Practices that help you build unique organizational culture

In a globalized economy, amongst the key resources that differentiate a company from others and sustain its competitive advantage is actually people and its culture. A company’s culture can be a source of sustainable competitive advantage, as it is rather difficult to imitate. A company culture also has a major impact on the value generation. A superior organizational culture can help in retaining people, broader knowledge dissemination and offer cost advantage due to learning. Culture is defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learns and has applied in internal and external situations which has worked well to be considered valid and, hence, to be taught to new members as the right way of perceiving , thinking , and feeling in certain situations. In an organizational context, it is a system of shared meanings held by the employees that lets each organization differentiates itself from others. Culture includes traditions, customs, values, rules, habits and practices that company knowingly and unknowingly creates and sustains.

Practices are codified artifacts that anchor values and customs, standardize and institutionalize beliefs and rules across the organization. Practices involve both explicit and implicit communication artifacts. Practice may include usage of standard operating procedures (SOP), manuals, rule books, cultural events, functions, etc. Practices like a rigorous process of hiring– seeing to it that the employees are good cultural fit can help in making a small company successful. A lot can be learnt Southwest airlines where each employee however skillful and well qualified he or she is, is first tested for being the right cultural fit. Southwest believes in filling its company with A players. It believes that it would rather wait to hire an A player or a B player (who has the potential to be an A player) than just be in a rush and hire a C player. Hire slow and fire quickly seem to be the mantra around which best-recruitment practices are designed.

Coaching and mentoring practices are the practices that many companies employ to transfer skill and knowledge across the system. They are an effective way of developing leaders of tomorrow. At Solstice mobile, a Chicago based IT company, employees meet with their mentors on a one to one basis to discuss personal and professional development. These sessions helps in guiding employees in discussing their careers thereby focusing on both personal and professional development. Apart from coaching sessions, emphasis can be laid on knowledge sharing sessions. A knowledge sharing session is where each employee is given the opportunity to share his or her knowledge on a specific tool, technology, process or concept which he or she has personally used at work. This not just lets the employee share what they know but also gives them the platform to share their experiences. Knowledge sharing sessions can also help employees identify their strengths and weaknesses and work on them accordingly. At SMEs each week, on a specific day, a knowledge sharing session can be allotted where employees get a platform to share their knowledge with other employees.

If there are two things most companies seem to be realizing of late, is performance evaluation and performance awards may not be effective way in building cohesive organization. Deloitte and several other organizations are ditching formal annual performance systems and awards to one that continuously tracks the progress of an employee and helps them to improve themselves. Some companies have moved away from “Employee of the year” “Contributor of the month”, “Achiever of the year” awards that while can motivate few, can unnecessarily demotivate and demoralize many others. Many companies are moving to peer recognition to recognize good work by their colleagues. An organization wide Peer recognition program can enable departments who have worked with each other, contributing to each other’s progress an opportunity to recognize efforts. It gives employees a chance to express what their co- workers mean to them. For instance, Square Root, an IT company based out of Texas, gives their employees the chance to recognize their colleagues who embody their four core values (Think big, Do bigger. Be customer inspired. Partner. Thrive.) regularly. Employees use a platform called Bonusly, where they give out points to one another, tagging one of the four core values. These points can be redeemed for everything from gift cards to their favorite restaurants to GoPro cameras. Square Root also gives weekly shout-outs to employees who receive kudos during their Friday announcements. A similar system can be introduced into small and medium companies where employees can recognize their colleagues based on their good work and can tag them on the basis of core values.

A recent survey of CEO’s revealed over 80% felt that most training programs had no clear business value. Companies are realizing staff development does not mean fancy executive development courses across well maintained institutes or immersion programs across some countries. Smarter companies are realizing lots of training can be free, internal resources driven and more valuable if outcomes are tracked continuously.

Employee engagement is another euphemism in many companies for annual day, birthday celebrations or some cultural events. Smarter companies are realizing employee engagement has to move beyond tokenism to immerse and institutionalize an organizational culture. Many self-funded small companies which do not have access to large amount of capital as their fatter cousins who have raised VC funds, implemented deeper engagement practices built on local culture. In being able to implement all these functions, it is essential for the human resources team of the organization to look at itself beyond just being able to do an administrative role. It has a considerable responsibility of coordinating with the various departments of the company and implementing and reviewing these practices.

An SME too can build a great culture through incorporating some unique practices. Only in incorporating these practices, it must follow certain steps


  • Have a thorough understanding of your company- Understand what your organization is all about. What business is it into, what industry is it into, what kind of people does it need and with what Skill sets and how is its present state of performance. It is essential to do a thorough analysis of what the company’s current situation is. Rooting out the problem area is necessary.
  • Benchmark it against some of the best in class practices- Look at some of the best places     to     work practices. What do you need and what could you possibly apply to your company? Understand how it could fit into your organization- Evaluate in terms of cost and return. Will the employees really benefit?.
  • Implement – Customize those practices as per the need of the company. Don’t blindly follow the practice of any organization. Tailor-make it to the needs of your organization.
  • Review and Feedback– Post implementing the practice, it is essential to gauge the results of the performance of the practice. Are the employees happy? Is the introduction of this practice really helping them? Do a reality check to know something needs to be modified.

Sindhu Raviraj