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The Tactical Guide to Culture Building

The importance of having the right culture can’t be overstated for the long-term success of any organization. Culture has always been one of the most talked about topics in the business world. Companies invest millions in culture building. Many credit the growth of their business to having the right culture. The right culture empowers people, gives them a sense of purpose, and helps enact an enduring forward motion in an organization.

While discussion around culture is commonplace in tech and beyond in most places in the world, it is still an emerging topic in Bangladesh’s business scene. There are companies that deeply care about culture and deliberately invest in creating one. And there are also companies that don’t care much. 

Moreover, people often misunderstand culture. 

Many think it is an HR thing and consider it something touchy-feely. Others view it as a cost instead of an investment. Yet many think culture is about posh offices, expensive perks, and frequent photo-ops. 

Culture is rarely about rules or expensive perks. It is about people. It is about what people do and how people interact within and outside the organization. 

Many startup founders overlook culture building in their early days. Always under pressure, founders rarely pay active attention to the growing culture in the organization. But whether we pay attention to it or not, culture happens in an organization. And when we don’t make deliberate attempts, things can go terribly wrong as the company grows. 

Culture is like habits. It is what we repeatedly do. Once learned, it is hard to change. This demands we become mindful of organizational culture from day one.

Given the incredible importance of culture in dictating the fate of an organization, it is critical that founders and leaders in organizations develop a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. 

One of the questions we address in our interviews with founders and leaders is about culture, what they think about it, and their culture-building strategies and efforts.  

In this guide, we put together our collected knowledge from some of our previous interviews as well as essays on culture building. We believe this will offer much-needed understanding about how to approach culture building in an early-stage company. 

Key Insights 

  • The two types of companies: You can generally find two types of organizations. Organizations with traditional corporate practices, where culture doesn’t get much attention. People are treated as exchangeables. Politics triumphs meritocracy. Actions and results are rarely the only metrics that are used to judge people. Culture building is rarely an intentional thing.  Then there are companies that operate from a principles-first approach. Values and people dictate the operational rhythm and approach. Every action represents care and consideration. People value thoughtfulness and deliberation. These organizations start with an idea about the kind of organization they want to build. Culture building is often taken as an important part of their business building. These are intentional companies. These two types of companies operate differently. They produce different performances. They build entirely different companies. 
  • Intention is where actions are born: The first aspect of culture building is that you have to be intentional about your culture. While a large part of culture is about what we do, it begins with intention. Because intention is where actions are born. 
  • Culture starts at the top: The second aspect of culture is that it starts at the top. Culture is rarely about core values and principles, vision and mission statements, or what is said. Culture is what we do when no one is looking. More precisely, culture is what the leadership of an organization does when no one is looking. 
  • Culture propagates through action: Humans are mimetic creatures. They learn by imitating. They do what other people do in the same environment.
  • Culture is often created when a company is a small team of 10-15 people, and the founders are working directly with everyone. David Velez, founder, and CEO of Latin America's largest digital bank Nubank, puts it beautifully: "The culture of a company is built in the first six months by the first 10 to 15 people."
  • Culture can have a significant impact on employee satisfaction, retention, and performance, as well as the overall success and reputation of the organization. When the workplace culture is positive, it can lead to improved collaboration, higher employee morale, increased productivity, and efficiency.
  • Culture empowers people to consistently do their best work. Culture is the ultimate lasting competitive advantage. Your competitors can copy your product, ideas, and strategy, but culture, they will find it hard to replicate. 
  • Culture is the habit of an organization: Historian Will Durant famously wrote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” You create a culture and then your culture creates you. It is hard to overstate the importance of culture in deciding the performance and eventually fate of an organization. 
  • Building a great culture is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort and commitment: Often culture building is about consistently doing the right thing and reinforcing the right behavior. Moreover, building a desired organizational culture is a complex process and depends on a lot of emergent factors. It is often hard to choreograph a culture because many of these factors are organic and happen through mimetism. However, we can still influence the emergent nature of culture building by being intentional. 

In the rest of this article, you will find a set of ideas and strategies from companies and business leaders in Bangladesh who have so far done excellent work in culture building. 



Building a Great Culture — Vivasoft Way 

Bangladeshi software company Vivasoft is known for its excellent company culture. In this segment, we take a look into some of the strategies Vivasoft has used to build its culture. 

Founded in 2016, Vivasoft Limited provides IT consulting and software development services to both local and international businesses. Starting as a small operation with six people, Vivasoft has grown into a team of over 200 people within a span of seven years and has become one of the prominent players in the software industry in Bangladesh. The company serves as an excellent case study of how the right culture can put a company on an excellent growth trajectory.

What are some of the key features of its culture? 

The company says it makes “no distinction between customers, co-workers, and the people who run the business”. It focuses on creating products and solutions “to help businesses operate efficiently” while maintaining “the best possible relations with its customers and co-workers.” 

Vivasoft sees creating a friendly work environment that “inspires its people, engages them, and ensures their personal and professional growth” as a prerequisite to building a leading global software development company. The company posits culture as the ultimate growth strategy. 

A closer look makes it clear that Vivasoft has not only created a healthy culture that elevates efficiency and productivity, but it has also created a system where the same culture drives everything.

From Delivering Success Through Culture, The Vivasoft Way

Get the Right People on the Bus

Cultures are about people. Culture happens in part when you hire people. If you have the right people, the rest is easy. If you don’t, nothing is easy. 

Jim Collins, in his management classic Good to Great, calls this principle — “First Who, Then What”. He writes: “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus.”

But how do you ensure you hire the right people? By prioritizing the right hires. 

Vivasoft prioritizes hiring the right people, instead of the best people. The company often leaves out extraordinary resources during the recruitment process. Instead, it hires team players. You are good at technical skills but not a team player and tend to be a ‘know-it-all and I'm better than others’, Vivasoft will not hire you. The highest importance is paid to culture and team fit. The idea is that skills can be taught but attitude can’t. 

Care is a Verb

However, Vivasoft doesn't stop at merely hiring the right people. It puts its values to work through actions. 

You can easily tell someone that you care about them. They might even believe you the first time. But if you don't respond when they are in trouble and seek your help, they won't believe you the next time. Actions make our words real.

This applies to organizations as well. When Vivasoft says that it deeply cares about its people, you may naturally ask, "What does that look like in action?"

In action, Vivasoft empowers its people, provides entertainment options, and serves excellent food. In Vivasoft, everyone, from the office boy to the CEO, is served the same meals. It creates a communal feeling. It also shows the company truly cares about its people. Often food is the road to one’s heart. The company prefers ‘co-worker’ to ‘employee’, which eliminates any connotation of hierarchy. Instead of a traditional HR department, the company has a ‘Culture Department’, which primarily focuses on employee well-being. Vivasoft helps its people with medical expenses and grants paid leave when necessary. This approach has resulted in an excellent employee retention rate. The strong bond leads to a low turnover rate. The company says it wants to have happier employees and cultivate an employee-friendly work environment.

Many companies complain about employee retention, especially in the software and tech sectors, due to the surge in remote work and the increasing demand for Bangladeshi talent across various markets. However, for Vivasoft, despite being a relatively young company, retention has not been an issue. 

People want to work for companies where they feel cared for, empowered, and heard. After certain financial incentive benchmarks, meaningful work, and other intrinsic values like fulfillment and bonding play an important role in job satisfaction. In the aforementioned book "Good to Great," Collins writes, “We found no systematic pattern linking executive compensation to the process of going from good to great.”

Make Work Enjoyable

Another important aspect of Vivasoft's culture is that the company has put effort into making the office enjoyable and productive. Deliberate attention has been paid to bring people together and encourage interaction among colleagues. Both office spaces and events are designed to facilitate these interactions.

Interactions in the office foster camaraderie and create bonding among colleagues, making work more enjoyable. These interactions enable the exchange of ideas and knowledge, accelerating learning and serendipitous innovation. 

Vivasoft has created an environment conducive for such interactions. Despite its office being situated in an upscale area of the city, it has kept ample open spaces, which provides greater opportunities for people to come together and connect. A long list of cultural activities facilitate the same, bringing people together, and helping forge lasting connections. People who might not cross paths due to working in separate teams come together during events like cricket matches or music evenings, building life-long friendships. 

We mentioned "Good to Great" at the outset of this article. Collins observes in the book that colleagues at great companies typically enjoy one another's company. They cultivate lifelong relationships and eagerly look forward to their interactions. 

Opportunities for Growth

Opportunities for learning and personal growth are crucial aspects of a healthy culture. The growth of an organization is intricately linked to the quality and mastery of its people. Secondly, people highly value opportunities for learning and development. Numerous studies underscore that contemporary employees expect opportunities for personal growth from their employers, and the availability of such prospects influences their loyalty.

Vivasoft has an internal framework to ensure the continuous learning and development of its people. It sends its people to company-paid training sessions and online courses. It has an internal culture that encourages learning and mastery. The company establishes 'Clans' based on skills, such as the Java Clan, GoLang Clan, and so forth. Each clan has a clan chief, who assumes responsibility for the learning needs of every member of the clan and coordinates learning opportunities. 

A Decentralized Operation 

Empowering people is a common corporate trope these days. However, the value often remains rhetorical. Contrarily, the way Vivasoft empowers its people is a fascinating experiment in management.

Decentralization is central to Vivasoft’s culture. Teams are empowered to run their shows. Individuals are empowered to leverage their skills and decision-making abilities. Decisions rarely require central approval. People are given appropriate authority with responsibilities.   

Each team adopts its own approach and structure. Some teams follow the Scrum framework, while others utilize tools like Trello or Jira. Teams directly work with clients and operate based on client requirements. The company doesn’t impose any rigid guidelines regarding tools or processes, as long as there are no complaints from the clients. This approach creates a dynamic of speed, ownership, and high-quality client experience while enhancing employee job satisfaction.

Various studies suggest that our job satisfaction is closely tied to our ability to apply and demonstrate mastery in our work. However, without the freedom and space to perform, it is hard to develop and show mastery. In a horizontally structured culture like Vivasoft, where people are entrusted with responsibilities with authority, mastery is easier to cultivate.


Use Writing as a Core Component of Company Culture 

writing company
writing company

“We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.” — Jeff Bezos

“One thing that distinguishes Stripe is that it’s an incredibly deep-thinking culture. It’s a written culture really focused on getting to the right answer.” - Michael Siliski

Some of the best companies in the world share a common cultural characteristic: they almost all have a culture of writing as a primary mode of communication, presenting ideas, and collaboration. They put everything in writing: want to present an idea, come up with a written document, and present it; want to launch a new product, write a demo press release first; want to hire, write a detailed job description first. 

Amazon is famous for its Amazon FAQ. Stripe is famous for its deep-thinking culture. Basecamp is famous for its books. Google, Facebook, and many other tech giants can be put into this group of companies. And it is fascinating to see how these companies have actively tried to reinforce writing things down as a key ingredient of their culture.  

Using writing as a core component of how you communicate and operate as a company has a ton of upsides. Some common advantages are: 

  • Communication: Written communication is simply more effective and easy to share with other people. When you write something down, it is clearer. In many instances, verbal communication is hard to get across. The key message can get lost in translation. Verbal communication also involves a lot of emotional and psychological cues. Written communication, contrary to that, does not suffer from these limitations. In writing, you can tell things that you wouldn't otherwise tell someone directly. You can ask questions if you don't understand something. It doesn't involve ego. It also makes it easier for people who are introverted or don’t feel comfortable talking to a group to share their ideas and participate without fear. 
  • Clarity: If you want to check your understanding of something, try writing a few hundred words on it. Writing helps you clarify your thoughts. When we put our thoughts into writing, it allows us to see the inconsistencies and use our own feedback to improve it.  
  • Sharing knowledge: Verbal communication is usually hard to preserve. Of course, if you are recording an audio/video, that’s a different matter. Even then you would need to write your ideas down. When you write things down, it is easier to preserve the knowledge and share it with other people.
  • Efficient: Verbal communication is inefficient. You lose information. There are chances of misunderstanding. It also takes longer for everyone to listen and discuss something. Written communication, compared to that, is far more efficient. You can review a written document asynchronously. You can preserve it for future reference. When you write things down, it is much clearer. It saves time for everyone. Moreover, written communication means everyone will be able to give feedback and help enrich the whole thing. 
  • Creates a culture of thoughtfulness and thinking things through: When everyone is writing, it is a culture where people take their ideas seriously, think through them, respect the time of others, and read them as well. It can change the entire orientation of a company. Amazon’s example is pertinent here. Jeff Bezos enforced an unusual practice in his company from the very early days. Every single idea has to be written down as a brief memo. If you want to launch a product, you have to write a press release first which is also known as Amazon FAQ. During meetings, everyone sits quietly and reads the memo before talking about it. This led to a culture where people put their minds to work. They think about ideas and consider the ideas of others and offer thoughtful feedback. 
  • Personal productivity: Writing as a practice is an excellent personal productivity hack. It helps you to untangle your own thoughts. Writing something down allows you to release anxiety and see a problem more clearly. You can untangle things in writing which is not possible when you are merely thinking about it. 

We live in a fast-paced world. We are almost always busy. It creates a poverty of deep thinking. Writing switches the mode and makes us more introspective and thoughtful. You can still move fast and break things but you are more deliberate and thoughtful in doing that. 

Building a writing company 

Given all these reasons, it is only logical that you want to build a writing company. But how do you approach it? Is there any formula to it? Below we share a couple of ideas: 

  • Humans learn through imitation: The first step I think would be for senior leaders to demonstrate that writing is important by doing it themselves. From this: “The first emails I saw from our CEO [Patrick Collison] literally had footnotes,” Nunez recalls. “He structured his emails to be like research papers and put the peripheral information at the bottom so as not to detract from the core information.” It should be made clear to everyone in the company that writing matters and is important. Without a commitment from the leadership, it’ll be hard to expect it from the people down the ladder. 
  • Make writing a default method for sharing knowledge and communication: As Jeff Bezos did it, make writing a default method for communication. 
  • Create SoPs and samples: Give people who are new sample docs and SoPs to begin with. I have found it super useful when you write down processes. It helps you to organize things and get things done properly. 
  • Have standardized but flexible systems: Amazon has Amazon FAQ/PR and it follows a standard framework. While having a structure and standardized systems are useful, they can sometimes limit things for people. So have structure but make them flexible so that it allows people to participate and do things. 


CodeCrafters Managing Director Ellis Miller on company culture

Ellis Miller CodeCrafters
Ellis Miller

Ellis Miller is the co-founder and Managing Director of CodeCrafters International, a Dhaka-based international technology development company. Founded in 2007 by Ellis and Lynita Miller, CodeCrafters provides customized software solutions to businesses in the USA and other parts of the world. The company maintains a development team in Bangladesh with a sales and support team in the U.S.

CodeCrafters is known for its excellent culture in the software industry in Bangladesh. Over the years, the strong culture has helped the company consistently innovate and grow, build a team that takes ownership and is happy to go to work. 

In an interview with Future Startup published in 2021, we asked Ellis about the culture at CodeCrafters and his experience of culture building. Below we share his answers from the interview. You can read the full interview here

What do you think it takes to build a company culture, as you mentioned, where people stay for 10-15 years?

Ellis Miller: We reflect who we truly are through our behavior and it comes back to us. If we take advantage of other people, people are going to take advantage of us. Children turn out a lot like their parents. The same thing happens in a company. 

It takes a lot of time and energy to build a culture where people stay for a long time. To build a culture like that, you have to be intentional about it from the beginning. You have to keep in mind what your values are and how you can communicate those values to people.

Surround yourself with good people. None is perfect and I do not look for perfect employees. I look for technical excellence. At CodeCrafters, we do complex tasks. Our software engineers take in millions of lines of code. So we need top-notch excellence regarding technical skills. I also look for character and integrity. But I do not look for perfection. We try to figure out if a candidate fits our culture. 

I love taking initiative. But sometimes there are people who are bright, but aggressive. They try to get whatever they can as fast as possible and jump to the next thing. That kind of mindset can not bring any value to the company or them.

One of the few things we have done in the last few years is establishing a provident fund plan with a company match with vesting over 3-5 years. I think our employees understand that we are investing in them and it gives them a sense of security. Because every month they are putting their percentage and we are matching their percentage and they can see that it is progressing. So we invest in our employees. 

We honor and reward longevity, but not only longevity. You can have an employee working here for ten years and they do not have experience equal to ten years, rather ten times of one year of experience. So our other goal is to help people develop their skills including technical skills and soft skills.

I am proud of the people I am working with. We have fantastic developers and they are also good people. I enjoy working with them.

Could you tell us about your culture at CodeCrafters?

Ellis Miller: The core value that we keep repeating is excellence. Whatever we do, we try to do it in the best possible manner. That starts from how we design a task and work with the clients to how the software is coded. We train our developers, which is more like on-the-job training. We do code reviews very heavily.

We had engineers who now work in big companies like Amazon/Microsoft and they still say that in CodeCrafters they learned to code software correctly. That’s very rewarding for us. So excellence is at the heart of what we do.

We try to learn constantly. In my early days, I learned technical skills. Then I learned how to manage. Now I am learning how to lead managers. I have managers who manage other employees and I am learning how to build them up. There are so many things that I don't know. So I want to continue learning.

We are 8000 miles away from our American clients. It doesn’t matter if they see us or not. I want to give them good value by doing the right thing. I want us to do the right thing no matter what. I want that to permeate our culture.

I value the connection as a community. I grew up in a tight-knit community and I still feel like a part of that community. We are also creating a community here because business is meant to be a community. People often see the business sector as secular, commercial, and cold which is full of money-hungry people. But the truth is business depends on the community. Business means providing something which someone needs or getting something that I need from someone. It’s the dynamic sharing within a community that helps a business to flourish and remain healthy.

We want each of our employees to be flourishing. As individuals, they are growing as well as their families are prospering. What we do here, which I learned from the Investortools, is we work 40 hours a week. In many software companies, even after the startup phase, when a project runs late, the employees have to work overtime. Eventually, this becomes a way of life. They start to become late in everything.

But I refuse to persistently consume the life of my employees and their families. Of course, I need their time and that’s what they get paid for. So when they come here I just tell them to give me 8 focused hours and then go home. The fact is that when people work 50-60 hours a week, they don’t really work 60 hours. So I prefer a good 40 hours to that. So that’s part of who we are.

You have mentioned excellence as your core value. How do you ensure and maintain excellence?

Ellis Miller: We do have daily check-ins, often via email and I try to give feedback to my employees on what they are doing. I think positive feedback goes a long way. There’s peer review as well which is more like a code review. That is a lot of feedback as well. Hopefully, I am leading by example.

We have a formal review process, such as sitting down twice a year to review things.

We reflect and focus on our excellence. For example, if a bug slips through a customer, we ask ourselves what went wrong and how we can prevent that from happening again.

As an organization, how do Codecrafters learn? And as an individual and leader, how do you learn?

Ellis Miller: As a company, we do several things to learn, such as formal learning sessions twice a month, which are on technical skills. Sometimes we learn soft skills too. We watch Patrick Lencioni's “Five Dysfunctions of A-Team” and then we split up into groups to discuss how we are doing. We try to find our strengths and weaknesses in those sessions.

We watched “The Infinite Games” together and our engineers asked what that meant for us. So I thought about how to apply that to CodeCrafters. So I did a second presentation on that.

I think we learn a lot from each other informally. We have connections with our US developers. I want to be quick to show appreciation to the idea of one of my team members. I have been in this sector for around 25 years. But when they have a better idea than I do, I want to let them know. Because when the leader learns, everyone feels comfortable learning as well. Learning requires safety and when there is no safety, people tend to put walls around them to avoid any humiliation. That’s how we learn as a company.

We have a number of people who have done their post-graduate studies. Three of our current engineers and several of our past engineers have done MBA from IBA. One of our employees is doing an MSc in Computer Science. I like to encourage those kinds of things.

There’s practical learning as well. So we provide both on-the-job and outside learning.

For myself, connecting with others is helpful. I have regular phone calls with 5-6 people including my colleagues at Investortools, my brothers, one of the executives of Investortools, and a salesman who connects us with the sales in the US. I am regularly connecting with them and we are often just swapping stories. We talk about the things we are working on and the challenges we are facing. So there’s a lot of pure learning.

I do not read many business books. Because most business books can be fantastic articles for business magazines. But I love podcasts and cycling. So I often listen to podcasts.


Inspira CEO Muntasir Tahmeed on creating a strong culture in the early days of your startup

Muntasir Tahmeed
Muntasir Tahmeed

Muntasir Tahmeed is the co-founder and Managing Director of Inspira Advisory and Consulting Ltd, a Dhaka-based research and consulting firm that helps bi-lateral donors, UN agencies, and Nonprofits to design better-informed, data-driven interventions. 

Founded in 2015, Inspira has experienced excellent growth within a short period of time and has quickly become a leading player in the space.

In an interview with Future Startup published in 2021, we asked Muntasir about the culture at Inspira and his experience of building a strong culture. Below we share his answers from the interview. 

Could you please tell us about your organizational culture?

Muntasir Tahmeed: Although the portfolio may suggest otherwise, Inspira started its operations only six years ago. Contrary to the traditional management framework of consulting firms with CXOs having decades of experience, Inspira is run by a team of late millennials and early Gen- Z team members. But the continued collaboration by reputed clients with Inspira, testaments to the fact that beyond the often sought ‘experience’, it is the "agile problem-solving trait of the youth which also adds definite value to the clients’ programming approach.

We operate under the guiding framework of 10 driving mantras as we call it:

Challenge Everything: Everyone at Inspira can challenge everything and correct the course of action.

Seize Opportunity. Explore. Grow: As a young company in the field, we never say ‘NO’ to an opportunity. We are open to new thematic areas and continued growth through learning.

Obsessed with structure: Bringing methods to the madness is key to consistency. Operating in a structured manner in every aspect of our work allows us to be more effective in executing any task twice and is a foundational principle of Inspira.

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness: Being restrained in your option to accomplish a task allows you to consider your path accomplishment more carefully and often leads to finding further potential within what is accessible to you.

No task is beneath or above any rank: All team members must stay connected to the minute details and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ.

Open book management: Inspira believes trust and mutual growth is the key to success. We are open to sharing with you and bringing you in to be a part of management decisions.

Hard work is the key: Hard work is not a cliché but the key recipe to Gap-fill the grey-hair vacuum.

The office is where your head (and internet) is: The workspace is your mind, not the office. That is where you should work and not tie it to a device or a location.

Work smart and be heard: Scaling up (and growth) is proportional to templatization and presence management.

Transferable communication: Our work and conversation both should be transferable with minimum slippage.

I would say we are a learning organization and we are implementing our knowledge on the fly. Work-life balance is something we are learning. We have not yet grown to a size where we can hire highly experienced HR professionals who can develop sensible HR policies.


How Truck Lagbe Has Built a Distinct Culture Around Empathy, Empowering People, and Humane Values

Truck Lagbe
Truck Lagbe Group Photo 2020

Launched in 2017, Truck Lagbe connects truck owners/drivers and shippers via app and web. The company credits its people for its growth. To that end, Truck Lagbe has invested in its people and created a culture that enables forward motion.  

“We have tried to create a people-first culture, a culture of empathy and contribution,” says Mr. Maksud. Mr. Maksud joined Truck Lagbe in 2018 as its first HR hire. Truck Lagbe has since grown as a company. 

With the growth of the team, the human resource management has also grown into a separate department. Over these years, the company systematically invested in building processes and structure to create an organizational culture where people perform, deliver results and thrive.

“Since people are the most important resource of our company, it is necessary to have the process and system in place to manage and nurture them,” says Mr. Maksud.  


Culture is rarely about rules, it is about people. It is about what people do and how people interact within the organization and with outside stakeholders. To that effect, Truck Lagbe goes the extra length to hire the right people. 

“We hire for mindset and cultural fit,” says Mr. Maksud. “We hire both freshers and experienced professionals. We look for people with a growth mindset. Expertise is rarely the most important trait we seek. Rather we value people who are passionate and are interested in learning and personal growth, and contribution.” 

Carol Dweck writes in her famous book Mindset: when you have a growth mindset, you see possibility in every challenge. With a fixed mindset, every setback appears an insurmountable challenge and a permanent failure. Truck Lagbe says while it tries to hire the best candidates, it puts greater value on cultural fit over superior qualification and mere talent. 

“Even when we find people who are qualified and talented but are not compatible with our mindset and culture, we don't hire them,” says Mr. Maksud.

Truck Lagbe operates in a challenging industry. Trucking as an industry has a negative perception among common people. Without a highly driven team, it naturally would be difficult for Truck Lagbe to break into such a market. An intentional hiring process has allowed the company to put together a motivated team that comes to work every day with a drive to make a difference. 

The company has also put together ground rules to help a motivated group of people to move towards the right direction. A human resources management team led by Mr. Maksud works tirelessly to create systems and tools and programs to keep people energetic, motivated and on the right track. 

Mr. Maksud explains the philosophy of the HR Team: “the responsibility of every HR team lies with the people of the company, not only with the management. If people don't love the culture  and workplace environment, the company will never grow.” 

The small HR team, with the help of other relevant teams, looks after all the major human resources management-related works notably payroll management, performance management, hiring, people analytics, and training and development. 

Mr. Maksud explains: “HR manages two types of work — operational HR activities and strategic HR activities. On the strategic side: we make the placement decisions for required teams focusing on our hiring philosophy, the salary we want to offer, performance measurement tools, career path designing, working on people feedback, etc. 

Every new hire at Truck Lage is shown a career path upon joining the company that highlights how he/she would grow and where he/she would go from here as his/her career grows. It motivates people to push for growth. 

On the operational side, HR deals with more practical issues such as hiring, sourcing talents, onboarding, and deciding what kind of impression new hires will get from day one at the company. 

II. Hiring for culture-fit and keeping for character

Over the years, Truck Lagbe has tried to make hiring systematic, structured, and data-driven. Nothing is based on hunches or activities. Everything begins with a plan. Hiring decisions are need-based. “We hire based on the bandwidth of the current team,” says Mr. Maksud. “If we see that our existing resource is being exhausted or overloaded compared to our growth plan and speed, we go for hiring.” 

Hiring plans are made quarterly, except for hires where it needs to be done ASAP, based on the business goal — we want to take our business from here to there and we need new people to achieve that goal. 

Outlets for hiring announcements are usually chosen based on positions. Usually, announcements are published on Facebook, Linked In, Job portals, and personal networks. 

Once CVs come, they are then screened and analyzed critically based on the demands and requirements of the position. Usually, it takes more than a CV to understand a person. In-person interviews complement overcoming that challenge. CV and interview confirm the profile match. The company also looks for relevant skill sets and experience. 

While the company puts enough weight on the CV and interview for initial profile matching, it gives more importance to thoroughly knowing the person through informal conversations. It also tries to understand the mindset and cultural orientation of a person through inquiring about his expectations and previous work. 

“In the interviews, we learn about the person outside of work — his hobbies, family life, and so on,” says Mr. Maksud. “We encourage people who have entrepreneurial tendencies and are trying different things. Finally, when it comes to salary negotiation, we try to see whether the person is asking for an unusual salary increase compared to his current salary.” 

The company has built a storytelling regimen that it shares with the potential hires to check their level of empathy and whether they will be willing to work with and care for the user group Truck Lagbe serves.  

This consistent probing into the character of a person allows the company to find and attract the right talent who owns the job once they finally join the company. It makes the rest of the HR department’s work easier. 

But hiring the right people is only a small part of building a great culture. Cultures are like gardens. If you don’t tend and take care regularly, plants die and weeds take over. 

To keep the cultural practices vibrant, the company has a series of initiatives. One such initiative is town halls. “We have company-wide town hall meetings every Sunday and the entire company attends these meetings,” says Mr. Maksud. “We discuss everything from business growth, product updates to sharing experiences to challenges, ice-breaking of new joiners, and taking suggestions on various issues from everyone.”  

“When companies grow, it gets increasingly hard to know everyone,” says Mr. Maksud. “We try to break that limitation through these town hall introductions.” 

III. Tending the garden: people development 

Companies grow when their people grow. To that end, every good company takes the growth of its people seriously. Truck Lagbe regularly invests in its people. 

“We have two mechanisms for people development: training & development and then regular knowledge-sharing practice,” says Mr. Maksud. 

Apart from formal training, Truck Lagbe regularly hosts knowledge sharing sessions — 2-3 open knowledge sharing sessions every month — where people from different teams, from executive to below team lead, take sessions on various topics. These knowledge-sharing sessions are open to all. People share their interest in taking sessions. If no one shows interest, the team selects one through a voting process after every session. 

“These sessions help us to engage the team, learn about and from each other, and understand how people think,” says Mr. Maksud. “Pandemic took a toll on this but we are trying to get back to our old days.”  

Performance management and people analytics. A key aspect of Truck Lagbe’s people development strategy is performance management and people analytics. Over the years, the company has invested and built a strong performance management process. 

One of the key challenges of performance management is quantification. While it is easy to quantify the work of teams like sales and similar target-based departments, it is not so simple for departments like HR, Tech, and similar departments that work on more qualitative sides of things. Truck Lagbe, however, developed a model to address these challenges. 

“We have a 360 performance management system with a combination of rating scales,” says Mr. Maksud. “ Individual performance is measured based on three metrics: Individual KPI, Cross-functional collaboration and exercising company values.” 

People analytics help the company understand how people are doing in the organization and design interventions accordingly. 

The company closely works with people who struggle with performance and help them to improve. This contributes to its healthy retention rate which is around 90%. 

Startups often get a questionable rep for poor retention rates. And poor retention rates are not healthy for any company because if you are changing people all the time, it is hard to build a steady operation and grow consistently. That, however, does not mean high retention rates are ideal by themselves. 

Mr. Maksud explains: “We have to understand that high retention rates are not essentially a good thing. If our retention rate is 100%, it could mean many things. It could be that our performance is not being monitored regularly, assessments are not done timely or appropriately and many people stay here even if they are not contributing as expected.”

Startups are high-risk and high reward organizations, Mr. Maksud asserts. If people are not delivering then it is a high-risk situation and if you maintain that situation through retention, it means you are risking your company. There is a healthy retention rate which depends on many things and a company should aim for finding that balance. 

Truck Lagbe arranges counseling sessions for people who struggle with performance and sometimes with their career plans. The company tries to help them to improve and deal with their challenges. “We try to understand the problem: is it professional, personal, skill or enjoyment of the work or coping with the work, etc,” says Mr. Maksud. “Empathy is important to motivate people. Pressure works but it does not after a certain point. Empathy is endlessly powerful.” 

Based on counseling, the company takes measures such as allowing people to change teams and responsibilities, providing specific training for skill development, and short term breaks from work to rest and recuperate. 

The company, however, does not tolerate integrity issues and takes immediate action when people break certain redlines as per its HR Policy and Guidelines. 

“We support people who are willing to learn, trying but failing,” says Mr. Maksud. “We even like people who try and fail. We appreciate making mistakes and trying new ideas.” 

The company has an open culture to deliver and receive feedback which encourages people to challenge each other including its senior leaders. 

“The features you see in the Truck Lagbe app are from our executives and team members who directly work with our driver-partners,” says Mr. Maksud. “Ideas flow freely at Truck Lagbe. We encourage people to share their ideas and opinions.” 

The company encourages people to be vigilant for bad practices and violations of values and encourages them to raise flags when they see something which is not right. 

A strong feedback culture allows continuous improvement and free movement of information. 

Everyone is encouraged to give feedback to everyone. Compassionate criticism is encouraged. 

An anonymous feedback mechanism has been put in place to encourage an open feedback culture. Feedback boxes are put in washrooms across the office where people can drop their feedback. This is how the company is trying to establish a transparent workplace culture.  

Finally, the company constantly reminds and re-communicates the values and dos and don'ts to reinforce the values and practices. 

IV. A culture of empathy 

“As I mentioned earlier, we hire for culture and mindset fit,” says Mr. Maksud. “If we see someone who is not interested in working for people we are working for, which is truck drivers and owners, we don't onboard them. Second, we encourage people to view truck drivers and related people from a different light. We tell stories of their life, their struggles, and contributions, and when we show people who these people are, their predicaments, why they are the way they are, they understand and they want to work for them. We want to hire people who want to work for these people and their improvement. We don't hire for business alone.” 

It makes sense. Because if the company only means business, it will be able to do business for a while but it would not be sustainable. 

“We have to do business for the long run and work for the betterment of these people only then we will win in the long run,” says Mr. Maksud. “We teach people how they can change the lives of these people and how to do it.”

The deep training in empathy allows the company to motivate its people to go out every day to transform an industry that many people, in the early days of Truck Lagbe, deemed impossible to transform. Today, the perception is quite different.


Scaling Culture  

Culture is easy when you are a small team of six people. At this scale, everyone knows everyone. All the team members have daily interactions with the founders. As a result, founders have more control over disseminating their ideas and values. 

However, as a company expands, the challenge of scaling the culture arises. Teams grow large. People come from diverse backgrounds. Everyone has their ideas. Founders no longer have the time and opportunity to personally connect and guide each individual. As a result, many companies stumble when they try to scale their culture, especially during periods of rapid growth. 

Organizations handle this challenge differently. Vivasoft, one of the companies we mentioned in this phase, has been working to address the challenge by developing a second layer of leaders. From Delivering Success Through Culture, The Vivasoft Way:

“A central ingredient of Vivasoft's culture is the interpersonal connections among its people. As the Vivasoft founders look to scale the culture, they are actively preparing the second tier of leadership to foster strong relationships with their respective teams. The company says it plans to scale its culture by scaling interpersonal relationships. 

The focus lies entirely on the actions, practices, and individual and collective behaviors. 

Vivasoft's culture can be summed up in two crucial aspects: firstly, an employee-first approach, and secondly, a flat organizational structure. While there are other elements, these two fundamental values establish the foundation for the remainder of the culture. 

For instance, its friendly environment arises from its employee-first approach. Similarly, the absence of a hierarchical "boss" culture is a direct consequence of its flat organizational structure.”

This tacit approach to culture makes the spreading of the culture easier. It is like socio-cultural knowledge that is passed down from one generation to another through practice and rituals. 

Culture at the end of the day is a perfect example of tacit knowledge. You can only build in action and only understand it in retrospect. That is why it is all the more important to be deliberate about it. 

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