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Entrepreneurs are masters of spotting potential opportunities, they are very creative and flexible when it comes to formulating financial models, writes Minal Srinivasan

Scaling up in your entrepreneurial venture is one of the most exhilarating yet laborious phases of one’s journey. You are on a hiring spree, onboarding new joiners, bootstrapping, and inducting folks into new roles. We are pretty much on that path now. With this humdrum of recruitment spree, I was compelled to ponder on one the softer aspect of organizational development, which underpins the growth spree, the “Organizational Culture”. It is the environment in which the new team members are getting inducted. It made me question and evaluate the existing culture thereby realizing the criticality of setting the cultural tone in the growth phase of our journey.

Culture in an organization is often the underdog, neglected, overlooked, and whatnot!!  And especially when you talk about an entrepreneurial setup, it is given an orphan-like treatment. To be blunt here, many growing businesses have no time and the bandwidth to even consider a wishy-washy aspect like organisational culture. And to a certain extent, justifiably so, as there are far more pressing and critical aspects that need attention in the setting up phase. 

However, when your business reaches a critical scale, the importance of establishing a conducive environment for your business cannot be overemphasized.  Me being a health and fitness freak, I   quote a relevant analogy here: 

“Your body needs a healthy alkaline environment for the growth of cells and to maintain its homeostasis. in case, the environment becomes too acidic, the cells start to degenerate thereby giving rise to multiple ailments. A conducive, healthy organizational culture is that alkaline environment in which your business and people thrive.”  And as the enterprise head, the onus of driving this should be taken by business owner.

Entrepreneurs are masters of spotting potential opportunities, they are very creative and flexible when it comes to formulating financial models, negotiating contracts, defining innovative business models etc. These abilities are what differentiates them from their counterparts. However, in the growth phase, your people, your team become one of the important levers of your growth. In the same breadth, organization culture   is that invisible forces of nature, which has deep impact on your team and thereby your business. Those are the deep reservoirs of energy, influences and emotions of  your team. If used positively, if aligned with your strategic and operational imperatives it can accelerate your organization’s competitive momentum.

From a management perspective, culture is the cornerstone that links the organizational purpose and strategy. If I were to consider strategy, purpose and culture as the three sides of the organizational triangle, then culture would be the foundation, of the triangle on which the other two aspects rest. 

Having sufficiently overstated the importance of this soft infrastructure, few hacks which any growing business can adopt to   inculcate culture of growth, productivity and inclusivity. I am not entailing specific tools and techniques here, as they could be very context specific to each enterprise, their businesses, their industries, their legacies and the teams with they operate. However, I am stating some overarching principles which can serve as guidelines for any organization which is on standing on the inflexion point of its growth phase. 

  1. Cultural Literacy or Awareness – The first step of building any soft infrastructure is to develop awareness about its existence, relevance, and importance. Many times entrepreneurs aren’t even aware of the existing cultural setup. It takes a lot of attention to detail and introspection to understand the prevailing culture. But it is a worthy investment of time for every entrepreneur. 
  2. Encapsulate your cultural vision into simple communicable messages –  Most of the time, your organization’s vision, and mission defines its purpose and business objective. Rarely do we see the cultural vision weaved into the same, as this doesn’t really take the center stage. But for a growing business, the communication of the cultural undertones is no less important than the communication of your business objectives and your purpose. This is best done through informal and formal channels of communication especially from the business owners, at appropriate and frequent platforms. 
  3. Role model the appropriate cultural behaviors – The beliefs, the principles on which we want the business to thrive on our best role modeled by the enterprise head, through their own behaviors. Nothing is more impactful than this. This is also the best informal mechanism to sensitise and influence the team.  Inspiring your team through your own behavior and actions does remain the ultimate holy grail for creating the enabling environment. This also establishes you as an Authentic Leader. 
  4. Identify informal leaders to be your cultural brand ambassadors– In a medium-scale or small-scale venture the process of identifying informal leaders becomes very relevant in the growth phase.  These coworkers of yours can be your best cultural propagators.  Those lunchtime chit-chats, coffee machine conversations, and office birthday celebrations can serve as a great platform for these informal leaders to stealthily, and unconsciously shape and instill those beliefs and behaviors while conducting business.
  5. Use human connect as the most powerful lever – “There is no force more potent in the universe than the human mind”. I don’t remember who said this, but this is something, which I believe in with all my mind, body and soul. The energies which connect people with each other are the energies that create the environment. Culture is nothing but that web of energy manifested in the demonstrable behaviors of people. And connecting with human minds to tap into that positive energy, to propel your business ideologies and objectives is a definitive recipe for success! Each entrepreneur needs to find out these triggers and push buttons in their respective setups and use a series of methods, tools, and techniques to create the enabling ecosystem. 

Covid pandemic has taught each one of us invaluable lessons and has brought us closer to the reality of our personal and professional worlds like never before. With the uncertainty of our external world and especially the limitations on aspects like strategic directions, long-term vision, planning, sustainability of business models etc, the only plausible choice we have is, to act on aspects that are in our control. Organisational culture is one dimension that can be shaped by our free will, our intent, and our conscious effort. 

Also, for small to medium-scale ventures these are inexpensive hacks. Other than your mental bandwidth and time, you really need no great resources. No need for Fancy pool table setups, and sommelier evenings to keep your employees pampered and engaged!!  They are great, but you need to grow to that scale to be able to afford them. 

In my mind, it is time we stop undermining the importance of this soft infrastructure and recognize it as one of the critical drivers of business growth.  Enterprises which fail to do that .. Beware … Someday your “Culture will eat your strategy for breakfast J)”.

(Minal Srinivasan is  currently leading Kesari Infrabuild Pvt Ltd setting strategic direction and putting the business on a growth trajectory)

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