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Evolving your organizational culture

Avishek Kedia

In our last post, we wrote about the unprecedented value of a shared ethos. If shared ethos is the guiding intelligence behind an organization, then culture is the lifeboat on which the organization fuels and refuels itself. Culture is hidden. It is unspoken. It is spontaneous.

But culture can be incredibly hard to understand and build. Organizations today are more distributed than ever with employees in different continents and time zones. In fact, many new startups are remote only and don’t have offices. The extreme diversity and lack of physical intimacy makes it difficult to sustain a unified culture. You could even hire superman to work at your organization but if your culture is broken, all the great work that superman does will eventually get undone and you will be back to square one.

There is no point hiring great talent and plugging them into a culture of mediocrity and status quo acceptance. In order for great talent to stick and be as valuable as it can be, it has to be strongly supported by the org culture. When the going gets tough, metrics are not being met and customers are dwindling, it is culture that keeps the team alive and still fighting to stay in the game. Smart leaders understand clearly that great products are a result of superlative teamwork and not the creative output of a single individual.

The bedrock of superlative teamwork is a culture of trust, self belief and active experimentation, followed by concrete reflection. Building an org wide process of reflection and strong feedback loops improve the team’s confidence in what they are delivering. Focusing on small continuous improvements is critical to sustained growth. Management should drive policies where employees can plant seeds and rely on collective intelligence to slowly sprout the seeds into blossoms. The attitude of persistence and never giving up gives more time for the original seeds to mature. Take SpaceX for example, a company whose rocket launches failed multiple times before finally taking off!

Are some employees unsatisfied with the levels of motivation and courage within their peers? Is the core leadership resistant to new inputs and ideas? Do you have meetings where frequent arguments take place with no clear resolutions? Are the overarching values not complementing the culture on the ground?

If you find yourself answering YES, then an evolution is in order.

Start basic. Start small. Start top-down.

  • Communicate the values of the company clearly from top to bottom and ensure all employees understand what the company stands for
  • Create a safe space for being vulnerable and expressing thoughts openly during meetings
  • Implement periodic peer assessment and anonymous feedback method
  • Have regular 1:1 between employees (from top-down) to air out grievances and make sure that employees feel understood
  • Fun is always welcome; Offsite picnics and team building sessions at least once a quarter will help build social harmony and personal relationships
  • Motivate a culture of transparency and idea meritocracy where the best ideas win in the long run
  • Putting in an incentive like flexi-time is great because during leisure time the mind is open to receive new inspiration about a problem it is already struggling to solve.

In the final analysis, it turns out that discovering the perfect and unique culture for your org is a journey in itself. Like listening to a Mozart concerto!

To win, let there be enough natural room for the culture to evolve as the shared ethos ,life cycle and customers of the organization evolve.

At Gitstart, we are building a unique culture based on these principles.

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