A company's culture is often said to be the cornerstone of its success. But what defines a good culture? What are some of the non-negotiables to building a culture that feels engaging and rewarding to employees? Can culture contribute to attract good talent? How difficult or easy is it to build and sustain great company culture in the virtual world or with hybrid work?
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In this episode of ‘Dialogue with Darwin,’ we are joined by TN Hari, a celebrated veteran from the HR leadership space in India, to discuss some of these truly relevant questions and learn from his years of experience in building companies and nurturing people.
TN Hari is the CHRO for Bigbasket, an author, angel investor, mentor to many VC’s and startup founders. Hari is an IIT, IIM alumnus who started his career with Tata Steel and went on to be part of many big successful startups. He has been an integral part of the startup ecosystem in India and has been instrumental in the transformational journey of several startups. He continues to mentor founders and VCs from the ecosystem. He is also particularly interested and enthusiastic about mentoring women entrepreneurs.
There is a lot to learn and reflect on from his insights, here are some excerpts from the conversation with Hari.
Please watch the video for the full interview.
Q1: How do you see culture getting translated from the physical to the virtual world?
Preserving culture, creating as well as preserving culture is slightly easier in the physical world because, in the physical world, you can, you know, read body language, you can understand eye contact, and these are powerful intangible tools driving culture. The feedback cycles are also much shorter in a physical context. For example, if you do something you or see someone doing something which is not in line with your culture, then the feedback can be quick. Whereas in a virtual context, you don't get to know a lot of things that are happening. So, the feedback cycles become longer. So, I think it's not as easy in a virtual context as setting the culture and preserving culture. But having said that, this is something that is beyond anyone's control — the pandemic and the virtual world — the hybrid world that exists today. So, you must learn how to adapt and work to retain your culture, even in this context.
In situations where you think some element of culture has been reinforced by a certain behavior, or some individuals have gone against the grain of culture, use those opportunities, to go deeper and explain why it goes against the culture of the company.
Q2: How do people choose what behaviors are valuable for that organization? And how do you go about figuring out if this is right for our context and because it is unique in every case, how do we go about figuring out if this is right for us?
A: I think it is very important to understand that apart from very toxic cultures, there is no right and wrong culture. There is no good or bad culture. There is no right or wrong personality. All of us have different personalities, right? Some of us are very analytical, very numbers-oriented. Some of us are creative. Some of us love meeting new people and love performing sales roles.
Some of us love building deeper relationships with fewer individuals. So, we are all quite different. We have to make our personality work for us. We have to know what our strengths are. So, culture is an organization’s personality. There is no right or wrong personality. There is no right or wrong culture.
The culture in a startup simply equals founders. It's as simple as that. What are the values that the founders bring, what are the behaviors they think have made them successful? Those kinds of behaviors that they think are important get driven and built in the entire organization.
So, if founders are active in the company, I would say: Culture equals founders. But as the startup begins to scale, as more and more leadership comes from outside, some degree of churn happens and that becomes the cultural standard. So, there is no right or wrong culture.
Q4: How do you see culture responding to the change that is happening externally? Of course, the pandemic is the most recent one that we can recollect but are there incidents that are pushing culture to change?
As I said, there is no right or wrong culture, the other important myth about culture is that you can change culture easily. So, that myth also needs to be broken, it is very difficult for companies to change who they are. So, it's very difficult for us to change who we are. We might add a few elements to the periphery, but our core remains the same. Having said that I would say the best way to adapt is that all the people in the company, a good number of leaders, have two traits. One is being open and not believing in the not invented here. At times there is a strong belief and not invented here syndrome, so, not invented here syndrome does not allow you to adapt to changes. So, if you don’t have that syndrome and you are open-minded, listening to new ideas is one very important element to adapting to change.
The second component is also having inclusion and a lot of things are spoken about inclusion, which is diversity and inclusion. The power of inclusion is that you can get a large number of ideas. And by getting this large number of ideas, you will figure out what is relevant in a different context. So, I would say openness and inclusivity are two very important elements of a culture to be able to adapt.
Hari concludes the interview by sharing his motto in life, which is ‘Get up and show up’, leaving us all a bit more inspired.
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