The fast-growing SME sector is improving and enabling the employment market in India. But the road ahead is not without challenges. Maintaining harmony among the new and existing employees, fighting for the same talent with larger corporations and building their brand is only half the success story. There are KPIs to keep up with and new strategies to build on to retain employees while keeping the DNA of the organisation intact.
How are employers bridging these gaps, reinventing work-life balance and catering to the needs of their employees?
Karina Bhasin, Chief Operating Officer and founding member, Even Cargo, helps us understand unconscious biases plaguing the SME sector and the immense opportunities for growth and learning. She also talks about creating a separate and strong identity for women at work and bringing them to the formal economy.
Can you tell us about the bigger role that the SME sector can play in enabling and boosting the employment landscape of India? What are the gaps and opportunities you are building on at Even Cargo with a women-centric workforce?
When we start a small or a medium enterprise, the concept of ASK (aspirations, skills and knowledge) is essential where we try to align the aspirations, skills and knowledge of the employees with the organisation. But as we grow, the risk-taking capacity starts to shrink with too much at stake.
That’s when we start looking for people, who are skilled and can be secured into the structure of the organisation.
But by doing so, we end up not developing leadership qualities into our existing employees. I believe it is crucial to encourage learning and development at every stage.
Once a small enterprise enters into a medium enterprise phase, it is important to maintain harmony among employees – new and old – to ensure that there is no insecurity among them.
As the enterprise grows, it is important to check if the hierarchy of the organisation structure has taken over the intent and spirit, with which the core team started the enterprise so as to create a conducive environment towards learning.
In the end, the employees must be satisfied and that’s why the senior leadership team should make sure that the aspirations of the new recruits align with the vision and DNA of the organisation.
Reports suggest that, as soon as SMEs start to scale up, they focus on acquiring a product officer, strategy officer, CIO and CFO and miss out on talent management. What is your opinion?
With an evolving organisation, talent requirements keep changing. So, one needs to have that discussion in an open and safe environment where employees can speak freely if they want to lead a certain department or change their vertical. The HR manager’s role is not limited to managing PF, ESI or creating a hierarchy chart anymore. It involves communicating with the employees with empathy while offering them sick leave or bereavement leave.
When you start an organisation, a lot of will is required but later, it is all about the skill.
The alignment of these two aspects is what drives an enterprise to greater heights.
At Even Cargo, which provides women with employment opportunities with e-commerce companies, what are the strategies that you have employed to help women grow and reach their highest potential at the organisation?
In my professional and personal life, I have only one rule: Everyone is a leader. At Even Cargo, I am only an enabler in my employee’s growth. With an all-women's organisation, we understand the challenges with which a woman is coming to the office and, hence, have tried to make the hours as flexible as possible. I want women to identify themselves with the job role and that is the first task we take up in the organisation. Most of our women employees are single mothers, so they have their own set of personal challenges. But it is essential for them to have a separate and strong identity.
Our HR policies are designed in such a manner that there is a lot of compassion and empathy towards the employees. There is bereavement policy, menstrual policy, volunteer work policy, and the like, keeping their needs in mind. We do have mental health sessions and a psychiatrist onboard so every employee can reach out to them whenever they need. There are also legal consultants so women facing problems in their marriage can reach out.
As the organisation grows and starts generating revenue, there is complete transparency and the benefits are enjoyed by everyone from senior management to the bottom line.
In the current scenario, SMEs and larger corporations are fighting for the same talent. How do you create a distinguishing employer value proposition (EVP) to attract the top talent?
When we are hiring, we design the job description in clear alignment with what the employee will be doing at the organisation. To inculcate them into the organisation, we provide on-the-job training, apprenticeship and part-time work for at least two weeks. Once they decide to join our organisation, we make sure to discuss and address the challenges they might have.
Most corporations have a Master’s degree as a prerequisite for applications. While those degrees are essential for CFO and CMO positions, most mid-level employees in India don’t hold a Master’s degree and, hence, are unable to apply for bigger roles at these corporations.
At an SME, the focus is on the training process since most of the jobs are one-of-its-kind. Employees can explore more.
At our organisation, we are trying initiatives such as internship, training, volunteering and apprenticeship as an organic way for talent acquisition; not going by degree or years of experience as the criteria. Every start-up is borne out of a new idea for which the skills might not yet be available in the market.
We also have a patient period (three months) in our offer letter which helps the employer and employee test each other. If it doesn’t work out for either party, we mutually part ways.
What would your advice be for HR leaders to retain talent in this ever-evolving sector?
While we talk about gender diversity, inclusion and equality, there are still so many layers of unconscious bias that still exist in terms of degrees, qualification and educational background. But SMEs and start-ups can leverage the potential of talent out there and give them opportunities because these are innovative business models that haven’t existed in the past. We can learn together, and as the organisation grows, talent can also grow.