Building a culture to win
Rahul Vengalil, Managing Partner, Isobar India.
Since the onset of the Pandemic, businesses across sectors have experienced turbulence in more than just one way. Over 600 days later, looking back I could safely say that from a business standpoint, we sailed through successfully because we were quick to recognise the intensity of the crisis and agile enough to create roadmaps for new patterns of work. However, we did struggle to find a pivot that would enable us to maintain employee morale and keep up with the organisation culture that we are so proud of.
Employees have been stressed, stretched and strained in the last two years, while the vulnerable ones completely collapsed. As leaders, we have the responsibility to build a future-proof plan for a future that is uncertain. The industry dynamics, client expectations and consumer demands are changing rapidly. On the other hand, focusing on employee well-being and creating a fitting environment is a high priority especially for a service industry that is so heavily dependent on people and culture.
It is also important to note that in this span of two years, there have been so many new employees/ first time jobbers who have joined the organisation. Their on boarding process has been conducted virtually, they haven’t personally met their teams/managers and are unfamiliar with the work environment. As a people’s organisation, it is necessary to ensure a smooth transition in such circumstances, rather than placing them directly on pitches and deadlines. We can all say that WFH has made us more efficient but with 91% of our communication being non-verbal, have we really become efficient in our overall performance? How do we build a strong team and cater to each other’s growth when all you know about your colleague is their initials on Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
This pandemic and its impact are not going to go away for the next few years. History is a testament to that. I believe the virus must evolve to a point where it becomes as common as a common cold or flu. Yet, 2022 is truly a year of hope. People are getting vaccinated at a record pace; there is talk of booster shots in India. Omicron, though high transmissible, is said to not have too much of an impact on us. Keeping these in mind, the next few years will be one of exponential growth for an organisation like ours. However, for that to happen, we need to build a culture that will last a lifetime. That’s at the core for a foreseeable future.
As we step into the New Year and employees gear up to return to offices, I would like to share a few notable to-dos to build a culture to win:
Welcoming People Back to Office: Hopefully, we all will return to office in 2022, albeit adjusting to a new way of working. People would be meeting each other personally for the first time. From working in the privacy of one’s room, we will now be sharing space with our colleagues. Additionally, we will also be getting back to a structured routine. It’s said that one takes 21 days to change a habit. How do we then change a habit that’s over 600 days old now? Instead of just jumping right into it, I suggest looking at a phased approach giving both emotional and physical space for everyone to get accustomed to the new ways.
Growth: We are at a pivotal point in our journey. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”, the pandemic has allowed us to align the teams, streamline our process and so on. The sharpening has thus been done and we are now on a path of exponential growth. Our focus will be on people and their individual growth. We strongly believe that if individuals can break the glass ceiling, then the company will also grow accordingly. OKRs, internal and external training programs and continuous feedback mechanisms are some of the specifics that we will be focussing on.
Innovation: Experience is a key differentiator for the brands in the future. Experience need not be always related to large scale investment. Our key agenda for 2022 is to push the envelope when it comes to innovation. We also believe that innovation comes as part of an iterative process and we have been aligning teams internally on workshops, mini hackathons and so on, with this aim in mind.
Solution mindset: We are looking at creating a solution mentality across the board. This will be driven across our relationships with our clients, within the organisation or with new or existing partners. This will help us in looking at the bigger picture and finally moving up the value chain for our client. Our focus will be on setting up the right context or the WHY. The conversations will have to move from what to do and how to do it, to the WHY of everything. I believe that people are smart enough today to find solutions; they just need to be motivated and shown the bigger picture. Let me quote Terry Pratchett here, “Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”
Building Culture on trust: I grew up hearing that culture eats strategy for lunch. Let’s face it, we are in a space that is filled with a trust deficit. Trust deficit that’s built over the last 600+ days, where we haven’t met people, haven’t built any new relationships or haven’t gone beyond transactional discussions. To build a great culture, which is aligned towards a growth mindset, it is important to focus on building trust. Empathy will play a big role in this part. Our endeavour is to work with the managers on this aspect, to keep trust and to initiate transparent communication at the centre of everything.