Circles.Life: Building a culture to last

The telco has spent a lot of time and effort on building a strong culture which will help guide it during its ambitious growth.
By: | December 17, 2019

In the second part of our interview with Circles.Life we talk to its HR supremo Alex Nicolaus who is busy building and growing the team to prepare for its expansion across the region. In our first part, we spoke to co-founder Rameez Ansar who revealed Circles.Life’s three mission statements. One of them is to ”Building a great place to work & grow’’.

As his stood aptly next to the company’s mission statements, Alex Nicolaus explained how it makes him very accountable on a daily basis to have them written boldly in the wall. ‘’On the days when it’s gone a bit harder and things haven’t gone according to plan, it’s really important to have something to remind you on how to engage employees and making sure they are happy and valued. These are in our KPIs’’.

Nicolaus heads up the HR team for Circles.Life. But as the company doesn’t include titles on their business cards, he has no official one. If you ask him, he might say: ‘’Chief problem officer or people and culture leader’’. But he’s crystal clear on one thing: ‘’It would not have head or VP in the title. A title should not put people off speaking to you or build a layer of power. That goes against our flat organisation.’’

Another thing that is clear from speaking to Nicolaus is how quickly Circles.Life is expanding. The company currently has more than 400 employees in its global offices across Singapore, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Australia. But its headcount is expected to double over the next 12 months. Office space will be the next challenge as it’s already starting to get cramped at its Henderson Business Park offices as new staff gradually take over more floors.

Talking about Rameez and the other Circles.Life founders, he says ‘’These guys are moving fast and are ambitious, but it’s not a race to be the biggest next year. They are not frugal but also not burning cash which can happen with some startups’’. The roadmap is to launch in 50 countries over the next few years. ‘’When you grow so quickly you can burn cash very quickly by hiring the wrong people in the wrong places. But it’s not just about cost. We will happily pay for someone if we know there will be ROI (return on investment)’’.

But the Circles.Life HR maestro admits the first six months of the year did put a strain on the company as it took on a lot of people in a short space of time. ‘’There will always be roadblocks. But with every launch we get better and the brand is getting stronger. We launched in Australia with just 25 people’’.

Space Explorer programme
Unique to Circles.Life is its high-performance development programme which it calls Space Explorers. Nicolaus and Rameez are both strong advocates of the initiative.
The philosophy is not to just recognise high achievers and innovators by putting their posters on the wall like a normal employee of the month award, but to give them significant financial reward. This can be a bonus and six month’s worth of stock for that year. Again, the message is clear – If you perform at Circles.Life, you will be handsomely rewarded.

The beauty of Space Explorers is that the winners will consistently spread the word about high performance and the company’s culture to others. Rameez adds: ‘’To scale fast, the only way to do it is to get culture right first. I did not understand this a year ago. I’m still learning. This is a problem every company and organisation faces but we all need to find our own solution’’.

What about any pushback from his people-first culture? ‘’Once you are sure about it and you tell stakeholders that this is one of the reasons why you built the company, they can’t ever challenge that,’’ adds Rameez.

The next big challenge for the Circles.Life leadership is its organisational design, and what a much larger company will look like in the next 12 months and beyond. ‘’We are doing a lot of work on what is the right size, the right shape, the right cost and with the right level of agility,’’ adds Nicolaus. With such a strong people focus, it won’t be long before the telco is running circles around its competitors.