A Learning Session About Culture, Development and Scaling at Polarr
  1. How do we keep building the culture while also keeping the essence of who we are? 
  2. What are some of the things we should be thinking about as we move into our next phase of growth? 
  3. How do we think about diversity? 
  4. How do we take care of ourselves while the company grows? 

These were just some of the great questions Borui Wang, the CEO and founder of Polarr, and his team asked me over a Lunch & Learn session. Polarr develops and operates online photo-editing software. The company works with smart creatives and empowers them to succeed at scale. 

But what they are doing internally in order to build a company with a solid culture is even more inspiring to me. The team, made up of 33 employees, is working together to make sure they keep what makes the company special while also setting it up for the next stage of growth.  

Here’s the “best of” from our conversation: 

On Culture: 

  • Culture is an ever-changing, living mechanism. It’s a combination of your values, behaviors, practices and processes that support it. 
  • Similar to culture, diversity should be looked at from the very beginning.
  • It’s really important to be clear about not just what your company’s values are, but also being clear about the behaviors that describe those values. This means making sure the values aren’t just listed on your website, but are clear expectations of how everyone is supposed to work with each other every day.

On Development: 

  • Whenever I think about learning, it’s not just about individual learning, but how to support that learning through organizational practices and processes. How do we make sure that, as we’re growing as a company, individuals are growing with us? Not just up, but expanding employee’s skill sets and experiences, too.
  • The extent that you can share with each other what you’re working on, or what you’re trying to develop, gives people an opportunity to offer you feedback in a non-threatening way.
  • Coaching skills are some of the best skills that anybody can have in an organization–not just as a manager. If everybody knew how to listen proactively and how to ask the kind of questions that help people solve the underlying problems, we would have happier, more productive working environments. 
  • As leaders, you’re always being watched; but especially in a small company, everyone is watching each other. It sucks sometimes, and it doesn’t mean you have to be inauthentic, and smile, and be great if you don’t feel that way. It just means you need to be more self aware and responsible about the effect you have on others and the company.

On Scaling: 

  • As your company grows, roles are going to be more important. When you’re growing so fast, two things start to happen: duplication of effort and consensus decision making. Get clear with each other on who’s doing what, what kinds of decisions need to be made and who needs to contribute to a particular decision. 
  • So many founders and leaders think that once values are established they can’t ever go back. That’s not true. Just as you review and iterate other parts of the company as you scale, the same is true for culture. Your business and strategy should be reviewed consistently. Your culture is a part of that strategy, so it, too, should be reviewed and iterated upon consistently. 
  • I’ve never believed in the term balance, because we will never be balanced. It’s about integration. You play all these different roles in your life; how do you integrate those different roles? There are ways to take care of yourself and not burn yourself out as the company grows. This is important to reinforce with each other. 

Interested in joining this amazing team who’s not just focused on great results, but also building a great culture? They’re hiring!

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