What’s cooking in your company ‘kitchen’?

I recently asked my mother the recipe for ‘kalasu melogra’. A bit of this and a bit of that, I was told. Kalasu melogra, a Kannadiga specialty, is a mishmash of a lot of things resulting in a delicious dish.

I feel like the term perfectly describes what makes a company a great place to work. In this era of hypergrowth, with hugely inflated salaries and insane offers raining down on people with choice skill sets, what could possibly make an employee stay on? Is it the flexibility? Personal development opportunities? Is it just about the money perhaps? Or about how inclusive the environment is?

Let’s face it, a low attrition rate is a key, but often unnoticed marker of long-term success for a company. Heresy, some may say, when loyalties are switched easily and guiltlessly on both sides of the employment divide nowadays.

Here are some realisations about that recipe.


A dash of emo

Money is what powers the sun in a rich man’s world, as ABBA loved to say. Younger employees with fewer shackles such as mortgages are more liable to have a money-first attitude. They take risks with job hopping and don’t mind gaps in their resumes.

But, all things being equal, it’s not (always) the money. Talented, experienced people tend to stay on in companies where they feel an emotional connection with the vision and values of the company and feel like they’re appreciated. Modern-day enterprises recognize this and spend big bucks on building employer brands. Powerful stories of why/how the company was started and tribal knowledge of the company’s growth can fuel employer brands.

So can a strong social vision. At Clearly Blue, we’ve been focused on building a great place to work for women restarters – professionals seeking a second career after a break – from day 1. Towards this vision, we’ve formulated multiple work models – full-time WFH, part-time come to office, freelancer, consultant on retainer, intern, trainee and many variants in between – that have resonated with our team. Once a CB Inspirer (as we call ourselves), always one!

Many employees also look for the company’s involvement in local communities and causes dear to them as a marker of appreciation. Great Places to Work notes that the culture has moved from WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) to WIIFTC (What’s in it for the community?) in the pandemic. We can learn from shining examples – among many others, Medtronic India ran a vaccination program for employees and families.

A splash of convo

An open culture of communication is a good place to start the involvement game. This means not just talking, but listening: being heard. What makes them tick? What are their problems? Where can we help? Many companies such as Amazon run all-hands sessions where the newest intern can ask tough questions of CxOs.

Town halls are also great places to elaborate on the ‘Where are we headed?’ kind of questions. They give the company a human face. That is an open culture worth emulating. Jeff Bezos famously started his 2019 town hall asking employees to raise their hands if their year was rougher than his (he was going through a very public divorce). Very few hands stayed down!

My first employer Intel had an open door policy – anyone could walk up to anyone else in the company and seek a sit-down session. Tough to implement, but many get it done very effectively.

Some learning perhaps?

A culture of learning is probably second nature to most modern-day organizations. If you don’t keep learning and innovating, you risk being edged out of the marketplace. So most unicorns, technology wunderkids and up-and-coming companies encourage constant learning and training. Whether with Udemy passes, L&D sessions (that have now moved online), sponsorships for continuing education or more, an employee who is encouraged to keep learning is an employee who may stay on.

Employees appreciate companies that support their quest for variety and movement in their careers. Job rotation programs and leadership development rotations are common among large multinationals such as TELCO, Intel and GE seeking to develop a core cadre of employees who have the 50,000 foot vision needed to power the company in the years to come.

A pinch of ownership

Feeling ownership may be the secret ingredient that many companies need to bake into their retention pie. This takes many forms. ESOPs and stock grants are a de facto part of the compensation package in the technology world. In smaller organizations like ours, employees report that it is empowering to graduate from just getting things done to having a say in the company’s branding, roadmap and service design. We solicit inputs from everyone when we build out some of these artifacts for ourselves.

Setting standards for communication, building checklists and blueprints for service delivery are other examples of helping employees own their role.

The Spicy ‘Tadka’ To Round It off

Job sharing? Mid-career sabbaticals for soul searching and reflection? 11 months on and one month off? HR managers have experimented – often successfully – with flexibility options such as these to keep employees motivated and energized. Some lessons are hidden here for the IT sector staring at the ‘great resignation’.

All of this and perhaps a little bit more make for that tasty kalasu-melogra called the ‘company culture’ that leads to employees staying on through ups and downs and helping the company rise to greater heights.

What keeps your teams ticking? Have you tried some experiments in employee retention that worked well? Do share, so that I, and others can learn too.

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