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Building a differentiated work culture

Building a differentiated work culture

Over the last few years, we’ve worked hard to build a work culture that is open, flat, fair and a culture that makes people feel good about themselves. In this post, I’ve tried to codify the key beliefs that have shaped our culture. 

“I’m more interested in people than in how businesses work” – Peter Drucker

1. A healthy disregard for hierarchy – A great work culture encourages and facilitates honest and transparent feedback in all directions. As leaders, it becomes incredibly important to enable team members to share feedback irrespective of levels and seniority. A great test of culture is the level of (thoughtful) disagreements at the workplace. Encourage practitioners to openly and respectfully question decisions/directions that they don’t understand (without factoring in hierarchy). As a leader, if you have people agreeing with you all the time, you’ve got it wrong.

“People are responsible adults at home. Why do we suddenly transform them into adolescents with no freedom when they reach the workplace?” – Ricardo Semler

2. Have very few rules – As companies grow, they tend to create rules that do more harm than good. More often than not, rules are created for a small minority of professionals that misuse the system. The vast majority of professionals want to do great work and rules tend to apply artificial constraints on professionals and their work. Tear apart the rule book and enable professionals to do great work with minimal constraints. If they want to buy software or hardware to try something new, let them. If they want to buy books or attend trainings to upskill themselves, let them do it without the request getting mired in unnecessary layers of approval. Trust your team to do the right thing and give them the autonomy and space to operate. More often than not, they will deliver beyond your expectations. 

“When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of non-thinkers.” – Jason Fried

3. Hire genuinely nice people – Do not hire brilliant jerks. They are not worth it. Hiring people who are driven, self aware, curious and proactive is incredibly important. Mindset is more important than skill while hiring. It is also important to hire people who are genuinely nice. Being good and nice don’t have to be mutual exclusive. You can hire top notch professionals who are also decent human beings. They will help build a differentiated work culture that is high performing and devoid of politics. 

4. Create a healthy workplace – Enable a workplace that prioritises wellness. We live in a world where working long hours and weekends is glorified and is the norm. This is creating an environment where burnout is common and sickness is rampant. This has huge implications not just on productivity and happiness in the workplace but also on society at large. Enabling a workplace that doesn’t glorify long hours, respects the personal space of professionals, and encourages professionals to lead a healthy, full life outside of work is not just the right thing to do but will also enable workplaces to attract the right talent and build a highly productive workforce. 

5. Let the best idea win – Enable a culture where the best ideas win. Most work environments are still very top down but the best ideas rarely come from the top. Create the right environment and build tools and frameworks that will enable the best ideas to rise to the top. In an environment where a lack of innovation can be the death knell for an organisation, bubbling up the right ideas to the top and executing on them can be a key differentiator. 

“When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.” – Ed Catmull

6. Fewer managers, more leaders – As companies scale, they also create a mid management layer where co-ordinating tasks and threads becomes the primary skill for managers. Co-ordination is not a skill. The best work cultures hire responsible professionals who are driven, self manage themselves and work together to deliver quality output. What teams need are leaders who are defined by their skill and followership, leaders who empower, challenge and motivate teams to bring their best selves to work.

“Make no mistake: a culture happens, whether you want it to or not. The only question is how hard you are going to try to influence it.” – Clayton Christensen

These are some of the beliefs that have shaped our culture. Building a differentiated work culture however is a work in progress. Culture is not something that you define and then forget about. As Peter Drucker once said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Shaping, preserving and evolving the culture should be at the top of the list of priorities for every leader.