July 18, 2011

"Startup Employees: The Heroes and Villains" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

It takes a village to raise a child, says an old African proverb. It takes more than just the founder to raise a startup. It takes people of all types, some who join and stay, some who join and exit rapidly, others who join and after a while move on, and finally those who join, grow and become leaders.

It is the last category that needs to be nurtured by startups. Large companies have elaborate HR plans and policies for identifying, training, nurturing future leaders. In as much as it is a truism that it is more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep and mine existing one, it is also true that growing talent in-house, especially in a startup, is crucial. VC backed startups splurge money on attracting and hiring the “best” and “most experienced” from larger companies but then apart from raising expectations all round (within and without the startup), it is hard to put one’s finger on the real value of such hires. The situation is particularly acute in India because of the overall lack of managerial talent along with the difficulty in attracting experienced executives to a startup. The “best and experienced” therefore command hefty premiums.

On the other hand, how many startups really invest time, energy and effort in growing leaders. Of course, not all employees can become leaders. But everyone’s capacity and capability can be enhanced through exposure, responsibility, training and mentoring. Here, based on my experience, are typical attributes of employees who need to have their capabilities and capacities enhanced so that they can continue to contribute to the company. Without adequate attention, they can become road blocks to the growth of the company:

Khoon Pasina:
The backbone of the company. They’re the ones who’re the passionate, driven and “no problem is too hard” sort. They can go overboard with their passion as they don’t know how to get their passion to permeate across the company.

Main Sundar Hoon (MSH): These are employees who’s self-image is at variance with their actual capabilities. MSHs are parsimonious with information and cagey with their plans, are loath to disclose reasons for their actions, aren’t excited by performance reviews and the like. They’re happy being in their comfort zones and are generally reluctant to experiment and attempt new initiatives. They’re very good at what they do and know it.

Laawaris: This type suffers from low confidence. This type needs constant molly coddling and reassurance. Have fragile egos as well. They shy away from confrontation and cannot say “No!” to anyone’s face. They’d rather send emails justifying or rationalizing or complaining.

Awara: These are people who have ideas galore, many of them very good. Problems occur when they’re asked to implement them. They prefer a “seat of the pants” management style and hate working to a plan or following guidelines. They roam around the company and have a good understanding of the various functions that exist.

Gumnaam/Anamika: These are the silent largely unknown and unheralded diligent workers. They enjoy the comfort that anonymity confers on them. They’re the worker bees in the company.

And then watch out for these attributes that can harm a company:

Chupa Rustom: These are the dangerous ones. One never knows where they stand on an issue. Seeing isn’t believing with this bunch! They always seem to say the right thing, are there at the right place at the right time when things are going well and it is always someone else’s fault when things don’t go well.

Rajneeti: The “politicians” who carry tales from one end of the company to another. Who revel in gossip and innuendo.

Nalayak:
The incompetents who are a drag on the company. They neither have the inclination or the desire to learn, take feedback and contribute.

Khuddaar: The selfish kind. Who’re in it for personal glory and for making money, never mind the company. They aren’t also immune to resorting to throwing tantrums to get their way.

Kaminey: The blatantly unethical kind. They will resort to lying, cheating, fudging bills and the like.

It is the job of the leadership to identify these employees and put in place mechanisms to ensure that the right kind of employees remain and thrive while removing the ones that work to the detriment of the company. Those who remain must believe and work towards making their company “Hero No. 1”.

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.