Often, we wonder what makes an organization tick. As startups continue to spring up in every back alley; while some misfire, others soar, taking the world by storm. For an organization’s growth, there are many factors that counts and one among them is culture as it defines the direction that an organization will take.
Organizational culture is an overused and frequently misunderstood phrase. Ask a startup employee what his culture is like and he will probably describe the ‘café-like’ atmosphere of his workplace, men, and women in casual, comfortable clothing bustling around in an air of unbridled energy. Others may speak of flexible work hours, large pay packages, gaming rooms and unlimited snacks in the pantry, all of which, while they may be a manifestation of the culture of the organization, in truth, are merely practices.Take these attitudes and practices into consideration and there is an intangible, underlying principle that binds these together, a core value if you will, and there you have it.
As Keesing (1974) rightly put it, culture is a system of ideas or ‘an inferred ideational code lying behind the realm of observational events’, that covertly binds a set of people together, inspiring them to work towards a common vision.
Culture then is made up of culture bearers’ ‘theories of the world’ and a symbolic representation of the ideologies through which one seeks to achieve their goals. In an organization, this culture bearer is the leader. How and when the culture begins to dictate an organization’s direction is heavily debated. Ideally, a culture is instilled the minute an organization is conceptualized and the leader’s vision becomes the company’s vision. Take a leader that is driven by limitless aggression, aggression to grow and expand; the company then takes on an aggressive face, disrupting everything in its path to attain its goals. As the leader evolves, so does the culture. Therefore, for the different units of an organization to come together in a seamless fashion, it becomes increasingly important for each employee to have a comprehensive idea of company’s values and aspirations with a clear purpose of direction.
In startups, actions are triggered by strong fundamental cultural nuances; however, it is quite possible that most employees and stakeholders do not fully comprehend the culture. Young driven individuals are today very excited about beginning their careers in startups for the perks that they offer and while startups see high growth in numbers, they usually have equally high attrition rates. Surveys and exit interviews have identified that the reasons for exits fall into several distinct categories. While people believe that the startup atmosphere brings a great boost at the beginning of one’s career, they are wrong of the opinion that over time, they need to move on to more ‘stable’ environments.
The belief that ‘the long work hours and 24/7 availability can lead to burn-out’ and lack of clarity on what their roles entail are some other frequently expressed apprehensions. What is lacking is the organization’s ability to coherently convey and continually ensure an individual’s role and growth. All of these concerns ultimately boil down to ‘culture’.
The recruiting process, especially, plays a key role in overturning this trend. While diversity in an organization is crucial, it is equally important to hire like-minded individuals. Therefore, imparting an organization’s cultural stance to an individual begins at recruitment. Recruiting individuals with the right attitude and aptitude to fit in seamlessly with the working culture will work wonders with creating a well-oiled organization. Culture doesn’t exist in the top rungs of management alone. When vision is aligned at every rung, each unit of the organization is accountable at their own level for instilling a positive environment.
The cultural message can be effectively manifested in the form of a purpose. When an individual receives clarity on his purpose and his role in driving the organization in a particular direction, he will more likely make a larger impact than one who is simply given a job description. In smaller startups, job description is a vague concept and when the values of the startup and the impact of each employee’s contribution are communicated clearly, the employee is personally invested in getting the organization to where it aims to be.
Most leaders believe that a motivated workforce is a key to an organization’s success but at the same time, they struggle to keep their employees motivated on daily basis. One tried and tested method that always works is a fun-filled offsite. This is a great way to get your team together, mitigate conflict, build trust and encourage communication, which in turn increases collaboration within the organization.
Another imperative factor is recognition of an employee’s work. When a contribution is recognized and rewarded, employees are further motivated and attrition rates are bound to fall. Here, the entrepreneur plays a critical role. Driving growth and progress is important and an entrepreneur may be a ruthless businessman but that shouldn’t stop him from being a compassionate leader. Concepts like ‘reverse mentoring’ where younger employees and the core team work together in driving strategy and direction could help fresh minds feel at one with the organization. As an entrepreneur grows and evolves, the organizational culture grows and evolves with him. There are no existing templates or policies in place to say which prevalent cultures are right or wrong. However, for an entrepreneur when his organization matures, it is necessary for a culture, in whatever form, to continually convey clarity in direction, stability and most importantly, trust.