Article: What attracts talent to startups?

Talent Acquisition

What attracts talent to startups?

What is it about startups that attract good talent? Let's find out...
What attracts talent to startups?

“It’s strange” said the promoter to the consulting partner. “I badly miss the passion, the fire, the engagement and drive that we had when we were a 20 employee setup. Today, while we are a global foods giant, the shift in the engagement level of my employees is something that worries me every day as I walk to work. The thought of employees quitting and leaving is scary… but here’s what’s scarier and more insidious: employees who quit and stay”

Often when reviewing the levers of employee engagement – HR leaders and consulting firms talk endlessly about work-life balance, pay, benefits and fun@work events that bring people and families together.

Having worked with organizations at various stages of evolution – I can vouch for the fact that nothing beats the engagement levels of employees in a startup.

Buy hey, did we ever see startups offer work life balance or fat pay-cheques?

So what’s it about a startup that gets the adrenalin up, the momentum going? Let’s try and decode the magic recipe here.

  1. No tight boxes! We are boundary-less: Working in a startup company means talent gets to touch a bit of everything, which provides invaluable insight into different aspects of running a company and gives opportunities to try something new every time. Your hunger defines your role description.

    To what extent can we allow employees to go beyond their job descriptions in large corporations as well? How much of an effort will it take for us to tap into the passion of our employees and harness it into projects?

  2. Co-creation of ground rules: There is no policy manual in a startup. The policies and rules evolve and are created by the employees.

    Why can’t we create opportunities to co-create policies in all organizations? Airtel launched an initiative called “Sparkplug” which gets cross functional employees from across levels and functions brainstorming on business issues and even policies. GE had its famous workout and Facebook uses its intranet to co-create!*

  3. I am free to chart my path. I am empowered! Employees contribute to the business success directly and in a big way! Employees grow with the organization and the people they work with as family and friends.

  4. Rethinking rewards, careers and incentives: Startups offer a different type of reward: an incentive-based system that isn't based on years of experience and pedigree, but rather on skills attained and opportunities seized. Careers are defined by “role taking” and the degree to which individuals passionately take on new roles. The second interesting aspect is the prevalence of stock plans more than just cash based pay. The promises of a pot of gold – yes, but more importantly these inculcate a strong sense of ownership where all feel their fate is linked to how the unit or business performs.

    Can we rethink careers and pay and make it capability and ownership led?

  5. Connectedness with the leader and colleagues: Instead of looking at leaders and bosses as if they were god, employees get to interact, brainstorm and hash out ideas with leaders daily. Further, it’s all one big family and co-creation, collaboration and interdependence is the norm. Big ideas are brainstormed and success celebrated together.

    When was the last time your CEO and Exco walked with the front-liners and sipped chai with them at a dhaba? When was the last time the idea of a frontline executive got implemented? How can we enable that?


Passion is easy for an entrepreneur, but keeping that spark alive as a company grows is another story. Can we as HR enable that in our firms?

Views expressed here are personal

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Employee Engagement, Culture, #BestPractices, #HRInsights

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