Culture eats Strategy for breakfast but how does one build it. Leaders across domains (Academics, Armed Forces, Silicon Valley, Bollywood, Venture Investing) talk about the notion of culture and how they go about building it in their organizations.
Culture is contextual and non-transferrable. Know the culture of the organisation and industry you are planning to join. Amish talks about the Chandravanshi and Suryavanshi cultures and discusses how organizations could think about their culture?
What is common to radio, sonar and the internet? All these technological innovations, like many others, have their origin in war or conflict. Most have been researched and developed at military labs and then scaled up. Start-ups therefore, can benefit immensely from this experience. Hear Raghu talk about the need for a common vocabulary in order to achieve this. Hint: there is also a valuable tip about the ‘How’ question.
Numbers occupy a large part of our mind space when we think of organizations- sales figures, trend lines, market share – the list is endless and often clinical. But what about the stories behind the companies? These legends, usually ignored, are crucial for culture building. Hear Raghu talks about how the army utilizes this powerful tool to build its cultural identity and motivate its people.
Organizations love to grow yet want to retain the entrepreneurial culture that nurtures innovation. What is the one thing that Kartik looks at to figure out if an organization has an entrepreneurial culture or not? Find out in this nugget. Hint: Don’t miss the anecdote about a major competitive advantage that Pixar has cultivated and fine tuned which has led to its unprecedented success in the movie business.
In any profession, it is very easy to be treated as suppliers in the value chain. How does one elevate oneself to move beyond being perceived as a mere supplier? How does one engage and empower the team members so that they don’t feel like suppliers and have greater ownership of the end product? Atul talks about his views in this context. He also talks about his experiences while making the film Neerja and alludes to the role of authenticity in being able to enlist people in his journey.
Articulating the organizational culture is often treated as one of those fuzzy things that large organizations like GE and HUL do. But it is arguably more critical in a young and small organization where the cost of a wrong hire hits the organization much harder than when you have 10,000 people. Karthik talks about how he thinks about culture and how he hires for it.
Dheeraj talks about the parallels across the fragility spectrum (that Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to in his book Anti-Fragile) and the Honesty spectrum (that Mike Robbins refers to) and talks about the similarities across the two. He discusses how he has gone about building authenticity and anti-fragility in every aspect of the business.
One of the key challenges as one moves from a start-up to a scale up includes getting senior talent from the outside and setting them up for success. Dheeraj talks about how he looks for the "operating system" of a leader to see if that fits with Nutanix. He also underscores the importance of focusing on the HOW and not the WHAT in the first 6-9 months.
Amit discusses how he thinks about hiring and creating a nurturing climate for his team to deliver performance. He also shares how he invests time with each of his colleagues and help build their capability. He also talks about how he handles exits from Bain Capital. He talks about the realities of a corporate pyramid and stresses the importance of handling the people that don’t go up the pyramid with empathy.
Roopa talks about how she drifted into CRISIL and how she was not necessarily career oriented in the early years of her professional life. She talks about the notion of focusing on excellence and on topics that are outside the realm of responsibility and how the culture at CRISIL ensured that her efforts were noticed and rewarded. She also talks about the transformative impact that one of her overseas stints had on her in terms of developing a “bird’s eye view”.
Jayashri talks about what it takes to perform with other artists on stage and discusses the notion of emptying oneself and a levelling attitude with oneself for the music to take over. She talks about creating a space inside her from which the music could flow freely.
Arun talks about his perspectives on Leading in an Open System where you do not have money, authority or power to wield as a source of influence. As we move towards a world where more and more value is being added by an ecosystem of players around a corporation (rather than value chains residing fully inside the company), how CEOs of today navigate this shift and create the right culture in the organization is critical.
Ambi talks about how effective CEOs set a climate so that their teams feel comfortable presenting risky ideas to them. He talks about how if you don’t set the right atmosphere in the organization, the team below you can hedge their bets and focus on managing their image with the CEO than really solving for what is right for the organization. He discusses how you can create a culture where the team focuses on “winning in the market” rather than “winning in the system”.
Indranil distinguishes business story telling from Storytelling (that we see in Ramayana, Harry Potter or in movies). Indranil speaks about the fact that brevity and story-telling are not contradictory and it is often a false trade-off that people have in mind. He actually goes onto say that business story-telling might even be a more time-efficient way of getting complex, nuanced messages across the organization.
Indranil talks about what it takes to build the habit of story-telling within an organization. He underscores the futility of one-off programmes that leave you with a high but don’t really move the needle when people come back to the rough and tumble of their daily life. He re-emphasizes the criticality of some sort of a deliberate practice programme for people to bake in the habit.
Michael speaks about the criticality of assimilating into an organization without triggering the immune system that could easily start working against you. He goes on to say that even if you have been hired as a change agent, earn the right to drive change before you start moving things around (unless it is a turnaround and shock therapy is warranted) in the new organization.
Paddy speaks about how he and Gary Kirsten spent the first few months building trust with the players of the Indian cricket team when they were appointed. Given that they were coming from a different culture and with limited prior experience in a similar high-stakes context, it was critical for them to land well.
Sudhir speaks about how HUL has this unique DNA which is a mix of professionalism and an entrepreneurial orientation. He speaks about how some of the early exposure to trade gives individuals an exposure to how Indian entrepreneurs think. He goes onto say that there are strong processes that reinforce professionalism and sharing of stories which drive entrepreneurship leading to this unique combination of the two.
Sudhir speaks about these three types of people and goes onto say that one of the secret sauces of HUL is its treatment of Mavericks. He speaks about the output-oriented nature of KPIs that let some of these mavericks flourish despite not conforming to the “play-book”. He also speaks about HUL being an empathetic meritocracy where people are given some latitude if they are delivering the results (as long as they are not rogues and have issues with ethics and integrity).
Sudhir speaks about the four pillars of culture at HUL - Action, Values, Courage and Truth. He also speaks about how that these elements of culture are percolated through the organization. He traces these elements to the various strains of genetic code of the Anglo Dutch parent. He speaks about how when he spoke to some of the senior alumni of HUL, they shared stories of their experiences which eventually clustered around these 4 pillars.
Vinay speaks about how RSS has been able to create a tight bond amongst its members. He attributes it to the requirement of the RSS pracharaks to be Brahmacharyas (stay single) while their emphasis on family-like values in the organization. He speaks about how this has helped them attract talented people into the organization and avoid the pitfalls of dynastic politics.
Vinay speaks about how RSS wires up its members in a certain way through the various things it does as an organization. He likens it to McKinsey, the Consulting firm in the way the firm installs a certain Operating System which often endures (I can vouch for it as an alumnus) in the way we think and act long after we have left the organization.
Vinay speaks about how the RSS and BJP use the interpretation of history to create a certain purpose for the institution which is beyond the individual. He also speaks about some of the institutional norms that ensure that the organization stays cohesive and there isn’t unnecessary “chatter”. He also uses the term “sulking on mute” to denote how leaders would disagree yet commit to a chosen path putting the institutional interests ahead of theirs.
Vinay speaks about some of the nuances involved in the way Advani and Vajpayee handled their personal and professional relationship. He speaks about how they often put the Hindu Nationalist agenda (as cultivated given their formative years in the RSS) might have acted as a glue that might have held them together over the long term despite their differences.
Vinay speaks about how RSS balanced the notion of hierarchy (that is so prevalent in the Indian context across various organizations) with the need to be meritorious to create a culture that brought the best of both worlds in the way it shaped the culture.
Bruce speaks about how families can learn from the Agile Development process and ensure that there is a ritual and a space for having a meaningful conversation around what is important to each member and find a way of addressing the issues given the ever changing context.
Sanjeev and Hari speak about how entrepreneurs can get intentional about building a certain culture in an organization. They speak about the role of the founder initially but also the criticality of having processes, systems and role-models as the organization scales.
Bill speaks about the story behind the evolution of the 14 leadership principles at Amazon. He speaks about how Amazon reinforces these 14 principles in the way it hires, conducts performance appraisals and the way it brings it to life when it comes to making hard decisions.
Bill speaks about how decisions are made and how well people are listened to which ensures that there is minimal dissonance post the decision leading to “passive aggression”. He links it back to the writing culture in Amazon to ensure that complex ideas are presented with all the nuances for people to appreciate the various trade-offs.
Bill speaks about how Amazon drives a culture of risk taking by being open towards failures. He also goes onto speak about the distinction between good failure and bad failure and how companies should ensure they don’t mistake one for the other
Amy speaks about how companies have to work hard to create a climate of risk taking. She alludes to failure parties at Eli Lilly and the Museum of Failure at Google X to talk about how companies have to work hard to take the stigma of failure away to encourage risk taking. Some of the insights, I guess, are as applicable to families specifically in the context of parenting.
Amy teases out some of the nuances involved in the way Psychological safety applies in different contexts. One end being the relatively predictable, repetitive work in the shopfloor of an organization like Walmart, the other end being Google X that works on moonshots. She also speaks about the similarity of human beings across some of these very different situations.
Harish speaks about how Tata Group walks the tight rope in terms of focusing on Labour AND Capital. He speaks about how some of the benefits of the efficient use of capital flows back to the people who have made it happen. He also speaks about the story of when Gandhiji came to Jamshedpur in 1925 and how it inspired many people.
Harish speaks about how the Tata Group tries and uses Storytelling as a mechanism to reinforce the culture. He speaks about the need for discipline in collecting and telling stories. He also speaks about creating opportunities for the Tata Group members to listen to the stories of some of the legends that lived these values.
Harsh speaks about how he broke the cycle of mediocre talent that a lot of companies struggle to do. He speaks about hiring his CHRO from XLRI and how he went about building the quality of talent from there.
Pradeep speaks about how kings thought about expansion and consolidation at various points in their reign. It is a little akin to how entrepreneurs think about going after scale and putting processes in place and getting the house in order.
Alisa speaks about how authentic praise is such an unused tool in Leadership. She speaks about how the team sometimes can start spinning wheels in their head about their performance and their standing if they don’t get adequate good quality feedback.
Tarun speaks about how companies that have a self-imposed constraint (focusing on values, lower corruption or something similar) are likely to grow at a slower pace than a company that is focusing on growth in an unrestrained manner.