Seldom Do Startups Look Inwards: Sanjeev Verma, VP – HR at STT GDC India

Talk to any startup Co-Founder about his people-related challenges. The key challenge that most of them would tell you is that ‘I am facing difficulty in attracting and retaining the right talent‘. Culturro’s team was in conversation with Sanjeev Verma, VP – HR at STT GDC India to find the answer to the same. Prior to joining STT GDC India Sanjeev has worked with organizations such as Sodexo SVC India, ESPN Star Sports, Essar Steel, and BHEL, formulating and executing HR strategies including attracting and retaining the right talent.

The most common statements you end up hearing would be
“We hired a bunch of people from reputed companies and with reputed degrees but not all of them performed at the same level” or
“There are not enough candidates that fit into what we need” or
“The candidates these days are just jumping ships” or to a similar effect.

The underlying problem all of them have is the same.  They find it difficult to find the right talent and attract them to join them and when they finally do, they are not able to retain them or make the employees perform at the expected level. This is a common problem with many startups, whether it’s bootstrapped or funded.

Where is the exact problem? And what is the solution to that? Sanjeev Verma says “Most human beings have a tendency to look outwards to find solutions to their problems. The same is also applicable to most startup founders. Seldom do founders stop and take a look inward on their approach to attract and retain talent. Are they looking at the right places for the right talent? What view are they giving about their company to prospective candidates? What environment and experiences do they provide to employees that join?” He further adds “Technical or functional skills have become table stakes these days. The line managers do a fantastic job of identifying candidates that are equipped with these skills. But it becomes an HR responsibility, or in startup’s case founder’s responsibility to be the ‘Culture Gatekeeper’.”

As per Sanjeev, the guru mantra to attract and retain talent revolves around three points

1) Mindset shift from “tried and tested talent” to “experimentation”
2) Be transparent about the company’s details coupled with sharing of the company’s Vision
3) Give the employees the right and consistent experiences

The approach to source and hire employees beckons a new look. Sanjeev says “The mindset to source potential candidates has to go beyond tried and tested methods. Looking for a stamp of an established startup or well-known global companies does not work for a young startup, nor does the tag of a reputed educational institute. Startups need to focus on expanding the catchment areas to previously unexplored areas. These unexplored areas can be geographies, educational backgrounds, or even industries. The focus should be on hiring for the right attitude and zeal to learn, skills can be taught. Only a candidate that has the right attitude and hunger to learn & succeed will see value in joining a startup and vice-versa. The approach has to be more of experimentation.”

The second step is to review what you communicate while hiring a prospective employee. Sanjeev Verma adds “When a candidate comes for an interview, what picture you build for him/her matters a lot. Are you giving the candidate the true picture about your company or building a rosy picture? Being transparent about the nuances of the company’s functioning and not overselling is important for the candidate to make an informed decision. This has to be coupled with the vision under which the company is being built. Candidates have to be aware that they are not entering a Google or Facebook but they are entering a company that yearns to be the ‘next big thing’. Everyone who joins has to contribute to take the company where it envisions to go. Things do not exist on a platter, they need to be built. And everyone shares the responsibility of building from the ground up.”

Finally, the experiences that employees go through matter a lot whether they are going to stick around and help the founders build their vision or not. Sanjeev Verma summarizes “Consistency and accuracy of the experiences employees go through is the final aspect of retaining the right talent. Is the company, and more importantly founders, true to the words that they communicated – while hiring the candidate or there are surprises in store for new employees? People make mistakes and even more so at startups as there is a lot of experimentation going on. Do we have an appetite for risk-taking behaviors, how are those mistakes handled within the organization? Is the feedback loop real-time and is it closed? Is there enough objectification to give consistent experience from one employee to another?”

The three things when done in unison can be a potent mix to attract and retain the right talent. However, before that, the Founders and the HR ought to develop an open mindset to look inward and create a framework that works for them and is core to them.  Every organization is different and hence what works for one might or might not work for others.

This article was first posted on the BW Businessworld platform on October 31, 2017, as part of the Workplace Experience Ranking 2017 knowledge series.

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