As startups grow from fledgling companies into established organisations, one of the biggest challenges they face is maintaining their desired culture.
Ritienne Bajada, who joined Andaria in January 2023 as its Head of People, is spearheading culture and people-focused initiatives across the organisation.
Her diverse career spans executive search, career coaching at London Business School and University of Oxford, and HR roles across various industries. Through these experiences, Ritienne developed a passion for helping people grow professionally, so when the opportunity arose to build the people function for Andaria, she welcomed it as an exciting new challenge.
“The objective of my role is really to build and lead the HR function,” Ritienne explains. “A substantial part of that is the cultural side of things, and everything that’s related to people.”
On joining the organisation, Ritienne reveals that there was already a good foundation in place across the company. “There were a number of HR policies and procedures in place, so my role was really to take stock of what had already been implemented, assess its success or otherwise and put together the HR strategy going forward.”
Building a culture based on strong values
For Ritienne, culture is “the personality of the organisation, our goals and values, and the behaviours we observe in ourselves and others. Culture is hugely important to the success and overall health of the company, its people and its customers,” she says.
Andaria’s core values, the Head of People explains, include transparency, respect, innovation, equality, and security. And it’s these values, she notes, that shape how employees interact with each other, their clients, partners, and other stakeholders. “They guide how we all act and make decisions. We shouldn’t just focus on what we achieve, but also on how we achieve it,” she affirms, noting that management and leaders play a key role in bringing the values to life through their own behaviour.
The hiring process is a two-way street
Since joining Andaria, Ritienne has focused primarily on hiring for cultural fit, incorporating values into performance management, encouraging open communication about both achievements and challenges, and creating opportunities for bonding among team members.
“In the hiring process, we take time to get to know candidates and for them to learn about our culture,” she explains, noting that although skills and experience are very important, so is the fit around mutual values. “The interview process is two-way. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know the candidate but we also take the time to share the Andaria story with them – where we’ve come from and where we are heading, our strengths and the challenges we’re tackling, the people we have in the organisation, our ambitions and how we plan to achieve them. It is important for us that there is a fit between our values and ambitions and those of our candidates.”
Culture needs to be consistent and constant
Ritienne reinforces Andaria’s culture through transparency, vision casting, team building, and work flexibility. At the same time, she acknowledges the fact that maintaining a strong culture requires consistent effort, warning that companies often fall into the trap of forgetting their values and compromise on hiring standards as they rapidly expand.
“It’s about deliberately reminding people of our goals and values and having enough touchpoints to keep it top of mind,” Ritienne asserts. “It has to be a daily effort, not just one-off initiatives. Keeping employees motivated and feeling part of a bigger mission is an ongoing process.”
The sudden switch to remote working during COVID-19 posed challenges in maintaining culture for many companies, especially in cases where new employees didn’t have face-to-face interactions when they first join, she maintains. As the world got used to remote and hybrid working, HR teams have also caught up with finding new ways of conveying culture and values through remote initiatives or hybrid methods. It was a big shift for so many companies.
“Andaria is a relatively new business, so we’ve had the advantage of building in these principles from the beginning,” explains Ritienne. “We’re a big supporter of flexibility and remote working and our employees work on a hybrid basis, which allows them to spend time in the office as well as work remotely.”
As Andaria’s workforce continues to grow, Ritienne believes that securing buy-in from each person will be key to preserving the culture. “If everyone feels they’re part of it rather than it being imposed on them, you have a greater chance of success,” she smiles, “building and maintaining strong cultural buy-in like this is not just important for supporting company growth, it ensures you have a solid foundation that gets you through challenging times too.”
Exciting times ahead for Andaria
Looking ahead, the Head of People has an exciting roadmap focused on strategic hiring, employee development, retention and expanding Andaria globally, working hand-in-hand with the management team. She also mentions that Andaria is about to step into the embedded finance arena, with a major new product launch on the horizon. As a result, the company will soon launch a big recruitment drive for a variety of roles across different departments in their Malta and UK office. Anyone interested in working for Andaria can keep tabs on these opportunities here.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of Andaria as we reach new heights and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. It’s a huge opportunity for the company to grow and our people to grow with it through personal development and professional progression,” Ritienne maintains.
For Ritienne, the ideal company culture empowers employees, fosters collaboration, and aligns with business goals. As Andaria evolves, she aims to protect the elements that make it an engaging place to work. Her final words of advice for startups looking to maintain their culture while scaling? Promote core values consistently, hire for cultural fit, and keep your central principles front of mind in all decisions – no matter how urgent.