is vital for alignment, but how can we really define and measure it? According to Laura, culture is best measured through defined values.

Leadership should decide which values are most important for their employees to embody, define them clearly and build in support that will reinforce those values. Values and related expectations must be communicated to employees from the beginning. Once values are clearly defined and communicated, they can then be used as benchmarks in reviews and annual calibrations. 

“At those reviews, ask yourself how many of your employees are embodying those values,” Laura says. “If there aren’t many, you can assess what you might be losing that’s special to your culture.”

(Re)Designing culture

Often, when Laura comes into a company, she isn’t asked to help build culture from scratch. Instead, she works with businesses that are typically doing well but unsure of how to move forward as they experience hypergrowth.

When Laura works with early-stage founders to decide what they should be working on now, she asks several questions:

  • What is important to your business?
  • What are your cultural norms?
  • What behaviors are important and rewarded?
  • What behaviors are unacceptable?

Once these questions have been answered, you can begin to outline where your culture is currently and where you want it to be as you scale. 

“It’s really creating a bridge,” Laura says. “Decide what you want to change about your culture and be very transparent, then provide support via training, reinforcement with rewards and recognition, celebration of the right behaviors and demonstration by leadership.”

Another powerful way to redesign culture is to get employees involved. At Clari, when the original executive team moved on, they left a written list of what the culture values were. Employees Laura described as ‘culture ambassadors’ took that list and designed their own, helping to establish the defining factors behind each remaining valuable culture signal.

“There are all these incredibly relevant values generated by a broader group of people,” Laura says. “A lot of companies have strong cultures; they just don’t have the words to define them — people functions can help do that.”

Navigating culture in tough macroeconomic times

As we navigate the turbulent environment of the current macroeconomic state, culture can often be moved to the back burner as companies tighten their budgets. But, according to Laura, losing focus on culture during tough economic times is one of the biggest mistakes companies can make.

“This is when your culture truly pays off,” Laura says. “When you have a strong culture and you keep reinforcing it, people will remember: This is why I came here, and this is why I'm going to stay.”

Rather than dropping culture and focusing on cost reduction, double down on culture. Culture efforts will help retain great employees and help businesses navigate difficult decisions like reductions in force.

“With a strong culture, you can give context for why you're making changes and reinforce that those tough decisions do not change how you feel about the culture,” says Laura.

If you enjoyed this post, you’d appreciate our conversation, where we take a deep dive into the topics covered here today and beyond like making new hires and growing in the current economy, Clari’s three winning behaviors, and applying culture on a global scale. Take a moment to listen to the full High Growth Matters episode. If you like what you hear, please consider leaving us a rating and bookmarking the podcast to be notified each time we publish a new episode. 

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