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Why startups must invest heavily in culture-building

The difference between a company and a company with a strong workplace culture is that one hires employees and the other has loyalists. While the success of an organisation depends on several factors, I feel that culture is of primary importance. It is the very DNA of the company.

Culture can be seen in the way team members interact with each other, how we celebrate each others’ successes, how we hold each other’s hand when life gets tough, how we reward performance, and how we deal with the lack of it when markets or circumstances turn against us.

Startups often struggle to create an optimal workplace culture because existential crises always take priority over something that may not directly impact revenue. However, after running a startup for over seven years, I’ve realised that a positive work culture makes for a more effective team, impacting numbers.

Culture will drive business, retention, happiness, and productivity – and that’s why every startup needs to care about it.

When the pandemic forced everyone to shift to working from home, questions arose about work cultures taking a hit. Team members could no longer meet in person and enjoy the cafeteria banter. It also became harder to integrate new team members who just had to rely on anecdotes of others to imagine what it was like to work in the company in person.

However, I think these circumstances also forced us to look at and evolve our work culture in a much more meaningful way.

Introducing morning meetings and The CK Morning Show

While there’s no set “Founder’s Playbook” to abide by in such unprecedented times, we always knew that a company’s culture is determined by its people. And reinforcement of culture starts with a personal example.

We have been working from home since mid-March. One of the ways we overcame work-from-home gaps was by organising a morning video call with all our team members at 9:30 AM every day.

Before we get onto business updates of the day, we host ‘The CK Morning Show’ for everyone. Here we invite one team member every day to talk about their journey so far, what has helped them succeed, and hear their personal stories of struggle and success.

Hearing from their peers inspires the team; they also get to know each other and the new members feel like they belong to this family now. Such an exchange of positive vibes in the morning provides a good boost of motivation to everyone and creates a semblance of the fun we used to have in our office.

Initiating virtual meetups and addressing the well-being

In addition to this, we introduced a series of positive initiatives during this time to ensure the mental and emotional well-being of the team members. For instance, we partnered with The Window Project to provide counselling to anyone who may be going through a tough time. We also started organising Fun Wednesday gaming sessions and virtual festival celebrations to engage all our team members.

We saw an active team participation and make the most of these events. More than 100 people join in daily for the morning meeting and switch on their videos to greet each other. They’ve mentioned how this helps them get into the work mode every morning and builds a strong team spirit.

Acknowledgement is key

A positive culture also contributes immensely to the way a person performs at work. If you have a team that motivates and values its members, you can work to the best of your abilities.

Our team culture is based on respect for each other and recognising that we complement each other’s skills.

People will forget if they got 25 percent appraisal instead of 30 percent, but if they haven’t got respect from the company and teammates, they will never have the deep love and gratitude for their company. With this core belief, a lot of our daily interactions are centred around appreciating our colleagues, getting to know them, encouraging them to speak up and sharing their stories because we want them to know that we respect their views and each one is appreciated.

Happier teams do better business

While we witnessed a slowdown during the initial months of lockdown, from June 2020 onwards, we bounced back and our business has been on a fast growth trajectory ever since. In fact, this Diwali season was our biggest to date.

A work culture that evolves with changing circumstances does not only increase team enthusiasm, but also encourages better productivity and results in improved company performance.

To bring efficiency and seamlessness to work-from-home, we defined several function-wise SOPs and made adequate equipment available to all our team members as per the nature of their work. As a result, we achieved the highest numbers ever for us in October 2020, and are all set to beat these records in January 2021 itself.

Even in the COVID-19 impacted year, we will show annual growth, which is commendable. All this would not have been possible without a highly motivated team contributing effectively to work.

Building a strong culture requires teamwork

In my view, whoever thought that an HR team alone can build company culture was probably wrong.

Culture is what flows right from the founders to each member of the leadership team, and even the on-ground sales teams that we may not interact often with.

It is the differentiator between who makes that extra sales call after 6 PM and who shuts his laptop when no one’s watching.

To understand how we are doing as a company during the lockdown, we rolled out an internal survey for our team. We were making multiple modifications to ensure their convenience and so, wanted to pause and assess how to better our efforts.

We received candid feedback from our members and were thrilled to see that over 78 percent of them rated their overall happiness at work at over 7/10. The survey also had a section where the team could anonymously leave messages for their peers who they thought were going an extra mile at the workplace.

We received a lot of sweet messages thanking us and different members of the team for making extra efforts during such unprecedented times. These small gestures help you understand that you’re building a workplace that people enjoy being a part of every single day.

I believe that the energy of the team is a direct derivative of your company’s culture. It’s this energy that is going to drive team members to put in more effort than usual, work harder than asked for, and care more than expected.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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