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Leadership Retaining the start-up spirit while driving exponential growth

Jean-Martin Provencher is the vice-president of operations for Go National, a division of district m, a full-service digital advertising exchange based in Montreal.

If we don’t know the names of our new colleagues during a phase of rapid growth, how can we truly succeed?

When we talk about “startup spirit,” it often refers to the entrepreneurial, creative and collaborative working environment at a very young business not yet constrained by the operational challenges that come with future growth.

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The idea of being part of something new, exciting and “bigger than yourself” is understandably attractive to prospective talent. But how can a company transition to the next phase of growth while maintaining a semblance of the culture that started it all and remain true to its roots?

I’ve experienced this exponential growth firsthand as we transitioned from a startup adtech firm of 12 employees to a large-scale office with 96 employees and multiple locations, all in the span of five short years. We saw internal services that were once a single person become departments, and teams and project leads setting up camp in remote offices. In times like these, planning and execution can change drastically, resulting in a diluted company culture that differs vastly from the original. Employees can lose sight of the bigger picture as they adapt to working with new colleagues or managing an increased distance between teams.

During this exciting but challenging phase, how can you succeed in helping to maintain the startup office culture that drew you in to begin with? How can you continue to enjoy your work while simultaneously embracing these changes as you move forward?

Recognize culture is always evolving, but values are consistent:

First, it’s important to remember that the culture you enjoyed initially was never set in stone, but continued to evolve every day as the company grew. Although culture will evolve with a growing team, a company’s underlying values will guide it through growth while maintaining a core belief system. Focusing on core values and the people who make up the company, and not just the company itself, ensures you and your co-workers feel welcomed, valued, unified and important to the future of the company.

Keep your goals in mind:

Although they, too, will evolve in line with growth, you must have the short and long-term goals of both yourself and the company in mind as you strive to execute day-to-day activities and long-term strategies. As the competitive landscape of your industry also becomes more complex, the company’s survival may depend on this goal-oriented approach to transition into the next phase of growth.

Learn and grow with your new team:

Opportunities will reveal themselves for you to take the lead on activities, lend insights and act as a guiding, strategic voice to push a project forward. Often, in a long-established company, internal hierarchy may limit this potential input. Further, with a bigger team, there’s more opportunity to learn from your co-workers and expand your own skill-set.

Welcome and integrate new team members:

Even in smaller roles, acting as a leader in welcoming and integrating new team members can work wonders for you, the company, and of course, these new team members. Naturally, a manager is brought in to guide a team, but someone at a lower level can be an even better mentor to a new team member.

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Exponential growth can often leave spaces to grow into and decide how you want to develop within the company – from a technical, personal or relational point of view. That is the beauty of this transition. Welcome your new colleagues and seek out and embrace new opportunities.

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