The Talent Question (and some answers)

In business as in life, people and relationships form the bedrock of a successful venture. As founders scale their businesses, the talent question takes prominence. Building successful, sustainable and scalable teams rests on the ability to identify, hire and retain talent.  

We recently hosted a discussion for founders of Indian consumer tech businesses with Madhav Vamsi, Head of Talent & Culture at Swiggy, and Charul Madan, Partner at Heidrick & Struggles. It was an open, honest and insightful conversation. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Culture is king

As the marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, businesses today don’t compete for just market share or investor money but for talent too. The question for founders becomes, where do you start? How do you build an A-team?

The first step is to articulate the dream. Define the vision for the business and be honest about where you are today and the kind of business you want to build. The talent search can then be targeted towards the competencies, skills and experience of those able to achieve the vision.

When candidates choose an organisation, what they are buying is an imagined reality which pairs their own ambition with the company’s vision. In the early days, the team is often just the founder(s) and close allies. As the business grows, and the team expands, sharing the dream and creating an environment where people can thrive is crucial. Founders need to be concerted in the way they think about the culture they are seeking to create.  

All too often, organisations don’t have a clearly defined and openly discussed culture, one that supports and galvanises their purpose. In organisations with self-aware cultures that harness the positivity, talent, and productivity of their workforce, team members express pride in what they do. They are happy to fulfil their role in ensuring not only that the work is done, but that it’s done well.

The starting point is to think about and define your organisation archetype. That becomes your culture. Employee value proposition (EVP) is what makes your business unique - the tone, symbols and rituals that define the business. For example, Swiggy uses action words (like ‘Stand up, Disagree and Commit’) as part of its EVP to ensure everyone in the organisation, regardless of who they are or what they do, speaks the same cultural language.

Building your social brand

Social media is here to stay and individuals, organisations and brands are defined by their ‘social’ voice. As millennials flood the workforce, the need for founders to define their social brand becomes increasingly important. That can be difficult to do, especially if you’re someone who likes to keep things private or prefers more direct means of engagement. But today, people gauge a company, a role or its employees by the stories told and shared online.

To build a strong social brand you need to remember the following:

  • Be authentic: Don’t hesitate to ‘keep it real’. As a leader, create a voice that your employees identify with and feel inspired by, and make it as personal as possible
  • Sell the dream: Human beings seek purpose and employees are increasingly attracted to organisations that can deliver purpose beyond compensation
  • Curate personalised and meaningful stories: This is a low spend high impact means of engagement and an easy way to win the hearts and minds of potential employees. Sharing stories of success or glimpses of the organisation’s culture instantly builds rapport

Not everyone needs NASA scientists

Everyone reaches for the C-suite and the perceived credibility that comes with hiring talent from large multinational companies. This is even more pronounced as founders prepare to scale their businesses. No doubt hiring veterans with impressive resumes and impeccable qualifications has its benefits, but are they what you need? Is that what your company needs?

For younger talent, a presence on college campuses is a must, but you’ll be competing with larger organisations like Microsoft, Google etc. for the same pool of talent and that can be disheartening. Add to that, colleges tend to have their own rules and complexities which can make the hiring process long and arduous.

The solution is be creative and think outside the box. For example, Swiggy has designed a system as an alternative to conventional campus hiring. They create a case study which has a problem statement and host this online. They invite people to solve the problem and, in so doing, attract and assess candidates who otherwise might be hard to find.

Striking the right balance

How do you really gauge if a person is right for the role and will adapt to the company culture? The answer is a thoughtful interview process tailored to your company.

As our guests discussed, there are a few things to keep in mind while designing a process that works for you:

  • Identify the roles in your organisation: Be aware of the holistic organisational structure and all the roles required and how they interconnect
  • Separate the core from the tactical: Not all roles will be the same, and it’s important to distinguish the roles that are critical (i.e. leadership, finance), from the more tactical (i.e. operations, logistics)
  • One size does not fit all: Don’t apply the same rigour when interviewing for different roles. More tactical roles need consistent evaluation of specific skills and competencies. Core roles on the other hand have a tremendous potential to influence culture, and founders should personally commit time to finding candidates who will be the right chemistry fit for the business
  • Sell the dream: It’s not the job that candidates will buy into, but the dream. It’s critical to share the vision and paint a picture of the future that will inspire others to join you on your journey

Even after establishing a well-designed interview process, there are a few pitfalls:

  • Don’t ignore reference checks: A candidate will present their best selves at the interview, you need to dig deeper, talk to past employers and references to get a thorough understanding of the personality of the individual
  • Meet the candidate informally: This often reveals a different but very important side of the candidate which might not be obvious during interviews in the office
  • There are 1,500 ways to crash a plane: When you board a plane, the pilot doesn’t brief passengers on all the possible malfunctions or the potential dangers of flying. As founders, your duty is to strike the right balance between sharing the vision and over-selling the dream.
  • It’s okay to walk away: Founders need to feel comfortable with and surround themselves with a team they trust and get along with. And if during the process, you feel this might not be the right candidate for your business, it’s okay to walk away

We love spending time with founders and over the coming months we’ll be looking at other #Scaleup topics to discuss and write about. If you have questions or comments tweet us @8roadsventures or drop Shweta Bhatia an email if  you want to talk through your consumer tech opportunities.