Evolving Culture at a Growing Fintech – A Case Study : Sirisha B

Leader: Sirisha B

Recently, I was talking to an organization where there was a 150 member people organization, a FinTech startup. The CEO, and I had a few conversations for a while, where we were talking about actually coming up with how we map the company culture to meet the growth strategy that they have.

So he walked me through his strategy and everything, and he was very happy and actually wanted me to come and look at their office.

So I went and beautifully set up the office.

And, it had all the jazz that’s required in the New Age, right, in terms of how they had pool tables, bean bags for people to sit and work on, open offices, no designated seats, and cafeteria inside and all of that.

So while we were talking, one thing that came out was he wanted to build a high performance and efficient organization. So I was talking to him about his people’s strategy.

One thing that surprised me was when he said, I want to build a high-performance organization, I asked him, okay, what is your people strategy? So how are we going about hiring?

So he spoke about the 150 odd people and how they managed to recruit all these people. He also spoke about how people are performing, he ensures that most of the teams have at least some good performers. And then he went on to say that, there are always some mediocre performers.

When he was initially a 30 member organization, he had all-stars. And as the company kept growing, he also saw a lot of mediocre people joining and that’s what is bothering him.

So my question to him was since you want to build a high-performance organization, why not fire the people who are not performing?

So he was taken aback because he said, “No, I don’t want to create that kind of culture where people are fired. These people have not performed I know they know. But I find it a little embarrassing to tell them to leave the organization”.

Now, let’s pause the story here and reflect on this, right.

So what you see here is a leader who wants to build a high-performance organization but he’s not ready to let go of mediocre people.

When I went around, spoke to a lot of their employees. I spent a couple of days with them, then I went around, spoke to a lot of people, I realized that people also get demotivated looking at others because others are not performing.

So they also stopped performing.

So that’s, that’s what is the culture of mediocrity, right? Where mediocrity breeds more mediocrity.

So everybody’s trying to settle down to the average because they also see some non-performers around them. There were two-three youngsters who had joined the company pretty recently. And they were telling me that it doesn’t inspire them.

And so they were looking at moving out. Now, what does this tell us?

This basically says that you are recruiting people saying you’re a high-performance organization, but you’re actually not making sure people are; the organization in sync.

So you don’t have high performers.

So when these people who are looking very aspirationally and join your organization, thinking it is a high-performance organization, and they look at mediocrity, all around, they are put off. And that’s what makes them leave.

So this is the crux of actually defining culture, when you’re defining something it has to be as true as it can get.

And that is when we work with companies on culture, we actually translate from the organization purpose, we identify their design identity from the desired identity, we look at what is the culture, what should be the culture of the organization, given the growth strategy or the business strategy, from there look at what are those values, which the company has to stand for, and from the values, we bring it down to behaviors, and all those should reflect in all the policies that you have around the organization.

And that is how culture is actually brought to life.

So two-three key things in this,

  • One, culture is like the operating system for the company, it is extremely critical. It is not something that’s a boardroom discussion or a plaque at the front of the office, but it’s actually what drives the company or it becomes the ethos of the company.
  • The second thing, company culture cannot be copied by every organization based on their business, it should look at what it is that they want to stand for to get to where they want. So your company culture has to be as original as it can get, and something that works in the service of the organization.
  • Three, it’s not just enough if you define the culture, but you should actually translate the culture into values and behaviors that are implemented by people. So over a period of time, these behaviors get recognized more and you get more people displaying this behavior. And that becomes the standard norm in the organization.

Now, before we close, why is culture so important, why, you know, I’ve been talking so much about the culture and its importance, right?

Why is culture so important?

The key things that culture does to the company

  • one, it helps you in your recruitment, a lot of people, even if you recruit stars from the market, they might not be top performers in your organization. The reason is, people are not bad. It’s just that what they bring, they’re not accustomed to the kind of culture that your organization works in. And so culture helps to attract the right talent. And gone are the days when people just look at the salary numbers and join an organization, people ask around to figure out that kind of organization, the nature of people working in the organization, and what is in it for them in the organization in the longer term? Do they work with brilliant colleagues so that they also get to learn a lot? Do they work on something that is very critical, and they’re completely empowered, which will help them grow in their career, these are the kind of things that people ask before actually joining an organization. So very important for your talent recruitment.
  • Second, defining your culture helps you drive meaningful engagement and interaction with the employees. So you start becoming more aware of how you want the organization to perform and start recognizing the right behaviors, rewarding the right behaviors and also call out when somebody is doing something that’s against the organization norms. So you build a very strong core within the organization.
  • And it also mightily impacts happiness and satisfaction. And this we’ve seen it multiple places where people get what is it that they’re expecting, they’re much happier and when they see a lot of uniformity in the organization, then it’s, in a way, a very very transparent system right when they see the transparent system. They feel more safe and secured and are generally very happy. Again, there’s a lot of research in scientific studies that have proven this. It also affects performance.

Like I was talking, given the example of the FinTech start-up that was engaged with recently. Mediocrity beats mediocrity, if you have high performance, you’re actually around you, you see the level of performance of people peeking. And when there’s a shared understanding of what is the bare minimum that is followed across the organization, people tend to appreciate it a lot more. And most importantly, it actually impacts you in the longer term in terms of what you deliver, what you achieve in terms of actually retaining the right people in the organization, and it enormously boosts your creativity and innovation within the organization.

So, in short, culture is extremely important. It’s what is going to drive the company so don’t take it too easy and don’t take it as an academic exercise, but put a lot of time and effort, and the seeds of foresight into defining the kind of culture you want in the organization.

Thank you!





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