The word “startup” carries a whole ocean of meaning within itself. Start what? A business obviously! The definition of business imprinted on our minds comes from many management gurus who have said, “The goal of a business is to make a profit.”
Perhaps it used to be. However, it’s been fully challenged now. The goal of a business is to make a profit-led by its larger “purpose” and societal responsibilities. So really it’s about the fact that – Belief’s lead to Behaviors, which leads to Business. Belief is the bedrock of Culture. Culture is propelled by the purpose of the company and fueled by the passion of its people!
In the early days of getting a startup off the ground, it’s easy to sink deep into transactions that are ferocious in intensity and suck both the time and energy of the founders. During this period, founders become bodily and emotionally exhausted, thus not being able to spend time on building deep roots of culture in their organization. This very often is the death knell of most organizations.
This is where HR needs to step in and step up – continuously talk about building a strong and powerful culture of the company, get the buy-in of the board and other senior leaders, socialize with the workforce. In fact, get the CEO/Founder to “be” and “become” the Chief Culture Officer. If HR is to be seen as strategic they have to get the architecture and blueprint of the organization right, which goes far beyond the mere reporting lines on paper and policies. Culture has to be the “Cornerstone!”
What I mean by Culture at a workplace is what we call “User Experience” these days. Many would claim in fact argue that the “experience” whether its customer or employee today is the ONLY differentiator. It’s what will make or mar the progress of the company as this evokes a strong emotional reaction, builds loyalty and advocacy amongst all stakeholders. If HR today is getting to sit on the boardroom table, it’s because of the power of the impact they are able to make to the business by building the strong foundation of the right values and behaviors, which lead to superlative experiences in the marketplace. And to my mind, it’s not about what authority HR is “allowed” but more about what do they think they cannot “do”. HR does not need to be granted authority – they need to feel empowered to put the right culture-building blocks in place.
Wikipedia defines Culture as a medley of Values, Visions, Norms, Working language, Systems, Symbols, Habits, Rituals, and Beliefs that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. The way it plays out in the corporate world is seen how committed the company is towards building a strong culture of learning, of conversations, of employee wellbeing, of strong values and behaviors, and most of all – does it get waylaid on the roadside during times of crisis or does leadership lean to it in times of crucial decision-making.
In essence, culture stems from the experiences an employee goes through in an organization and can become a strategic enabler acting as a beacon in tough times. Today, HR is in a strong position to lead the torch from a strategic standpoint and it is purely the responsibility of startup founders to enable, empower and energize the HR function in their startups to create positive and lasting employee experiences.