Fighting the Talent War – 4 strategies startups can action


Hiring high performing employees and more importantly retaining them has always been a challenge for organisations across the globe. In India however, despite the fact that over 300 million people are expected to enter the labour workforce by 2025, the ongoing gaps in education, skill and vocational training have likened this challenge to a talent war scenario.


The talent war is especially evident for startups where above market salaries and expensive employee benefits may not be economically feasible. Here, creating a culture that pulls a highly skilled and talented workforce therefore becomes very important. Moreover, once attracted, startups need to actively engage their employees and create optimum working environments to retain this talent as the organisation grows.


At a recent event hosted by Ennovent, Rakesh Sharma, President and CEO of Mobilous Inc shared his insights on understanding what influences employee performance and loyalty and listed four strategies that startups can action when fighting this talent war.



Sell vision not benefits: Building a core team without having a tangible product or customers can be challenging. When recruiting for core team members, founders must focus on selling their vision and the value that the startup will create for its customers. By selling how the startup will develop an employee’s core capabilities, founders can highlight the long-term career development their startup can offer. Often, this challenge to develop oneself is perceived to be far more valuable to employees than free lunches or sabbaticals.


Build a culture of mutual respect: Different employees will have different material needs. For example, employees in white-collar jobs may be satisfied with a lower pay if it trades off with important skill development while those in blue-collar jobs require financial incentives as their salary supports an entire family. Regardless of the job, a startup must build a culture of mutual respect where everyone from the peon to the operations manager is treated equally. An example of this would be to give shares to all employees within your team or to undertake annual appraisals for all levels of staff. By illustrating the value each person brings to the team, a culture of mutual respect can be built which is invaluable when retaining employees.


Share problems, not solutions: Employers stand out when they understand the aspirations of their team members and create ownership for the work that they do. Practically, this means that founders should not be fixated on discipline and clock in/out times but rather be fixated on project timelines. Moreover, instead of sharing solutions, startups should share the problem and let the team come up with adequate solutions. By allowing staff to take decisions – even the wrong ones at times – and showing confidence in their abilities, startups can inject pride in employees which ultimately leads to employees being excited about their jobs in the long term.


Communication is a two-way street: To build trust in the startup, it is essential that founders regularly communicate with the team including both the positive and the negative developments. Not only does this create a culture of trust, but also enables employees to contribute with ideas that may significantly impact the startup. Often employees that choose to work in startups do so because they like to contribute towards developing something new and valuable. A company culture where team members are heard and their feedback is worked upon generates trust and significantly helps in retaining talent.


Fighting the talent war – like many things in a startup – is more of a psychological strategy. Ultimately, allowing your employees to develop important career skills, building a culture of mutual respect and encouraging ownership in one’s work goes a much longer way in retaining talent than any financial incentives.


Ennovent’s next workshop on Legal Structures and Regulatory Governance will be held in Delhi on 17th December and will feature legal expert Pankaj Jain from Impact Law Partners. Register for the workshop now.

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