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How to Build Organizational Culture for a Start-up

Head HR, Vikram Khorana from Syfe, a high-growth start-up talks about building workplace culture for start-ups. Workplace culture and...

Culture is a critical asset to organizations as it plays a vital role in multiple facets like branding, reputation, retention, employee fit, and a lot more. Culture helps in setting brand identity and also sets the tone for the founding team and HRs to draft policies accordingly.


We asked Vikram Khorana how he built the company culture at Syfe; a high-growth start-up. With more than 13 years of experience in Human Resources, he helped us understand the nitty-gritty of establishing a culture in a start-up. And we thought we’d share insights from the interview with you.

How culture takes life in a startup?

Usually, founders of start-ups have worked at great companies and then come up with their own start-ups. Inspired by the experiences they had at previous organisations, founders tend to exercise the same. The initial stages are for honing the product/ service and it gets hectic for the founding team to work on culture. With the support of HR, the founding team is able to define a workplace culture and bring it to life. Today, workplace culture and employee benefits help to attract top-flight talent is critical and can make all the difference for early-stage start-ups.

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A foolproof employee retention strategy in 2023 for HR practitioners

A foolproof employee retention strategy in 2023 for HR practitioners

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A peek into the culture at Syfe

Syfe is a young organisation where the average age is 26-37. We have a dynamic culture and adept employees. As a part of the culture that enables wellness and openness, here are a few things that we do

  • Ownership - This comes from the foundation of the culture that we don’t want to micromanage anyone. We have invested in recruiting people who can take ownership of their work. We don’t want them to just follow a command! We place trust in our employees and we want them to explore, experiment and take risks.
  • Wellness allowance - We conduct wellness sessions including yoga and meditation. We give allowances and encourage employees to take up gym memberships or a class for their hobby or anything they’d want. We believe this constitutes a healthy working environment and allot Rs 15,000 annually per employee for recreational allowance.
  • Unlimited leave policy - We are one of the few companies in the Indian market to offer an unlimited leave policy. Our employees can take leave whenever and we allow this because we understand productivity is at its peak when you take regular time offs and me-time. Wellness and healthy employees are a priority for us. Syfe provides people with the opportunity and advantage of working at their convenience.
  • Flexibility - At Syfe, we have a fair deal with our employees; we give them flexibility and in return we just expect them to deliver work and focus on their growth.
  • Learning allowance - Our employees are free to pick up a course/certification and we will reimburse it. They can claim up to Rs 15,000 annually. We have employees actively working towards upskilling. We welcome and encourage them with this allowance.
culture at Syfe

How to keep culture in check?

Big organisations have specific teams aggressively working towards culture, teams, entertaining activities, etc. Start-ups get inspired by them and tailor it to their requirements. However, in an early stage start-up when there are less than 20 or 25 employees, there generally be only one HR and it is tough. I joined Syfe back in December 2020 and at that time, our strength was about 20 to 21 people and I was the only HR managing everything. I used to have one on one conversations with employees at that time.

As we expanded we had more hires and I delegated some of the work to my team. However, I still continue to have recurring one on one sessions with them. Yes, it is difficult to do everything and also arrange entertainment activities, team gatherings, lunches, dinners. But then again, it's a good experience because when you work with a bigger organization, you don't really get this opportunity to interact with everyone. Even the staff would feel nice when someone senior from the organization reaches out and checks in with you.

On the flip side, It is all the more important to do this because it indicates to the employees that they are listened to. When you have in-person conversations with some employees, it sets the tone and helps employees understand that this is a two-way channel and encourages others to open up. That is, if you set up a good culture, it will take care of itself to some extent.

Suggested: 10 Company Culture Examples to Inspire From

Syfe culture

When would you say a start-up has a good culture?

You can tell if the start-up has a good workplace culture when the attrition rates are low. At Syfe, the attrition is 9.8% and it’s been three years. We offer competitive packages, bonuses and benefits but our culture is the most solid in the market and this is the primary reason our attrition is low. Bigger organizations have massive attrition because of management issues and culture.

About Vikram

Senior Manager, Human Resources at Syfe

Extensive experience in all facets of staffing/ recruiting/ Talent Acquisition & Client Acquisition in various verticals such as IT (Information Technology), Engineering, Finance, Management, etc. 5+ years of experience in people management.

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