Creating an authentic, homogenous, and sustainable work culture can take years. This three-part series outlines our experiences and learnings in this aspirational journey at #NammaStudio. Often, defining your work culture requires you to first identify what your culture is not. The first part of this series talks about how you can peel away the exterior layers of work-life that often get mistaken for culture. The second part focuses on elements that are invariables to the existence of your organization and thus provide a tangible framework for work culture. Lastly, the third part in this series highlights practical examples of choices, actions, and habits in our day-to-day work life to transform the culture from being a noun into an action verb. Throughout the series, we will draw inspiration from some of the world’s oldest universal concepts first envisioned more than two millennia ago in the ancient Sanskrit texts of the Upanishads.
Part 3 – Drive: Transforming Culture From A Noun Into A Verb
In the last segment, we discussed the importance of finding the invariable attributes that define who you are as an organization. However, to define the culture or a set of values to be hung as posters on office walls or to be printed on coffee mugs is one thing and to sustain those ideals through tough sales targets and challenging project deadlines is another. When everyone is busy in their day-to-day priorities, decisions taken by individuals, teams, and leaders is constantly influencing your culture at work. Professor Clayton M. Christensen aptly puts this across in his book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, as,
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.
Over the years, we have sometimes found ourselves short in meeting our own bar in this regard. It is especially in times like these, it has served us as a strong reminder why it is so important to stay authentic and true to your core values as a community at work. And it is from moments like these, some of the following practices have emerged that have helped us stay pointed towards our True North — a belief that when we empower people with our trust, they will do the right thing in shaping our success.
Say Yes And Say It Often
In our business, it important to push the limit of what’s possible. Taking on things never tried before has only added more to our collective tribal knowledge and wisdom, even if it meant we fail in some of the individual pursuits. So when presented with a challenge of a cross-disciplinary hackathon, the team responded with an internal event at a scale never before executed upon comprising of 50+ designers and 150+ engineers tackling over two dozen problems from idea to implementation of a working solution in a 2 day window.
Let The Best Idea Win
Irrespective of the hierarchy behind the idea, it is important for everyone to understand that the best can come from a recently recruited graduate or the newest team member on the project, and that the best idea will win. We hold this to our heart whether we are ideating on how best to improve the product for our clients or figuring out what ideas to make financial investments in to innovate as an organization.
Invest in Radical Transparency
Whether one is an individual contributor or a manager, we hold ourselves accountable to the assigned objectives on a day-to-day basis. On longer time frames, we open up feedback from periodic retrospective surveys for everyone to see and have candid conversations on how we can fix what’s not working for the practice.
Enable a Culture of Safety
This is a mindset shift from “Will I be allowed to?” to “Who would stop me?” A culture of safety instills initiative — if someone sees something broken that they can improve or fix, they can just do it. The client relationship in one of our longest-running engagements started with a hard but a candid conversation by one of our junior analyst letting the client know about critical gaps in their design and options to fix them.
Treat Employees Like Responsible Adults
Don’t throttle 98% of the employees with restrictive policies and rules for the sake of 2% who are likely to violate it. In a city plagued with traffic woes no matter where you live, is it really required to be in the office every single day so long as you are collectively productive with your team?
Take Fun Seriously
When you spend a better portion of the working week with your colleagues, it is important to take fun seriously. Can you imagine the suspense during the draws for the FIFA knockout tournament on an office PS4?
At the end of it all, when we get most of the above right and when we get it right consistently, it is then that the magic happens — our culture stops being a noun and transforms into a verb! At that point, cliches like “open office”, “flat hierarchy”, or “collaborative culture” take a real visible meaning that we have experienced in the choices, actions, and habits our people have committed themselves to.