Budding trends: HR in startups

Contributed by Dr. Afsha Dokadia is Assistant Professor with Tata Institute of Social Sciences & Mr. Bhrigu Joshi is Head Talent Management and Development at Makemytrip.

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HR functions need to evolve with the evolution of the organization and need to keep pace with the rate at which the organization grows. Each phase of organization’s evolution, presents its own unique people challenges. In the current socio-economic context of India, many startups are striving to address the following people challenges. It may not be an overstatement to relate success or failure to on the way they address these challenges.

  • Managing Gen-Y
  • Accelerating young leaders
  • Maintaining entrepreneurial culture
  • Talent attraction and retention in a highly dynamic environment
  • Building learning agility
  • Scaling-up of employee ecosystem
  • Rapid onboarding of employees

Engaging Gen-Y

Average age of employees in most of the e-commerce companies in India vary between 24 to 35 years. For example average age of employees in OYO rooms was around 24 years in the year 2015. This presents a very unique, yet interesting situation for the startups to address. They need to continuously reinvent ways to fully engage Gen-Y at all times.

One of the Gurgaon based startups has invested in more than 25 unique employee engagement activities in the year 2015. One of these was to start the in-house marriage bureaus! Provision of crèche, gym and variety of concierge services is becoming the norm for some of the more evolved startups. Every Monday morning at TaxiForSure, an employee discusses an inspiring story. It can relate to other than corporate life as well. It helps the employees to rethink the way they look at things and provide new perspectives to life.

Accelerating young leaders

While there is no published data on the average age of founders’ in Indian startups, many young founders have challenged the age old wisdom of grey hair. For example founder and CEO of OYO rooms Ritesh agarwal established the company when he was just 19 years old. Many of these young Founders also require the mentorships and guidance to blossom into next level leaders for their respective organizations. Interesting case in point is Rahul Yadav, the controversial founder of Housing.com. Requisite inputs by a seasoned mentor might have changed the fate for him.

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Maintaining entrepreneurial culture in startups

Culture, is a set of shared assumptions developing over a period of time since the organization evolves, inertia and bureaucracy starts setting-in. Upholding the ethos of entrepreneurship as the start-up begins to take shape into a full-fledged organization is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges for the Founders. And those who succeed in this lay the foundation of a great enterprise.

Talent attraction and retention in a highly dynamic environment

Given the unprecedented rate at which the startups are mushrooming all across the country, talent attraction and retention is likely to act as a source of competitive advantage. Those startups which have a well thought through approach to talent attraction and retention are more likely to survive these hyper competitive times. Many startups use interesting ways to attract and retain employees. For example InMobi gives Harley-Davidson bike, a Volkswagen car, or De Beers jewellery to the employees who complete 3 years with the company. Employees can also enroll for a course (need not be related to one’s job!). Upon completion, InMobi will reimburse up to $800 of the cost. Personal development of individuals is not just encouraged; it is a part of every employee’s overall goals. Startups can create a differentiated employee value proposition in similar ways.

Building learning agility

Given the highly complex and dynamic marketplace, startups (like other companies) need to learn, unlearn and relearn the continuously changing rules of the game. They need to build sufficiently agile learning infrastructure to continuously upgrade the skill set of its employees. For example one of the India’s largest online travelling agency  is using a mobile application based learning systems to impart the necessary know-how to its geographically dispersed  workforce. The app uses combination of learning methodologies such as videos, short learning nuggets, experiential games, action projects etc.

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Scaling-Up of employee ecosystem

Successful early startups are expected to rapidly grow the headcount. This would help in servicing the anticipated increase in transactions. This calls for more sophisticated HR systems such as payroll, leaves, attendance etc. Many such startups are taking active refuge in off-the-shelf ERP packages. While it is not wrong to do so, they need to simultaneously put in place a strong adoption and usage strategy.

Rapid on-boarding of employees

Many startups are experimenting with innovative techniques to on-board and induct employees. ‘Time to productivity’ and ‘Employee experience’ are tracked closely. Since 25-50% of the organization gets added every year, improvement in metrics can lead to substantial immediate gains.

Overall having robust practices to address the above mentioned people challenges mitigates the risk of failure for the startups and lay the foundation for a phenomenal take-off. Organizations such as Google, Facebook and now Airbnb have time and again taught us the importance of HR in startups. These companies, even during their early days, significantly invested to create world class people practices which helped them to endure and emerge victorious through various think-and-thins of their evolution.

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