Scaling Without Sacrificing Culture: 9 Key Insights From Vivowire22

A global, rapidly expanding company probably won’t have the same personal, everyone-knows-everyone culture as an early-stage start-up – and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. 

But companies that are undergoing rapid growth do need to give thought to how scaling up will affect their company culture, and take active steps to protect it. 

As part of vivowire22, our flagship virtual event for comms and HR professionals, we spoke to two people leaders from fast-growing organizations about the work they’ve done to scale successfully without sacrificing culture on the altar of global expansion. 

Our guests were Mira Magecha, Chief People Officer at Getir, and Jessica Oppetit, Chief Operating Officer at Flipdish. The event was expertly moderated by Eleanor Warnock, Deputy Editor at Sifted. 

Here are some of the insights our guests had to share. 

1) Remote-first is great, but there are communication problems to solve. 

One of the biggest challenges companies of all sizes are navigating right now is deciding whether to operate from a remote-first perspective, get people back to the office ASAP, or figure out some combination of the two. 

Flipdish is a remote-first company, which Jessica says has both pros and cons:“I like the remote-first policy. I feel like it allows us to hire amazing talent and not be constrained by borders. But I do think it adds communication challenges, that as companies you really have to work through.”

Flipdish is big on flying people in to their Dublin HQ to meet in person where possible, and puts focus on in-person events to create connection. 

2) You can hire for culture even in global organizations by revisiting your interview process. 

When you’re transforming from a one-country, local operation to a multinational organization, keeping a consistent culture across your entire company can be a challenge – somethingboth Jessica and Mira have experienced. 

For Jessica, it’s important that you can walk into any Flipdish office in the world and feel that you’re in the same organization, whether you’re in Paris, Dublin, or New York. 

Her solution? A tight, consistent interview process that specifically tests for culture by including culture-related questions with a right or wrong answer.

3) Country leaders are key brand ambassadors for any company scaling across borders. 

Both Mira and Jessica talked about the importance of hiring strong country leaders when expanding across borders – although the two companies have taken different approaches. 

For Getir, using people from its operation in Turkey (where the company was founded and operated for its first five years) was important. 

“Partly because they have the business know-how,” Mira said. “They have the knowledge, but also because I think they can embed some of that rich ‘people-first’ [culture] and what that means.”

Flipdish, on the other hand, prioritizes hiring managers locally while ensuring a strong fit in terms of culture. 

“I think speaking the language, living and breathing the local culture, is equally important as having Flipdish culture,” Jessica said. 

4) Work-life balance is top-of-mind for employees right now – and employers need to take note. 

Mira pointed out that, after the past two years, people have become used to being able to pick up their kids from school, not having to deal with long commutes, and generally having a better work-life balance – and that’s not something they’re willing to let go of now. 

This is something that’s at the forefront of many employees’ minds at the moment, and employers need to pay heed to it. At the same time, Mira says, this needs to be balanced against the needs of other employees, who have spent the past two years desperate to get back to the office. 

5) Zoom can’t (fully) replicate in-person interactions. 

Mira and Jessica share the view that while tools like Zoom are useful, they’re no replacement for in-person interactions. 

Speaking of the possibilities brought about by the easing of COVID restrictions, Mira said: “It’s really nice to have that ability to bring people together now and share ideas… but also have conversations, go out for dinner, go for some drinks.” 

Jessica agreed, adding that in-person meetings facilitate bouncing ideas around and tackling key issues in a way that Zoom can’t compete with. She also brought up the problem with hybrid meetings, when most people are in-person with a few that have to join via Zoom. 

“My rule of thumb is that even if you’re in-person, if there are one or two people that are not joining in person, everyone should find their own space, and everyone dials in over Zoom,” she said. That way, “it doesn’t feel like the people that are joining remotely are less included than the people that are in the room”.

6) Systems are non-sexy, but they’re crucial for scaling companies. 

Setting up systems might not be the most exciting part of expanding a company, but it is crucial, according to Mira.

“It’s fundamental to our culture,” she said, “because all of a sudden, I can see who my counterparts are in various countries. All of a sudden I can connect, I can have conversations.” 

Foundational elements like org charts, knowledge bases, and software, therefore, are invaluable for fast-growing companies. 

“You then have a single point where you’re going to go for updates. You know who to contact if you’ve got questions.” 

7) Great people people are unicorns… but you can find success through referrals. 

When we think of roles that are difficult to hire for right now, we tend to focus on engineers and other tech roles. But according to both Jessica and Mira, good ‘people people’ are incredibly hard to find. 

But there is one method that both of them have seen success with: referrals. Usually, employees are only asked for referrals when hiring for roles like their own. But as both of our guests pointed out, almost everyone has worked with great people people, so referrals in this area can be very valuable. 

8) Slack is too noisy for critical updates – and companies need to find other ways to stay aligned. 

As anyone working in a fast-growing company knows, communication channels like Slack can quickly get out of hand. And while there’s definitely a place for instant, informal communication when it comes to building culture, they can also carry a lot of noise. 

Jessica suggests that this makes Slack an unsuitable medium for critical updates,and both Getir and Flipdish have had to find other ways to help their teams stay aligned. For Flipdish, this means a weekly all-hands meeting that includes updates from different departments, and weekly or biweekly reports from different team leaders. 

9) Every start-up/scale-up is different… so don’t make assumptions.

Mira stressed the importance of not making assumptions if you’re working for a start-up or scale-up, even if you’re worked for one before. No two organizations are the same, and you need to take the time to fully understand the culture and structure of any new organization you join. 

“When you join any type of organization, in any function, take the time to understand and build those relationships,” she said. 

Want to learn more? 

If you’re hungry for more valuable insights about successfully scaling an organization without letting culture fall by the wayside, you can watch the full talk with Jessica Oppetit, Mira Magecha, and Eleanor Warnock. And you can watch more highlights from vivowire22 here.