Good Business Lab (GBL) has officially been in operation for a little over three years now. As with most startups we did not start off having a Human Resources (HR) vertical, with members of the founding team pitching in for HR tasks such as recruitment and onboarding. For an organization that believes in lean operations, this worked for us until a year ago. But just in the last quarter of 2019, our team size grew by over 40% (from 22 to 31 full time employees) which is when we knew we won’t be able sustain things as they were in the long run to keep up with the rapid organizational growth.
Seeing Employees as People
Our mission at GBL is to convince all businesses to invest in their workers’ wellbeing. We’re all researchers, donning different hats, to achieve this mission. Internally, we need no convincing about the benefits of investing in our employees. We know that if our employees don’t feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work, they will not be productive.
Given this belief and our growing employee base, it was apparent in September 2019 that GBL needed a people’s vertical to consider the holistic needs of our employees. With focus on reducing the processes and rigidity that come with highly mechanical human resource management systems, we took a slight diversion from human resources and ventured into people operations. Being researchers at heart, we decided to co-create this vertical with our employees using design thinking methods.
It’s R for Research in HR
In any organization, HR representatives play a critical role in identifying, hiring, training, and engaging team members in ways that help meet organizational priorities. From January to April 2020, we conducted employee interviews enquiring into three broad aspects: expectations from HR, hiring process, and experiences during team retreats and other engagement activities. Some of the common areas of improvement that emerged from the interviews were: the need for a standardized structure for organizational policies and regular implementation, establishing a culture that’s true to GBL ethos, increased outreach to recruit from a diverse background, and reduction in hiring turnaround time.
We also studied business publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Outlook, and Fortune to learn what’s common among some of the best places to work in the world and what experts were saying. The common themes we observed were psychological safety, team engagement, collaboration, and a culture of care.
In collaboration with GBL’s Design vertical, we visualized the varied paths of an employee’s journey and mapped the touchpoints of key stages starting from the recruitment stage to when a team member becomes an alumni of the organization.
The insights from this employee journey mapping and the secondary research informed the 5 year Goals, Objectives and Key Results we set for the HR Vertical, which span across the core pillars of Diversity & Inclusion, Workplace Norms, Policies and Processes, and Career Development.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
In addition to individual interviews we also conducted a series of group discussions to frame the “GBL Culture Handbook” - a simple one pager on “what we do” and “what we don’t do” and a guiding document for all other policies that followed. We asked people what aspects of the current culture they’d like to retain for this and what were some aspirational elements. For example, everyone felt GBL employees already embodied the spirit of being a “FRAND” - Flexible, Respectful, Approachable, Nice, and Deliberate when giving feedback. People also felt — and perhaps this is by virtue of our employees being highly driven and motivated — that we tend to over work or work on vacations. This goes against the GBL spirit of taking breaks to rejuvenate and our policy of not having a strict upper limit on annual paid leave. Thus “Overwork, or work on vacations” went in the “what we don’t do” bucket.
But Culture looks different in a pandemic
COVID-19 presented a question we weren’t ready for at the beginning of the year: “How do we maintain culture in a suddenly all-remote environment during a global pandemic?”
It started with accepting the fact that the benchmark had changed and expecting team members to maintain a pre-crisis level of zeal and cheer pertaining to work can further deflate morale. The energy they once allotted to championing all things work-related was being used up elsewhere, rightly or by default prioritized to focus on new stressors outside of work.
Physiological and psychological health is the foundation of any person’s wellbeing. We realised that during testing times like these, it’s imperative that we talk about physical and mental health openly and actively provided resources that help in that front. We tied up with Ekincare, an integrated health benefits platform covering physical health, mental health, nutrition and fitness to our entire team.
We knew very early into the lockdown that removing the stigma from taking breaks and prioritizing well-being is critical to establishing a culture that acknowledges this new reality. So, as a way of bringing people together and helping team members take care of their own well-being, we decided to hold a organization-wide 'wellness month'.
We also started a new Slack channel, entirely dedicated to discussing and exploring all things wellbeing as a team. What followed was a delightful organic engagement with the channel, with people sharing a little part of their everydays, little pleasures and achievements and sometimes curious epiphanies! We gave everyone the same day off as 'wellness day' to drive home the message that rest isn’t at the expense of work, but a core function of doing excellent work. We also organized a venting session via Zoom — an unstructured free space to express anxieties and frustrations, not with the goal to solve anything, but just to state, share, and find commonalities. And because in true GBL spirit, venting is not where we stop, but begin our journey of collective healing, we organized an art therapy session led by an external expert.
We spun health and wellbeing into the workday and introduced a seven-day walking challenge as a way to help the team stay active and take a break from working indoors. We encouraged managers to more frequently check-in with team members about their mental health.
By taking it upon ourselves as HR representatives to create space for team members to take care of themselves, connect with one another, and be mindful about their own experiences, we did much more than facilitating a month-long team building event. We cemented the idea of prioritizing wellbeing as a key element of the GBL work culture.
So, What Next?
Culture is not a fixed monolith. In fact, to sustain, it must incorporate change from external and internal quarters. Which is why all the policies and structures at GBL are a constant work in progress. Everyday, we find new creative and organic ways to operationalize the culture we want to promote, bringing us closer to our organizational mission.
Which is also why this is a first in a series of blog posts talking about work culture and journey as a growing company. We have merely opened the box, a lot is left to discover on the inside - why we’re soon going to rebrand the vertical and no longer call it HR, how we are turning our vision of a diverse and inclusive work space into action, and how we’re co-creating learning opportunities for our employees.
Stay tuned, and send a holler if you’d like us to look into anything specific within the realm of people operations.
Image Credit: Nayantara Parikh