Culture is the DNA of an Organization: Vanishri Deshpande, ConnectEcho Talent Advisors

The dictionary meaning of DNA is, ‘what makes you uniquely you’. The DNA of every individual is unique and is the first differentiator besides all the other qualities that may make him or her unique. Interesting isn’t it? But how many of us are aware of or have any idea about our own DNA? DNA is an integral part of an individual; something that we are aware of but have never spent time thinking about. Culturro’s team was in conversation with Vanishri Deshpande, CEO & Founder of ConnectEcho Talent Advisors to understand why culture is not at the center stage in today’s startups.

For most founders, their startup is no less than a living being. Founders put their sweat, blood, and tears into their startups, and just like living beings; a startup grows, matures, and evolves. But what makes a startup truly unique? Well, many will say idea or team but the real differentiator in any organization is its culture. In that sense, culture is the DNA of any company. But unfortunately how many founders realize this or have looked at their company culture through this lens?

Prior to starting ConnectEcho, Vanishri Deshpande was VP – HR at Nexus Venture Partners and has closely worked with several Nexus portfolio companies on topics of talent management, culture, and strategic HR. Vani clearly understands today’s startup landscape and its challenges. She says, “Unfortunately culture in today’s corporate setting is more of a hear-say thing. For culture to be a real differentiator, it needs to be embodied as if it’s your DNA, only then will it add value to a company”. But somehow this never happens. Employees are rarely culturally attuned and the real reason for this is the lack of attention from founders on the topic. Vani says, “Today, startups are so focused on growth and scale that they forget their first principles. They forget what defines them and they neglect the core in their organization – culture.

Many times, the reason for the lack of attention on workplace culture is written off as a founder mindset problem. But Vani has a different view on this. She says, “Today’s founders are somewhat aware that they need to focus on creating a good culture right from the beginning, but unfortunately this thought is not at a conscious level. By the time this thought gains momentum, culture has already set in and in most cases is mushrooming within the organization”. It is very important that startup founders are not just aware but put their thought into practice to define, measure, align and emphasize the culture in their organization from the very beginning.

The Indian startup ecosystem is going through its ebb and flow, but very rarely do we realize that one major factor why startups fail is because of culture. Vanishri Deshpande adds, “A major reason why startups don’t make it to the end is that founders failed to make culture the DNA of the organization.” Now, many may argue that this impact on startup failure is small but Vani iterates the opposite. She says, “If you want to have the right culture in your startup, it is important that every employee that you hire is culturally aligned. We don’t realize this, but the financial and negative impact of a bad hire or culturally misaligned hire is 3X more than a positive impact of a good hire”. In this sense, startups should heavily invest in building and emphasizing their culture at all levels.

One way to achieve this is to focus on creating the right workplace experience in the startup. Most startups that raise money spend a fair bit on making their offices swanky or providing extra perks to employees. Vani argues, “What you need is a comfortable and thriving workplace environment. Not swanky! It’s important that you spend money on creating the right experiences for your employees. Experiences, which will enable employees to form right beliefs and take right actions”. To create the right workplace experience for employees, it is important founders become culture evangelists and lay the foundation by ensuring policies, processes and leadership are in line with the culture in the organization.

VCs, investors, and HR departments in an organization can be instrumental in handholding, course correcting and emphasizing the culture agenda but at the end of the day it’s the founders who have the onus to make culture the DNA of an organization.

This article was first posted on the BW Businessworld platform on October 5, 2017, as part of the Workplace Experience Ranking 2017 knowledge series.

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