Culture as Capital
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"
- Peter Drucker, Management Consultant & Author
What does the phrase even mean?
Let’s take a moment to summarise the phrase before we dive into the how of it. In a nutshell, it means that no matter how strong your business or program strategy is. It would remain strong on paper unless there is a culture that encourages and motivates people to improve and implement it.
The question really is - where and at what point does culture begin? What are its critical precursors?
Our Journey of Culture Building
While Mantra4Change is still a developing organisation and just a decade into the education space, we firmly and collectively believe in “Purpose” as the first and foremost nutrient in the culture meal. Culture really begins with employees at all levels of the organisation feeling a deep sense of connection with their purpose, in what they do on a daily basis. This is important for two reasons - One, it builds a positive and thriving environment, quite obviously but it also helps in dealing with challenges that make and break employees' commitment to the organisation.
At Mantra, we have asked ourselves and each other “why do we do this and why not?” more than any other strategic question over the last few years. People , their voice and well being takes the next priority followed by an agile plan to reach the purpose.
"A young and energetic team of 70 that thrives on Simon Sinek's strategic leadership tips during Chai breaks could be our personal brand"
“It is really up to the chef to decide how the meal turns out to be”
If we were to take a step back into the process, we would see how the culture really begins with the top of the leadership chain. Founding team or the senior leadership team has an immense role in beliefs, values and practices that solidify over time in different teams and the organisation at large. Even the very simple things like - mechanism of feedback, recognition, co-creation has a value in building employee behaviour and motivation at work.
The unconventional induction of employees at Bengaluru Marathon - 2016
In 2014, when Mantra4Change had managed to raise considerable funds, the co-founders - Ms Khushboo Awasthi and Mr. Santosh More went into a hiring spree. Being beginners themselves in the industry they had to devise the entire recruitment process from scratch that could work for the organisation’s stability in days to come. They decided on the following critical aspects before they set out to recruit from institutions like Azim Premji University, Teach For India etc.:
1. Ability to reflect
2. Ability to persevere through challenges
3. Potential to grow with the organisation
4. Ability to innovate
5. Ability to build and sustain a positive culture of transparency, collaboration and co-creation
Living by this belief, the new recruits were also closely involved in co-creating programs, culture and goals with the co-founders. Khushboo and Santosh, culture chefs at Mantra had started to create a non-hierarchical and transparent atmosphere at Mantra. Over a period of time, through mentoring and role modelling for all its employees, Mantra was able to institutionalise that culture so effectively that by June 2019, even with 65 employees with different educational & work backgrounds, Mantra had a culture that was rooted in mutual respect, honesty and possibilities.
The Culture Code
Over the last decade, Mantra grew, not only in the number of State and District programs but also in size of the team. Various teams at Mantra work in synergy with each other to evangelize and execute the idea of systemic reform nationwide. In other words - A murmuration of leaders in the system
And to have team members spending beyond 5 years in horizontal and vertical roles as a pattern in the organisation is definitely not a work of fluke or chance. What we also observed over the last couple of years is how the values we believe in as a team gets translated into everyday work at various levels, across teams. We proudly call it our culture code - A simple, subtle and strong by law for a streamlined work culture
These practices have not only helped us become better professionals , but also develop a community, co-existing and co-orchestrating efforts towards a common goal, a larger purpose. One of the earliest core members of Mantra, Ms Jaysudha was quoted as saying - “ Roles have never defined our work at Mantra. What each one of us does on a daily basis, is definitely beyond our designations”
Great Place to Work - Indeed!
Although last year, Mantra4Change was recognised with The Great Place to Work Certificate, this year we decided to go one step further and really have holistic data that is inclusive of various growth measures. The Organisational Health Index (OHI) , developed by McKinsey and Company not only met our primary expectation of deeper knowledge but also insights into next steps and critical actions that need to be taken.
This graph is one of the various indicators in OHI that identifies your organisation's average performance on the skill sets that contribute to credibility.
They consist of communication, competence, and integrity and are essential to promoting trust in the workplace. Analysing this study reaffirmed certain practices that were effortlessly a part of Mantra’s work culture already.
For example -
Dialogue - Managers are both clear and informative in the information/suggestions/support they volunteer; and they are accessible to employees, affording them the opportunity to begin conversations about what they might need or want to share.
Competence - Displaying management competence involves the ability to coordinate people and resources effectively, the ability to oversee employees work, and the ability to clearly articulate and enact a vision for your organisation or for individual departments. Employees who feel management is competent are more willing to trust management's decisions and follow management when they are leading employees through changes or uncertainty. And clearly Mantra has an impressive score of 86 that outweighs the present industrial standard. This particular aspect is immensely important for us considering the dynamic nature of our work with the system itself.
Integrity - Management's integrity depends on honest and reliable daily actions. Managers are consistent: whatever they say, they do; and promises are kept. Clearly, performance on these skill sets creates employees' perceptions of management's credibility, and this sense of credibility is essential to maintaining trust in the workplace.
What these scores really tell us beyond a survey and a few facts, is that, like any other organisation, we do face ups and downs, but what stays consistent , is our willingness to learn and improve and acknowledge the voices of our team members in doing so. That has been a very important reason why alumni of Mantra never really leave the organisation even if they transition out of their conventional role or designation. Their support and contribution takes different forms and shapes with due course of time.
A Decade of building extraordinary leaders
Over the last ten years, Mantra has consciously and effortlessly built a culture of growth, of empathy and collaboration. Not only with the internal team but also with external stakeholders, our supporters, mentors and partners. To build a sustainable, self evolving and safe culture is to be observant of the little things that make and break the functioning of the organisation. And in all honesty, these observations and suggestions were never ours alone. Our ecosystem has helped us shape our beliefs, develop processes and unlearn practices that no longer serve our purpose.
As we step into another decade of weaving a community of change leaders, we look forward to learning and growing with our current team and those who would contribute to the cause in the near future. We are keen to meet devil’s advocates who can push us, challenge us and support us in causing a wider murmuration of leaders.
To apply for a position, check out our open roles -
To get in touch with us, write to us at - firstname.lastname@example.org