5 Mantras To Create The Right Workplace Experience: Arun Rao, Director, FOCUS U

The term ‘Workplace Culture’ is a misunderstood term in the corporate dictionary. The minute it is uttered, people think of designer offices, free lunches, TT tables, and gyms within the office. Culturro’s team was in conversation with Arun Rao, Director of FOCUS U, to understand his view on how can you build the right workplace experience in an organization.

The designer offices are only one manifestation of workplace culture. They neither guarantee an engaged employee nor truly motivated teams. Year after year, the Gartner study on employee engagement throws up a shocking figure: roughly 60% of all employees (in a survey done across industries) are not engaged. Worse still, another 20% are actively disengaged. This means only one out of every five employees feels engaged in an organization. Startling isn’t it? But what an opportunity too!

It is evident that most organizations focus on the superficial attributes of culture and there is a huge gap in the perception and the actual definition of the term ‘Workplace Culture’.  However, a way to bridge this gap is to understand the concept of ‘Workplace Experience’ which provides a holistic view of the term ‘Workplace Culture’. In simple terms, ‘Workplace Experience‘ is a sum total of all experiences an employee goes through in an organization. These experiences primarily stem from three important pillars viz. Leadership team, workplace environment, and policies & processes governing the organization. Workplace Experience can very well be a strategic enabler for an organization and a cornerstone for employee engagement.

However, the question then is: Especially as a start-up, what is the secret sauce that ensures a fulfilling workplace experience? How do you ensure that an overwhelming majority of your employees are truly engaged – in the sense that they would go on the limb for you?

Arun Rao started FOCUS U in 2010, a company that conducts workshops on leadership, team building, and innovation. The company to date has 1252 clients with marquee clients like Google, Airbnb, Flipkart, and MakeMyTrip. FOCUS U has a 70% customer retention rate and the secret to this lies in the workplace experience at the company. The company abides by its cultural philosophy and has built a close-knit team that is not only engaged but is willing to go to any lengths for the organization.

Arun Rao believes in five mantras to build the right workplace experience in an organization, backing it with this experience of what worked for FOCUS in the process,

1) Hire for values: This is not a new insight. Yet as a start-up, for you to hire for values – you need to be clear on what your “core values” are. It is not just a nice-to-do exercise. As founders, it helps clarify where your North Star is – and it helps in bringing in employees who are a natural fit with the culture you are hoping to build. In the last 7 years, we can count the number of people who have left us on our fingers.

2) Give trust: The conventional paradigm for trust is to ask for it to be “earned”. What if we reverse that paradigm? What if you started with giving unconditional trust to your people? To take their own decisions and to back them on the odd occasion that their decision is wrong? You will be surprised at how empowering that is.

3) Focus on the individual: Everybody matters. Which is why you hired them in the first place. But does every single person in the team have an individualized plan? In our experience, introducing 90-day onboarding plans has seen a remarkable uptick in engagement. We now plan to extend this for every individual working with us through personalized IDPs.

4) Celebrate often: In the early days of a start-up you need to find reasons to celebrate and recognize. We celebrate our first customer, our 10th customer, our 20th…. Well, any reason was ok for celebration. Similarly, we used to recognize people for every small milestone. A team that laughs together and celebrates together, bonds together.

5) Be honest and transparent: People don’t leave organizations – they leave managers. This again is an old truth. In a start-up, this point gets accentuated. We used to share our financial numbers regularly with the whole team. We do that even now. Sometimes we have had to have tough conversations – we have done that in the most open and transparent manner. What that does is that people become willing to be led by you. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, in a survey that they have been running for the past 25 years have been asking respondents: “What is the most important trait you look for in a Leader?” The top answer has always been the same: Honesty.

So there it is. The five mantras that can help you create a great workplace experience, without going in for the designer offices, bean bags, or free lunch spreads. As a start-up, the best thing about the above list is that all of them come free.

This article was first posted on the BW Businessworld platform on September 28, 2017, as part of the Workplace Experience Ranking 2017 knowledge series.

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