From mice to gazelles: the people dimension


…or how to scale your organization from within.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that culture is self-explanatory. And that you’re boring people with talking over and over about it. It’s quite the opposite.


I read recently that more than 90% of startups fail. The main reason being taking wrong steps in the process, rather than competition impact. If you’re a startup founder or an entrepreneur, this must sound scary. 

As startups grow, they encounter challenges that prevent them from going forward. Or, in the best case, freeze them for a while. These factors are people, strategy, execution, and cash. When a company grows, complexity increases exponentially, and the company is accumulating its cognitive load (complex hierarchy, different roles, processes, etc.). It is called the paradox of complexity – the S curve.  And the huge milestone on that road is going from mice to gazelles.

Unfortunately, at this point, many founders and their teams feel stuck. Reluctant to take the next step. Fear to grow is fuelled by several factors: losing its unique personality and becoming just another “corporate” company—strict departments and processes, killing the employee’s motivation.  

Find answers: Who are you as a team, as a company? What is the strength that moves you forward? And what else do you need? Reflect on the real value of your brand, not only to consumers but also to your employees

Insight 1:  The people dimension

The truth is: it’s all about people: the relationships that you create, emotional and functional bonds with your employees, partners, and clients. The way you work and create and treat each other from CEO to team leaders and colleagues. It is all about culture.

Culture is crucial for a startup as it expands, but many times taken for granted. In the beginning, founders create the glue that keeps everyone together. The vision and work principles are clear and relatable to each employee and quickly increase each person’s motivation and productivity. One might say: it goes without saying!

People feel connected, motivated, and accountable for the success of your startup’s growth. 

Insight 2: Culture must be reinforced as the company grows

But things change as you grow! When everyone is working together in a single room, you don’t need to articulate culture explicitly. However, once you grow out of that room, you do. As soon as you add new employees (and lots of them) and different roles and structures emerge, you end up spending more and more time on coordination chores and less and less time doing the actual work.

The best approach is to define a mindset that you want (new) employees to buy into. Define and communicate the culture and your vision and enable common understanding and buy-in of it. Define your brand internally. It will guide people to take independent action in response to threats and opportunities without seeking constant clear guidance from you.  

Culture + employer brand are vital traction elements when scaling; they attract and keep the right people and enable them to do the right things and in the right way.

Insight 3: Don’t underestimate the power of communication

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that culture is self-explanatory. And that you’re boring people with talking over and over about it. It’s quite the opposite. Create an organizational narrative and share your story. Use storytelling as a great tool to connect, educate, engage, and inspire your team. It’s essential to communicate a lot internally to remind people why they want to emerge themselves in their jobs and be emotional about them. That’s how a dedicated and passionate mindset gets passed on as you grow.

Don’t forget:

  • Define culture in terms of clear & observable behaviors. 
  • Make it accessible & understandable & upgradable (create learning content, open two-way communication)
  • Ensure managers relentlessly reinforce target behaviors / empower culture guardians
  • Give recognition and show appreciation
  • Set clear expectations and give employees a vision to follow

The right culture and people are crucial elements in achieving your business results

Sanja Petek Mujačić, co-founder § organizational culture consultant




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