How these startups cultivate unique practices to retain talent

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Casual fun and innovativeness combined with the required level of seriousness towards business can keep employees motivated, disciplined and loyal.

While corporates are caricaturised in popular culture by cubicles, dark suits, board meetings and spreadsheets, startups in the digital age have created their own niche culture, which is different. They are usually known for an easy going, non-hierarchical setup and informal code of conduct. However, the core values of business remain relevant for any company, especially so for a fledgling startup looking to find its feet. Many startups do not find it easy to motivate talent that can deliver results at the desired pace, especially if the startups are at a high growth stage. Hence, it is critical for them to find ways to retain talent and at the same time, ensure employees are engaged. Many startups have introduced innovative work practices that combine the element of fun with the seriousness of business.

Gamifying experience
Innovative ways to reinforce time-tested rules are a key aspect being explored by many. For instance, Mutterfly, a startup specialising in the rental marketplace for premium products, was facing a challenge in terms of employee punctuality. The startup has devised a fun way of reinforcing time schedules, where latecomers are required to pay a penalty. This seemingly trivial method asks members who walk in late to deposit a sum into the ‘Treats Box’. Staff who enter office after 9.30 a.m. have to put Rs 20 into the box. If they are late on consecutive days, this penalty doubles to Rs 40, then Rs 80 and so on. At the end of the month, the ‘Treats Box’ is emptied for a party for the entire office—a movie, food or drinks, as decided by the member who ‘contributes’ the most! This gamification of a basic employee trait, such as punctuality, allows workplace discipline to be maintained without friction. This, in turn, results in a playful environment, where latecomers receive a ‘thank you’ from their team members.

Zapr, a media-tech startup, has added a layer in its recruitment process. Zapr uses the ‘meetup platform’ to host gatherings that encourage discourses on innovative and inventive use of technology, which the Company has developed and learned over a period of time. Zapr also utilises these sessions to introduce potential employees to its work culture and also invites subject-matter experts from various fields in the industry. 

Cool ways to convey messages
While rules are important, it is often the medium of communication that makes all the difference. Supari Studio, a six year-old startup, has designed an induction manual exclusively for new hires. The manual called ‘Supari’s Guide on How to Daku 101’, is a quirky but interesting presentation of the onboarding process for new members of the team. These seemingly informal ways of introducing the startup and easing in the new entrant allow for frank and free discussion, while retaining the required seriousness around sensitive issues, such as sexual harassment policy.

The startup encourages team building through learning, and organises fun sessions with specialists from fields, such as voice overs, calligraphy and design thinking that take them through the unique aspects of their profession.

The Company also has a concept of ‘taskforces’, where each and every member of the company is a part of a unique goal-oriented taskforce. For example, the Ideation Taskforce, called ‘Tubelight’ comprises producers, graphic designers and assistant directors, who work together to come up with the best ways to conduct an upcoming client brief. Similarly, other task forces, such as ‘LogSabha’ (the HR task force) and ‘Gupshup’ (the communications task force), form similar groupings of team members for creating innovative solutions. This allows the teams to constantly renovate their approach to business challenges while also keeping the members engaged by exposing them to avenues beyond what they were hired for.

The manual called ‘Supari’s Guide on How to Daku 101’, is a quirky but interesting presentation of the onboarding process for new members of the team. 

Employees are also shuffled among the task forces, to allow them to develop skills in new areas to breaks the monotony of the workplace, while also creating an internal pool of fresh ideas.

“We ensure creative freedom, where ideas and opinions are shared. Employees become part of the task force based on their preference and skillset. For instance, a people’s person can contribute to the HR taskforce. It breaks the monotony with the job role and gives them the freedom to explore cross-functional roles,” says Lavanya Nair, lead, people & culture, Supari Studios.

Being open and interactive
While these measures are focussed on the team that is already on board, Zapr, a media-tech startup, has added a layer in its recruitment process. Zapr uses the ‘meetup platform’ to host gatherings that encourage discourses on innovative and inventive use of technology, which the Company has developed and learned over a period of time. Zapr also utilises these sessions to introduce potential employees to its work culture and also invites subject-matter experts from various fields in the industry. These meet-ups provide an interesting avenue, where potential candidates can freely mingle and interact with the current employees and get a first-hand feel of the work culture. The startup keeps building on the experience via the social media, where employees share their experiences with Zapr, while also maintaining the ‘Life at Zapr’ blog. The blog features employees’ experience at the workplace—the work culture and life at the startup.

This seemingly trivial method asks members who walk in late to deposit a sum into the ‘Treats Box’. Staff who enter office after 9.30 a.m. have to put Rs 20 into the box. If they are late on consecutive days, this penalty doubles to Rs 40, then Rs 80 and so on. At the end of the month, the ‘Treats Box’ is emptied for a party for the entire office — a movie, food or drinks, as decided by the member who ‘contributes’ the most! 

“A candidate gets to evaluate us as a prospective employer before joining us. We speak about our work and also let them experience our culture as it plays an extremely decisive role during the meet-ups. If there is a match both ways, we proceed with the regular interview process,” says Siddharth Shankar Agarwal, vice-president and head- engineering, Zapr Media Labs.

The efforts to create a free-flowing stream of communication between the startup and talent have already started paying off. The Company has witnessed improvement in the recruitment metrics at various stages of the funnel, which has led to a 10 per cent increase in the number of applications received.

Communication is at the heart of HR policies, and for a startup that needs to find and retain the right talent, there can be nothing more important. The tone and medium chosen by the startup for communicating with prospective and current employees, sets the pace for team building and workplace culture. All of this will ultimately provide the company its own unique identity.

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