The authors write that involving employees' families in office celebrations makes them feel like they are a part of your start-up journey, and can improve talent retention.
If you are a young entrepreneur looking for advice from people who have tasted failure and success, read Harpreet S. Grover and Vibhore Goyal’s book Let’s Build A Company: A Start-Up Story Minus The Bullshit. They befriended each other as roommates studying at IIT Bombay, and eventually decided to start a company together. They ran CoCubes.com, a campus hiring and student management platform, for 10 years until they were acquired by Aon Hewitt.
Published by Penguin Books in 2020, the book stands out for its focus on cultivating respectful relationships—a crucial aspect of running any organization. It is not enough to be possessed by a bright idea; one needs a dedicated team to pull it off. Each person associated with the company needs to feel that their well-being matters. If this sounds overwhelming because you struggle with communication, remember that skills can be learnt.
Grover and Goyal decided to show that they cared by involving their employees’ families in all major celebrations. Their reasoning behind this was clear. Start-ups demand a lot of time from people who work for them, and this often creates resentment at home. These conflicts can be reduced if families are made to feel that they are not being ignored or left behind.
In the book, they reveal, “We wrote letters to the parents of the folks working with CoCubes, thanking them for being a part of our journey. If someone’s parents were in town, we would encourage them to bring them to office and spend some time there. We made a WhatsApp group of all the husbands and wives of our team members and invited them to our parties. They were invited to join us on our annual trip as well.” How does this make you feel?
While it sounds like an excellent strategy for employee retention, perhaps it needs to be examined more closely before you decide to implement it. A lot of people who live in abusive families find their work to be an escape from home. They may not want their colleagues and their family members to interact with each other. It could be their worst nightmare. People who are single or queer might feel excluded in a husband-wife setup.
Grover and Goyal write, “You can create a place of trust. A place where the people who work there believe that the company will keep their interests in mind before taking any call. A place where they will be listened to. A place which is more than just an entity to create economic wealth.” According to them, trust can be created through a common set of values that encourage consistent behaviour, which then becomes the culture of the organization.
Companies vary widely in the values they choose to prioritize, uphold and defend. For some, punctuality is extremely important. For others, adhering to hierarchy and protocol is non-negotiable. Some value co-operation, others value pushing back against groupthink. When Grover and Goyal were running CoCubes, they decided that integrity was an important value for the organization. Personal examples from their journey could help you chart your own.
They write, “We told folks that it would be impossible to check each and every bill that they submitted as expenses. But if we did and found even one rupee that could not be accounted for correctly, they would be asked to leave. In our ten-year history, this happened twice, and we let go of the person immediately because of integrity issues.” This instance demonstrates that values stick when people working for a company are held accountable for their conduct.
The authors maintain that accountability is expected not only from employees but also the founders. How can this abstract idea translate into action? For Grover and Goyal, accountability meant honouring each other’s word. If one of them made a commitment to a team member, investor or customer, the other would follow through. They would talk privately about disagreements, try to understand each other, and get onto the same page.
If you feel uncomfortable about sharing your doubts and concerns with your co-founder, you can learn how to fix that. Grover and Goyal have a useful recommendation to make. They write, “The chemistry of the co-founders makes or breaks a start-up…simply go and talk to them. There is no other way. When you can say it out loud, then, suddenly, the tension disappears from your mind. It is out in the open and you can work on it together.”
Addressing conflicts instead of suppressing them could become a value that is deeply embedded in the work culture of your company. You might encounter a situation where an employee wants to leave but you do not want them to. How can you deal with this wisely?
Having made mistakes and learnt from them, Grover and Goyal are now able to speak candidly. Initially, when people at CoCubes talked about leaving, they used to get upset and question the loyalty of the person. They viewed the impending exit as a betrayal. Therefore, their strategy was to think of ways to convince the employee to stay back. What they considered a win in their early days as founders seemed to be a mistake in hindsight.
They write, “It is possible that because of your authority and the need to maintain a good relationship in the future, the person might say yes, but they rarely stay long enough for it to be helpful to them, to you or to the company.” Learning to let go was hard, and that is why they want young entrepreneurs like yourself to know that there are healthier alternatives.
Grover and Goyal believe that people who want to leave should be encouraged to pursue their personal and professional dreams. If they are treated well during this transition, employees feel assured that they can return to the organization later in life, without any embarrassment. No bridges are burnt. No egos are hurt. The big takeaway from this book is: Build a culture of respect.