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How are India's Unicorns dealing with the Talent War
Hiring and Recruitment

How are India's Unicorns dealing with the Talent War

Nirvi B
August 18, 2023

It’s raining unicorns in India: a flashing headline that recently caught my eye. The next two lines read, “There are only two months left in the year 2021 and at least 30 firms have already joined the exclusive unicorn club.” Unicorns are those start-ups which have crossed the valuation of $1 billion or more.

So-called for their rarity in the start-up sector, Unicorns now appear to be the norm. Every entrepreneur in the Indian startup scene aspires to become a unicorn. This year's number (31 unicorns) are more than the 26 unicorns India produced in all the previous years combined.

Start-ups usually have a blank slate when it comes to building new alternatives to hire top talent. The so-called war for talent has raged across the corporate world for the past 20 years or more, with a plethora of published articles and books on how firms can best attract and keep the talented ones.

People's experiences with organisations are also becoming more fluid. It's unlikely to happen that all in-house skills (of your talent) will be practical or affordable in the long run. Figuring out where and how to engage flexible talent, even freelancers and contractors, is becoming increasingly important.

Here's how India's most recent, and well-known unicorns are dealing with the current talent war in 2023.

1. Creating an effective strategic talent pipeline: Winning before the talent war

First blow is half the battle. Pipelining talent is a good technique to hire top talent faster and better during the talent war. “We have a huge talent pool in our country with more professionals looking to explore available opportunities in the crypto industry." said Mudita Chauhan, Lead HR of India's first crypto Unicorn - CoinDCX. "We constantly reach out to talent to give them complete clarity on our business plans and our vision for our growth” she further adds.

A talent pipeline is a database of qualified people who are able to fill imminent openings. Simply put, competent individuals are present in these talent pools or talent communities.

The team at the popular credit card management app, CRED, utilizes networking and referrals, social media, hiring partners and targeted sourcing. It also receives applications through various other channels, including emails, texts, and platforms like LinkedIn where aspirants demonstrate their unique capabilities to stand out from the clutter.

2. Choosing your battles: Fully remote or a hybrid working model?

Slice, a Fintech company which hasn't achieved the unicorn status yet, initiated three-day workweek with a compensation of 80% of the current market rate for its staff. According to Rajan Bajaj, the company's founder, this is a win-win situation, as it allows workers to pursue other passions or  — or other gigs — while still receiving consistent compensation and benefits from Slice.

“This is the future of work. People don’t want to be tied down to a job.”

The organisation believes that their strategy will set them apart from the competitors. The firm currently employs 450 people and plans to hire 1,000 engineers and product managers over the next three years.

According to Prudential's Pulse of the American Worker Survey, nearly half of respondents (42%) would leave their current employer if long-term remote work rules were not addressed. If you want to recruit and keep top talent during the talent war in India, the message is clear: provide a flexible work model that accommodates candidates' and employees' work habits and productivity.

3. Being fully equipped with better benefits plan, beyond salary

The online grocery ordering platform Grofers, which entered the Unicorn club this year, said it is taking multiple steps towards building a more "inclusive and diverse" organisation, including offering an endowment of Rs 50,000 per child for new parents and up to 10 days of period leave in a year.

The well-capitalized unicorns aren't relying on employee stock options to attract and retain employees. They are offering advantages such as automobiles, the newest technologies, and even pet insurance in addition to a significant raise in pay. BharatPe, for example, recently made headlines when CEO Ashneer Grover announced on LinkedIn that 100 engineers will receive BMW superbikes and the latest iPads.

4. Managing employee performance to maximise potential

Along with the high-tech gadgets & trips to the Cricket World Cup in Dubai, BharatPe also initiated early appraisals. The talent war in India isn't just a "talent attraction" trend; it persists when talented players join an organisation, ensuring the best ones stay put and don't drift away to other organisations; especially in today's world where Millennials and Gen Z make up the workforce, being quick to switch companies if they don't see development and progress.

At Urban Company, employees are awarded ESOPs at the time of recruitment, during an appraisal cycle, and as part of various internal recognition programmes. The objective is to provide ownership and economic rewards to those who are contributing to the company’s success and to use it as an instrument to attract and retain top talent.

5. Becoming an employer everybody talks about: Retaining top talent

All unicorns, new and old, started their adventures with a solid talent pipeline. What, on the other hand, has made them stick? The question before unicorns like Zomato is, how do we secure our talent fours years down from now, how do we keep them from leaving the organisation? Steven Murray, the Global Head of Recruitment and People Development of Zomato, reveals that something the company does really well is being culture first and encouraging founder’s mentality.

“Everyone (employees) believes that Zomato is their own. If there is a problem, I will fix it.  We drive that in the organization and celebrate it.”

6. Getting into the battlefield: Hiring the ideal candidates with a well-planned recruiting strategy

Depending on the industry in which unicorns operate, their hiring strategy is frequently in flux. They need all-weather talent capable of wearing several hats as the scenario demands in their growth path in market place, as they are more dynamic in nature.

Another anecdote from CRED, talks about a team member, Priyanshi Poddar, who was surprised to receive MacBook Air laptop from the company a week after accepting the job offer. Two days before she joined work, to her astonishment, Poddar found that she had received a month’s salary in advance. “Getting the salary in advance helped because I had moved cities," says Poddar, 26, who moved to Bengaluru from Mumbai.

7. Expecting some loses during the talent war

People will depart, including those you know you need. CEOs must learn to be at ease with being uncomfortable. Many people will have to relinquish authority and allow managers to make more judgments about how their direct subordinates work. There is no playbook for the rapid change that has occurred in the business world, but leaders who trust their managers can typically make better and faster judgments.

The following 12 to 18 months will almost certainly be as trial and error-filled as the previous 18 months. No one can expect to nail their hiring and retention strategy the first time around, but by being open to learning from mistakes and collaborating with managers, leaders can make better judgments and, in the end, create a better workplace.

8. Finally, winning the talent war

In recent weeks, there has been talk regarding the purchasing power of companies like BYJU'S, CRED, Unacademy, and other Unicorns that have become known for their generous pay packages. Many firms trimmed employee costs in the aftermath of the shutdown, but the focus has now shifted to growth, which means the talent wars have officially begun.

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