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Mar 22, 2022
Make a difference
People leadership
Culture

Scaling a values-driven organisation - mission impossible?

Christina Bellis
In partnership with

Cogo set itself an ambitious goal for 2022: to hire 70+ talented people to help us change the world. We’re literally and figuratively ‘growing up’! 

Within the span of a decade (and a bit), we've grown from a fledgling sustainability credentials app, to leveraging the power of tech to enable hundreds of millions of consumers globally to understand the effect their spending has on their carbon footprint and take actions to reduce their impact.

While all this growth is pretty exciting, it comes with some serious challenges, or more specifically, growing pains. 

I’d be lying if I said I didn't (sometimes) feel like Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible. Ethan and his team face innumerable challenges in their quest; all the while preventing impending global disaster. Sounds familiar, particularly when you consider that as a company, we’re growing at lightning speed and simultaneously tackling the biggest threat facing humanity today - climate change.  

Google ‘common challenges of scaling a business’ and Google will surface 42 million results. Cogo has had to face off with almost all of these while setting the stage to enable and support global growth. Most of these relate to ‘capability’ and ‘capacity’. Where will the company get funding? How quickly can we scale tech, infrastructure, and processes to sustain our growth? 

Very few of them warn you that as companies grow, it becomes more difficult to sustain the culture that enabled that growth in the first place. In Cogo’s case - our culture is one that is values-driven and it’s those values that have set the stage for and spearheaded our success.

As a fast-growing team, we’ve spent a lot of time and resource on ensuring our plan to scale up our business equates to scaling up our culture as well.

For businesses grappling with doing the same, these simple principles, kept at the heart of every stage of your scaling process, will ensure you scale more than just the size of your team. 

Hire for character

Hiring the right people from the onset is one of the most important actions you can take to build and scale a successful business. Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, famously said that “The secret to successful hiring is this: look for the people who want to change the world.”

You can invest in people to build their skills through mentorship or professional development. It’s much harder, and some would argue impossible, to get someone aligned with your values if they aren’t inherently on the same page. Put another way - you can (and should) teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t change its DNA. 

Psychologist Daniel Pink wrote that people are driven by “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” The great resignation has driven this point home now more than ever. Talented people are looking for meaningful, impactful work, and it’s becoming harder to retain skilled employees, especially in the tech sector. That’s why it’s so important to hire people who share your values, are aligned with your mission and share a passion for your purpose. 

At Cogo, we don’t expect employees to walk in and change the world on day one, but we focus a lot on mission alignment, learning and development, mentoring and team building to give our people an opportunity to become familiar with our culture and our vision. 

Organisation not rules

As companies grow, maintaining a culture purposefully created by founders and small teams over time is often in danger of getting lost in a haze of ‘corporate-ness’. Inevitably, bigger organisations will need a different organisational structure than that of fledgling startups. A more complicated structure and more people can lead to a more ‘corporate’ climate in which consistency and standardisation needs to be applied throughout different aspects of the business, such as salary bands and policies .

This ‘standardisation’ or as some might call it, the ‘workplace fun police’ is necessary to protect our people, first and foremost, as well as our company and our purpose. At Cogo, we approach this, as with everything else, with openness and transparency. 

As ‘techies’, we know that no one designs perfect software the first time around; and it’s the same with building a company. We need to design, test, find and consistently work on the way we do things. At Cogo, this is done in a way that is aligned with our values, and employs a continuous feedback loop of listening, understanding and improving. Constantly evolving organisation; as opposed to just rules. 

Scale the impact not just the product 

Scaling is certainly a sexy word. We associate it with success, exponential growth and innovative products.  

At Cogo, we’re less interested in how we can grow our product, than how we can grow our impact. With an ambitious goal to ‘change the world’, scaling up, out or deep is only valuable if it leads to a measurable, positive impact. 

At Cogo, every decision is weighed against that scale. Growth at the expense of impact is never an option. To avoid this - keep coming back to your values and the people who share those values. Sometimes, we need to spend time over dollars; and we need to grow inward before we can grow upward.

Gracious with people, ruthless with standards

While I believe in the power of leadership over management, our focus on quality and high standards is one of the main drivers of our success within the highly competitive fintech space. Our trust in our people to uphold our standards means that we can focus on maximising impact and that we have the flexibility to allow autonomy without the need to control the environment too rigidly. 

Key to a culture built around trust and transparency is shared accountability. We’re all invested in CoGo’s purpose, thus we’re all invested in its success. It’s a philosophy of being gracious with people; and ruthless with standards.

Thankfully, no scale-up is ever a solo undertaking. Ethan famously said, "I Am The Storm.." to which I’d reply: “No, we are the storm.” Designing the future of your organisation in partnership with the people who made it so successful in the first place is key. Together, you’ll ensure your business AND purpose become bigger…and bigger.