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Find, Attract and Retain employees and partners in India

by: Divya Susan Varkey, Associate partner of Hofstede Insights
 

 

Why should I read this document?

 
Beyond the bureaucratic hurdles of setting up a business, the logistical and cultural challenges of finding, attracting and retaining employees and partners can be daunting in any country. A highly dynamic culture due to its very young population (more than 65% of the population is below 35 years of age) and tremendous diversity, the reader will benefit from reading this document on India written by an Indian interculturalist living in Bangalore, having co-started a company and built a young team. The author has also trained individuals from 19 different nationalities on working in India, including entrepreneurial delegations of Swissnex India, 20% of whom have successfully set up businesses in countries other than their own. The document gives pointers about finding the right employees and partners for your business, what their motivators are, what the ideal management style is and how to establish and maintain a relationship with the team. 
 

Important!

5 most important things to know about doing business in India (if you only read one thing this is what you should read)
 
  • India is a land of contrasts - rule of thumb: NEVER ASSUME AND ALWAYS RECONFIRM. 
  • The two things I always ask my clients to pack in their suitcases while doing business in India: PATIENCE and FLEXIBILITY
  • Even after reading this document and several others, it is recommended that you take the time to observe, ask and learn while in different localities in India.
  • In India, generally, relationships trump merit and social status trumps relationships.
  • An ideal boss in India is one that earns respect through merit while gaining the trust of his employees by taking care of them like family. 
A highly complex and often contrasting culture, India can be a confusing destination for most foreigners. With 1.3 billion people, 7 main religions, 23 officially recognised languages and various socio-economic strata, any general statement made about India and Indians can be at the same time true and frustratingly false. India is often referred to as a “cultural mosaic” that allows for diversity and where communities thrive while maintaining their cultural identities. Having a rich history of cultural influences from within and outside, the diversity is almost astounding in its overtness. It is a common sight to see a temple and a mosque or church side by side, sharing a wall sometimes (see attached picture). Schools in India celebrate every festival, and public holidays include the festivals of all main religions. It is common to see people speak two different languages to each other and make themselves understood perfectly. 
 
To the undiscerning eye, it may seem that India is a disarray of carelessly scattered cultural peculiarities, but when one looks closer, the ability of India to include is apparent - there is a place for everyone in this country, but to know that place is the cultural puzzle that one needs to solve to be a prominent piece in this mosaic. 
 
This cultural puzzle applies also to attracting and retaining employees and partners in a highly competitive business environment and starts with “knowing your place”.
 

 

 
 
 
 
As is customary for any business plan in any country, identifying one’s niche and existing competition is a prerequisite to starting a business in India too. This exercise is also a prerequisite to branding oneself in order to attract the right talent and partners in India. A borderline Masculine cultural predisposition combined with a hierarchical DNA (high Power Distance) that pervades Indian society, “who the employer is” is sometimes more important than “what the employer pays”. (Of course, the reader must keep in mind the level of employees that he/she is looking to hire - the aforesaid statement will stand true for skilled, college educated employees, but will be the opposite for non-skilled labourers. In such cases of doubt, the reader is encouraged to keep in mind Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs - for unskilled labourers, money is generally the key motivator to join a company, whereas for skilled workers, it would be more complex as you go up the ladder. This document is written with the assumption that the reader is looking to employ skilled workers in India.)
 
This part of the document will be addressed in two parts - “Finding, Attracting and Retaining Employees” and “Finding, Attracting and Retaining Partners”
 

Finding, Attracting and Retaining Employees

 
The first step to finding talent is to determine whether the particular role would require a fresher or an experienced employee. Freshers are relatively easy to find if you have the flexibility and time to hone their skills to match your requirement. With a very young population, Indian universities enrol 140 million youth in various fields all over the country, according to a 2013 report by the Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India (see:
http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics/AISHE2011-12P_1.pdf). 
 
The most sought after graduates come from the “Top” to “Tier 1” institutions in India, often earning the highest salaries in the most reputed companies. See the list here: (http://www.careers360.com/careers360_cms/newsimages/file/cluster.pdf)
 
Finding talent is without doubt, challenging, but relatively easy with the number of graduates being churned out every year. Every university in India has a “Placement Cell” to whom companies can reach out and interview potential candidates while they are still in college, offering employment as soon as they graduate. This is the best way to find fresh talent from relevant universities while avoiding the myriad applications that come your way when advertising a position on your website. 
 
Youth in India, especially from the cities, are eager for exciting and innovative roles which will spearhead their career while earning them a good salary. Owing to the emphasis on “status”, thanks to a hierarchical social structure (the caste system has been in the Indian DNA for centuries now), freshers often look for a “good brand-name” to start their career with. It is believed (and to a great extent true), that starting with a reputed brand can give employees a headstart in their careers. The brand name of the employer also gives a better social status to the employee and his family (the better known the brand, the greater acknowledgement that the individual has done well to earn his position). Hence, for a new brand entering India, it is equally important to engage in branding and marketing activities so that you are well-recognised amongst the public. 
 
If you are a start-up and looking for fresh talent, you will do well to emphasise how you are different from the others and how you plan to move ahead of competition. Being a part of an international brand is an attractive prospect for Indian graduates, especially if they see the possibility of international exposure and experience, and to move quickly up the corporate ladder within your company. Indian youth, especially from cities like Bangalore and Mumbai are more open to startup ecosystems that offer a dynamic and innovative work atmosphere., while youth from other parts of India tend to look for a more steady career path within reputed companies.
 
Experienced professionals often promote their profiles on professional platforms like LinkedIn and if looking for a job change, scour through job platforms like Naukri.com, Indeed.co.in, etc. Again, your brand name plays a very prominent role in attracting such talent. However, very often, individuals with a few years of experience in a “big brand”, having proven their caliber in society,  look for more exciting opportunities in startups, including the opportunity for international experience and quicker growth. 
 
Once you find and attract the right employees, retaining them is where more cultural peculiarities set in. In India, the workplace is not just a workplace, but a place where social bonds are forged. Indians forge strong relationships at work, and are motivated by their team, as much as they are by their job or salary. Thus, companies in India invest heavily in team-building events and exercises to give teams the opportunity to mingle outside of work. Your role as a manager plays an important role in attracting and retaining talent too. An ideal manager in India is one who earns his/her team’s respect through merit, as well as their trust through taking a personal interest in them. An ideal manager not only is good at what he/she does but takes the time to know his/her team members personally and inquires regularly about their family/loved ones.
 
To summarise, while this article has already mentioned the importance of status in Indian society, there are very definitive factors that help in elevating the status of your employees, thus, attracting and retaining relevant talent: 
 
  • being a “big-brand” employer that is well known in the industry and/or gets regular visibility in the media
  • if you are a startup, offering your employees a steady and quick growth path, including the opportunity to be at the management level and to develop their professional skills
  • offering international experience and exposure
  • offering higher salaries
 
The second point stands true even for “big-brand” employers - employees in India expect to be promoted to the next level at milestones, as it is a huge motivator for them (high Masculinity). Multinationals, to this end, create new job titles for their Indian employees to get promoted to, which are non-existent in their other offices. A British manager that the author had the opportunity to train, was astounded that his Indian team refused vehemently a suggestion to make the job titles in India according to global standards. This has been reported in various multinationals across India. Younger companies create exciting and innovative titles for their young workforce to avoid the hierarchical nature of traditional job titles. 
 
Knowing your place and helping your employees understand their place within the company, is hence, a very important exercise in attracting and retaining good talent in India. 
 

Finding, Attracting and Retaining Partners

 
Finding partners in India can be a more challenging exercise because of the monetary commitments involved. It is highly recommended that companies go through their chambers of commerce or reputed organisations (e.g. Swissnex) to forge partnerships, as the background work on potential partners is already done for you in these cases. Finding partners by yourself can be an extremely daunting and risky exercise unless you have a local you can trust. 
 
Attracting and retaining partners is less complex than in the case of employees, as your offering and potential will be the best motivator for potential partners to sign the deal with you. Keeping the details of the deal transparent and clear is recommended, as is ensuring that any contract is discussed in its entirety and the necessary signatures obtained. 
 
Past the contractual agreement, as India is a relationship oriented culture, it is recommended that you try to maintain a good personal relationship with your partner(s). India tends to be more individualistic and transactional in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, and more relationship oriented in more rural areas - so where you are will be a definitive factor in the extent of relationship that is expected. 
 

Short case study


In the events management company co-founded by the author, a team of 20 individuals were carefully built in the first few years, quickly earning the company and its employees good repute in the events industry. As expected, a large multinational events management firm started its efforts to headhunt some of the better employees, offering them higher salaries. The employees’ response - “We refuse, because in a bigger company, we would be just another employee, whereas here, we are a part of making the company grow.” The factors that went in our favor were: 1) Huge efforts to brand ourselves to be one of the better known companies in the industry, 2) Taking good care of employees and their welfare and 3) A promise of quick growth within the young company.