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Scaling Up: Building Culture and Talent

August 27, 2022

How do you hire for a culture fit and sustainably keep that fire alive even as headcount increases? Leaders from Ninja Van, Adyen and Quincus weigh in.

"I think at the end of the day, the culture was the driver" - Soon Yean Lee, former Head Of Account Management for APAC at Adyen.

It's not uncommon for startups to scale at breakneck speed without their culture in mind. Early in Soon Yean’s career, he realised how having a shared vision could affect the company's most valuable resource - its people. 

"Getting the correct people and retaining them is a very big challenge for a startup not only in Ho Chi Minh City but everywhere else," observed Vinh Pham, Head of Commercial at Ninja Van. According to a 2022 Deloitte survey, younger individuals joining the workforce are looking for organisations that reinforce their values and can maintain a positive environment. 

How do you hire for a culture fit and sustainably keep that fire alive even as headcount increases? Ali Arafat, Regional Business Development Director of Southeast Asia at Quincus adds about the balance of personal and professional goals: "Whenever we want to scale a team, we need to understand what they really need." 

We sat down with three leaders who are playing an active role in building the culture of hypergrowth and nurturing the future of this space. Join us in this edition of Middle Matters as we learn two ways you can start thinking about building your company culture and nurturing its talent.

Finding the Hunger for Adventure 

"What's correct today may become very wrong tomorrow."

Things change very quickly in the hypergrowth space. At Ninjavan, Vinh's team regularly introduces new ways of importing and exporting to support SMEs in Vietnam. To keep up with this pace, he explains: "I prefer to work with people that have high adaptability to new things. A new idea is generated every day, every week, and every month. It requires a lot of change, a lot of improvement and approaches in the process." 

"I think that there's talent everywhere. There are people with high qualifications. We should be always looking for the person's attitude and also the person's way of working and what they believe in," Soon Yean adds. "The goal is to hire people who can eventually take ownership of the things and run with it."

"Don't just think about whether this person can fit the role now, but consider where this person could be within the company in the next five years."

Nurturing Voices   

"As a leader, you need to create an environment that encourages different opinions and voices. You need to make sure that there is a platform for them to raise their voice," says Vinh. 

Allowing your team to gain exposure from various stakeholders in the company is crucial for them to be a reliable voice in the company's direction. "If you want to convince your leader and peers to change and [be able to say], 'It's a mistake, and I want to change the way you're working,' it requires a lot of communication." 

It takes a mindset shift for first-time managers who find it challenging to start speaking unless they have the complete picture in mind. A degree of patience and nurturing is required because, as Ali notes:

"That's the learning curve - leaders are not born, they are created." 

Giving them the chance to start small can be an opportunity to teach them to collaborate. "Everyone can give advice - even if it's not the full picture," Ali shares. "We can get all the information [together] and then build to show a new perspective." 

The puzzle pieces can eventually come together to form a new perspective, which is why it's crucial to create a safe space for talents to come into their own. 

Reflection Questions 

"My personal growth came from making mistakes and learning from them but also having great bosses and leaders who understand, seek to understand first and support me in these situations. So I value being vulnerable, humble, and respectful of everyone, but we must set that example first, right?" - Soon Yean Lee. 

Hiring talents and future leaders who believe in the company's vision is an essential building block to sustaining its culture. Soon Yean, Vinh and Ali have shown that while the former holds true, leaders also need to ensure that talents have an environment where they can eventually thrive to scale that culture. 

  • How wide is the gap between your personal and professional goals? What steps could you take to bring them closer? 
  • When was the last time you checked in on your direct report's personal goals and motivations? Are they on the right track? 
  • Are there any areas of the work where your team members are having a challenging time? What questions can you ask them in your next meeting that’ll help them come up with their own solutions?

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