Project Kintsugi: Spotlight on Culture
We want to keep our culture and values alive and pass them on to every new employee that joins Chargebee.
Most organizations live by the tenets of their organizational values and belief systems. These are guiding principles, carefully curated ideologies, and thought systems that enable an organization to pursue its objectives and goals with a sense of purpose and direction.
Chargebee is a growing organization. Today, we’re at approximately 400 people — by no means a startup anymore. About a year ago, we laid down our organization values.
These values are our guiding forces. They are the principles and practices that help us in our day-to-day decision making, our interactions with stakeholders, customers, and others.
To arrive at these values, we looked into what we, as an organization, value the most, believe in, and consider close to our hearts. These are guiding principles and qualities that we want anybody who engages with Chargebee to resonate with and embody.
As we transformed overnight into a fully remote organization, one of our top concerns was the dilution of our values. Our problem statement, simply put, was how do we, with the brand new distributed structure, instill our values in employees that newly join us and continue to encourage existing employees to live by them?
Culture is a collective of several smaller behaviors, attributes, and ideologies. While we had identified our core organizational values, we had not documented the smaller behaviors and patterns that these values were made up of.
So the questions we were faced with were-
- What were our organizational values really made up of? — What did Bias for Action, Customer Centricity, Curiosity, and Empathy entail?
- How do we inspire upon employees the essence of these values? — How do we ensure that employees are familiar with our values and goals? How do we draw parallels between these values and our organizational revenue goals?
- How do we control and help unlearn behaviors and practices we don’t resonate with? How do we eliminate the infiltration of behaviors/traits that aren’t complimentary to us? How do we accept and infuse, into our culture, practices and behaviors that are unfamiliar but welcome?
- How do we continue to retain the ‘connect’ factor? — How do we ensure that every employee feels like they belong to the Chargebee family?
- And, importantly, how do we do all this remotely?
Focus on Culture
So we started with trying to find ways to articulate our culture, break it down to understand what it was made up of —essentially, build a framework that helps us study its constituents and document it for posterity.
Our core organizational values of Curiosity, Empathy, Customer-Centricity, and Bias for Action are derivatives of what we passionately believe in as an organization. These core values also influence our behavior as people and as a business.
The ‘Culture’ Formula
This implied that our culture is cumulative of our values, our beliefs, and our behavior:
(Beliefs + Values) + Behavior = Culture
We deconstructed the ‘culture’ question further by asking ourselves a couple of more questions:
- What are we like, as people, at our workplace?
- What are we like when we’re working?
- What is our approach to work?
- How do we communicate?
- What behaviors do we tolerate? What behaviors are unacceptable?
- How do we grow? What defines growth for us?
These questions have helped us find newer perspectives to our definition of culture. We realized that ‘culture’ is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, and multi-layered idea. It’s a wonderful mish-mash of so many things — people, behaviors, ideas, beliefs, mindsets, etc.
Culture in a distributed organization
As we evolve into a distributed organization, more and more of us are working out of various corners of the world. We are increasingly physically disconnected. Pre-pandemic, new employees joining our offices from any part of the world had to spend a couple of weeks in the India office, where we are headquartered. But with the lockdowns, the social distancing, and the lack of any face-to-face conversations (except virtual), we figured that we had to start talking about culture more.
We take our organizational culture and values seriously and it is important that people who engage with us, within the organization and outside, resonate with our values and know what we stand for as an organization.
But first, we had to know where we stood.
So, we started by trying to get a feel of how well employees recalled our organizational values. We did not expect them to render them word-to-word. All we needed to know was if they even had a rough idea about what our organizational values stood for.
Our fears came true when most folks could not recall or articulate what they were. It was clear that we had to start initiatives around culture and starting conversations around what our culture really is. While we have not completely articulated our culture yet, we figured it made sense to start the conversations.
We’ve started talking about culture in org-wide forums:
- The leadership team talks about the culture at every company all-hands — the Culture Spotlight. In these, we take a couple of minutes to share stories of employees who exemplify our culture.
- Various teams talk about how they apply the organizational values in everyday work and successfully accomplish their objectives, thereby aligning with the objectives of the organization.
- We also speak about the values and behaviors we do not appreciate.
- We introduced ‘Value Champions’ to our rewards and recognition program to encourage more and more employees to align with our core value systems and apply them at work every day.
Maintaining the ‘connect’
Asynchronous work is almost synonymous with distributed organizations. The peril of asynchronous work is the lack of a real connection. And the biggest threat to any culture is the lack of a ‘human’ connection.
Some of our org-wide initiatives help maintain that spirit of community and also are a forum where come together as an organization:
Every Friday, we have a community podcast session that everybody is invited to. We encourage employees to bring in friends or family to join the session if they’re interested. In the podcast, we play a range of content including TED talks, tech podcasts, mental health podcasts, and more. At the end of every podcast, we spend a couple of minutes talking about our takeaways, what we liked, and so on.
The All-Hands provides everybody to meet with the founders of Chargebee. These sessions are interactive and include important information sharing, which reinforces our culture of transparency, and interactions with top executives in the organization. There is also a Q&A session at the end that allows every employee to ask any questions they may have. The All-Hands is a great way for all of us to come together as an organization and celebrate our victories and share our successes.
The AMAs (ask-me-anything) is an informal Q&A session with the leadership team. The AMAs are a great opportunity to connect with the top-level executives in the organization and ask them questions about culture, values, personal growth, and more. These are also sessions that enable employees to raise concerns if any, and bring them to the attention of the leadership team.
Listening to Customers:
We listen to a customer call every month. The session enables employees to understand what customers typically look for in a product like Chargebee, the factors they consider when evaluating a billing system for their business, etc. It’s also a great way for employees to understand the larger picture and apply that at work.
We started a couple of well-being initiatives to lighten up the mood at work every day. These are aimed at providing the much-needed break from work now and then.
The NoodleHead is our party specialist. The Noodlehead often comes up with fun and game initiatives so folks can step off work for a bit, refresh themselves, and get back to focussed work. The Noodlehead also
SoupySoul is our happiness consultant. The SoupySoul hopes to measure the happiness levels at Chargebee and ensure that we’re a happy, positive lot.
Culture defines who we are and what we stand for. Culture includes characteristics that we embody as people. It encompasses all those qualities we seek in the people we hire and have hired, and the qualities that we hope become intrinsic to working in Chargebee.
Culture is an important part of who we are. As we grow and scale and compete with some of the leaders out there, we do not want to watch the value systems that propelled this growth erode.
As an organization, we have started paying attention to the nuances of behavior and qualities that make our workplace desirable. We also constantly question our existing practices and belief systems to test their standing and check if they hold any relevance. This innate curiosity has constantly helped us grow as people and evolve positively as an organization that values its customers before anything else. We continue to encourage collaboration, innovation, and team spirit. The objective of culture, after all, is to ensure the growth and happiness of every individual working in the system and to inspire them to bring their best selves forth every day.
Project Kintsugi, a System-Design-driven initiative, aims to deep-dive into understanding and researching remote and distributed workspaces to make our transition into a fully-distributed organization a reality.