It’s Easier To Create The Right Culture At The Beginning: Vandana Sharma, StartupPeopleConsulting

A startup founder is typically trying to solve an existing problem through a new business model. He/she is focused on their lean resources, they are in a continuous race against time, busy scanning the environment and competition, watchful of the limited finances. They are concerned with fuzzy sales and marketing strategies not knowing what would work. While a founder is aware that his core team, early employees, and the culture he/she creates are the backbone of his business, the focus for them typically continues to be on acquiring new customers, pitching to investors, investing either in technology or digital marketing solutions. With all of the above, any investment of time, personal bandwidth, or financial investment towards building the right culture in the organization becomes a huge challenge despite being supercritical.

In any organization, there is a need to drive a performance-driven culture and craft policies that empower employees to take ownership and support them to stay engaged, highly productive, and feeling secure. The employees need to be recognized and rewarded fairly for performance. The decision-making processes, performance appraisals, integrity, and high ethics need to be driven and be visible across the startup in a transparent manner. There needs to be an open feedback mechanism that encourages a fearless dialogue and prevents politics/ biases or negative vibes at the workplace.

In all the frenzy that founders go through, one little detail is missed that it is always easier to start something new right at the beginning rather than trying to find a fix later. As the company grows, the culture that is set runs deep into the veins as well as the values and beliefs of the founder and leadership team. Workplace experience needs the right focus from early stages to by identifying and hiring the right talent, which is the best culture fit, to drive desired results. Given that there is only so much a founder can have on his/her plate, having the right partner in its HR function can solve a lot of things. The HR function has to step up and be the trusted advisor to a founder with regard to people strategies. Founders, despite the intent, sometimes get carried away with core business agendas and the focus on people reduces until the issues become larger and visible. HR needs to be the pulse of the organization and needs to support and drive the desired culture, values, and behavior on a daily basis.

For a startup, HR should not only be a recruitment or payroll processing or attendance marking function. HR is the only function that works closely with employees from all the functions. The HR function can sense the pulse of the organization and pitch in to resolve a lot of issues proactively which otherwise take a back seat or get neglected due to target-driven pressures or paucity of time. In my experience, I have mitigated several risks before they led to massive heartburns and low morale, purely due to an active engagement with employees on an everyday basis. Encouraging openness to speak and a non-hierarchal system has helped with active and real-time communication and resolution of people issues. Startups are prone to larger risks if top talent leaves or due to politicking and low transparency in the organization. The HR heads need to stay involved in business, pitch in equally, and be advisors to the founders on strategy instead of being a compliance partner or services function. In other words, the HR function needs to become “strategic” in nature.

An organization needs a strategic HR function since the business goals need to be well integrated into its people strategies. The type of talent needed depends on the lifecycle stage of the organization. The transformations are happening really quickly. The organization needs to anticipate the changes and respond in time or take proactive measures to mitigate any risks arising due to people issues. The hiring, retaining of top talent with the right attitude, and mindsets would be highly critical for a startup’s success. Equally important is to identify the negative influences, dynamics that are unproductive and acting in time. This is possible only when HR is a strategic function and empowered to act in time and across levels.

Additionally, The HR function needs to be the go-to function for partnering on rewards recognition, strategic initiatives to attract and retain the best talent, develop feedback systems, and carry out the dipstick to ascertain the overall productivity and morale along with coaching and mentoring employees/young leaders around constantly changing business environment, managing teams, educating young managers on fair appraisals, communicating hard decisions in the most sensitive manner and several such high order needs in an organization that helps to build strong leadership within the organization.

In essence, the right workplace experience is built over time by each employee who is working at the startup and unless they are completely ingrained with desired workplace ethics, it will lead to wrong hires and therefore leading to heartburns, low productivity, undesired politics, and an unhealthy environment. Fixing the workplace experience becomes a more tedious and expensive process at a later stage since the impact lingers and rubs on the new organization. Therefore injecting new blood does not entirely turn around the culture overnight. However, the right intent and focus from the beginning can help a great deal.

The author of this article, Vandana Sharma, is the Founder and CEO of StartupPeopleConsulting. Prior to starting StartupPeopleConsulting, Vandana was the Chief People Officer at HolidayIQ. Prior to that, she held several key positions in various organizations including Myntra, TNT Express, GMR, and Wipro. Prior to that, she was a Major in the Indian Army. She is also currently a mentor for Workplace Experience Ranking 2017.

This article was first posted on the BW Businessworld platform on October 23, 2017, as part of the Workplace Experience Ranking 2017 knowledge series.

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