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Scaling Culture in a Growing Start-up

Scaling Culture in a Growing Start-up

Culture has become recognized as a critical element of business success. But having a good culture is just a start. Making it scale, and driving your growth, takes work. The term ‘Start-up Culture’ has been around the block many times and it raises the question of how can rapidly growing companies scale and evolve their cultures while maintaining the things that have worked for them so far?

To explore this idea further, I interviewed Dalena Nguyen, Talent Branding Specialist at Thinkific.

Thinkific is the number one platform to create, market, and sell your own online courses or membership sites. The company has revolutionized how individuals earn and learn online by building an all-in-one platform designed for both course creators and their audience.

With Thinkific doubling in size in the past year, it’s no surprise to hear that their impressive growth has been built upon solid foundations. Dalena Nguyen talks me through how Thinkific’s culture remains a priority, even after experiencing exponential growth.

Why is Culture so Important at Thinkific?

We know our success as a company can be attributed to one thing: our exceptional people. Building this culture is something that our team is constantly putting work into. By putting our team members first and bringing on folks who are driven to help our customers succeed, we’ve been able to launch new features, build partnerships with agencies and platforms like Shopify, and introduce our latest offering, Thinkific Plus, aimed at better supporting larger organizations.

With so much on the line for a growing business, a core values system is simply non-negotiable. Your values support the vision, shape the culture, and reflect the attitude of the company. Values are what sustains engagement, excitement, and purpose long after perks lose their lustre.

How Did You Find Out What Your Core Values Were?

It’s easy to assume company culture is all about team lunches, free massages, ping pong tables, and beer o’clock Fridays. While perks like these can certainly improve your team’s mood, they simply aren’t what drives the culture.

We keep our core values front and centre. There are eight company core values that we live and breathe every day: Succeed Together, Learn and Grow, Be Helpful, Passionately Debate, Be Fanatical About Customer Success, Choose Ethics and Integrity, Give a Shit, and Strive for Equality. They were established early on by our founders with the belief that values aren’t intended to be aspirational—rather, they should describe who you are already. These values are what continue to guide the choices we make every day.

Rallying your team around a meaningful purpose and supporting that with appropriate perks is not only a more sustainable way to drive growth but it ensures that the people you attract are people who are joining your company for the right reasons.

As You Grow, How Do You Ensure These Values Remain Strong?

Recognizing that our team’s diversity is also one of our strengths, we hire for a “values fit” rather than a “culture fit”. We’ve also built out a robust onboarding process, which sees new team members learning about Thinkific, creating their own courses to put themselves in the shoes of our course creators, getting involved with our company-wide support shifts, and a focus on building relationships with team members across different departments. Reinforcing our values on a daily basis and ensuring our new team members are supported from day one have helped us scale our culture as we grow.

Start-ups already have a lot to deal with, but challenges related to their people shouldn’t be one of them. People are the most important asset of any organization, no matter the size of your company and while businesses plan for success, it’s the people who pave the route to get there. To help achieve business goals, an organization needs motivated, empowered, and engaged employees to succeed.

How Do You Keep Your Employees Engaged?

Every quarter, we conduct an engagement survey and measure our Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) and we’ve seen our eNPS consistently trending in the high 80’s, low 90’s which is impressive for a company of our size. This is also reflected in our 98% score on the Great Place to Work Trust Index Survey. One of the biggest reasons our team is so happy working here (on top of our fantastic perks and benefits and, yes, our office dogs) is that they love the people they’re working alongside to grow our culture together. We’re always asking for feedback: we conduct regular engagement surveys, post-event surveys, perks and benefits surveys, and even participated in a Queen's University-led team effectiveness study. This ensures we can act quickly on areas of improvement and that we’re not just pushing initiatives on our people but giving them what they want and need.

Culture wasn’t built in a day – whether a growing company is defining its culture or an established company is redefining its culture – the important thing to remember is that workplace culture consists of the values, people, and communication of a company that thrives on the participation of all team members.

What Advice Do You Have for Other Companies Wanting to Scale Their Culture?

While our culture is something that we’re continually working on, what has worked for Thinkific is to truly put people at the forefront of our decisions, and we’ve done that through a few key things. Define values that reflect and resonate with your team—as we’ve grown our team, it’s been crucial to be able to lean on our core values to help guide us. Every year, we review our values and identify whether we are still living them each and every day. Bring on people who align with these values—each person who joins your team will add to your culture moving forward, and by looking for values fit (and not a culture fit), you’ll gain valuable diversity as your team and culture evolve. Learn and grow—as your organization grows, proactively, and continually reach out to your team for feedback to learn what you’re doing right and where you can continue to improve.

Ask us about running your employee pulse survey and how we can measure your Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) today.