Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

How To Retain Your Best Talent

Soumya Singh

Smart Energy GB

Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

How To Retain Your Best Talent

Soumya Singh

|

Smart Energy GB

Watch this episode on SpotifyWatch onListen on YouTube
Soumya Singh
Full transcript here

About Soumya Singh

In LAB #13, The BAE HQ Welcomes Soumya Singh, Deputy Director of People at Smart Energy GB.

How do you retain your best talent in the startup ecosystem? How do you identify what traits make somebody stand out? How do you keep them happy when maybe you can't offer them financial incentives?

In order to answer those questions, we've got Deputy Director of People at Smart Energy GB, Soumya Singh.

She's also a lecturer at Kingston University, an angel investor and sits at the board of multiple organisations.

Saumya Singh

Show Notes

Headline partner message

From the first time founders to the funds that back them, innovation needs different. HSBC Innovation Banking is proud to accelerate growth for tech and life science businesses, creating meaningful connections and opening up a world of opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Discover more at https://www.hsbcinnovationbanking.com/

Full video of episode

Watch this episode on SpotifyWatch onListen on YouTube

Soumya Singh Full Transcript

Soumya Singh: [00:00:00] I would say, um, curiosity, respect, humility are important traits.

Amardeep Parmar: How do you retain your best talent in the startup ecosystem? How do you identify what traits make somebody stand out? How do you keep them happy when maybe you can't offer them financial incentives? How do you keep them engaged so that they're doing their best work? And how do you handle all the awkward situations that come up as part of a scaling company and make sure the expectations are correct?

Amardeep Parmar: In order to answer those questions, we've got Deputy Director of People at Smart Energy, Soumya Singh. She's also a lecturer at Kingston University, an angel investor, and sits at the board of multiple organizations. Thanks so much for coming on today. So tell us like, how do you define and identify key talent?

Soumya Singh: Thanks Amar. Thank you for having me. Um, in terms of how we define talent, um, I think every organization will define talent slightly differently because you're [00:01:00] relying on people to get things done. So that, that is, you know, a very simple definition to go by. Who do you want? What capabilities you're after?

Soumya Singh: Um, who can deliver your organizational objectives, your priorities, and you, you work backwards in terms of, you know, those typical profiles. The world of startups and scale ups, I think it's important to devote some time to define talent, because if you don't quite know who you are after, you won't have those people in in in the right roles who will do the job for you.

Soumya Singh: So it's important to understand who you're after. Devote some time to do that and then go out in the market and get those those people into those roles. So, uh, definition of talent. However you define it. It's an important activity. It's an important process. It can be light touch. So I'm not saying, you know, you have to Uh, go to great lengths and have a team and whatnot, [00:02:00] just giving it some thought, especially if you are starting up, what is it that you're trying to achieve and who will help you to achieve those objectives as an organization.

Soumya Singh: I think that's a good starting point. 

Amardeep Parmar: What are some of the key traits that people should be thinking about that? So could you give us some examples of maybe things that you've identified in the past when you're looking for talent? 

Soumya Singh: Absolutely. I think, um, the way I look at talent, it has to be two separate categories.

Soumya Singh: So there has to be that technical competence. And by technical, I don't mean technology. It's your ability to do the core job. Whatever job you're doing, you need to have that capability in order to deliver. Especially, you know, if we're talking about the, the startup world again, because there is no time, right?

Soumya Singh: There is there is not much time, uh, to train people up. You want someone to come in, uh, and in a cliche way, [00:03:00] hit the ground running. So you need to have that, that core capability to deliver in that in that role. However, in my view, I think, um, some of the the traits that are important that will help you be successful.

Soumya Singh: I think number one would be attitude. Um, and again, it might sound a bit cliche, but that can do attitude. Leave it with me attitude, you know, I'll, I'll, I'll, there's so many people who will articulate, you know, problems brilliantly and in a very sophisticated manner. There are very few people who will actually do something about the problem.

Soumya Singh: So having that attitude is important. Being curious to my mind is, it's very important because if you're not curious, if you, if you genuinely are not interested in what's happening around you and how you can be an active part of what's happening around you, [00:04:00] um, you will, you will end up just focusing on your core role and often in smaller setups, especially, uh, there is a big overlap between what one person does and what one someone else in the team does.

Soumya Singh: So you have to understand, okay, this is what we are trying to achieve collectively. This is my role in it, but how can I add value to some of the other things that are happening around me? So being curious, trying to understand what, you know, what's happening around you. And I think the third one will have to be humility.

Soumya Singh: So whatever you do, there has to be an element of humility and respect because ultimately, um, you're collaborating, you're working together, um, and, you know, very few people can, can claim to have all the qualities in them, uh, all the traits in them [00:05:00] to, to, uh, achieve, you know, things. It is about that that collaboration.

Soumya Singh: It is about coming together working as a team. Uh, and what drives all of that is is self awareness and humility. So, um, technical competence aside, you have to have these. Um, you know, it sounds. You know, quite commonsensical. But if you don't have some of these qualities, it leads to conflict. And a lot of time gets wasted in trying to resolve conflicts, which, which were completely avoidable if only people knew that how to navigate, you know, some, some of these, uh, day to day challenges through, through the application of these qualities and traits.

Soumya Singh: So I, I would say. Um, curiosity, respect, humility, um, are important traits. And 

Amardeep Parmar: let's say you find people who are like that, right, who are delivering well for the company, they're a [00:06:00] great team player, what are the levers you have to retain them, to keep them in? Not only just keep them, but also keep them engaged so they're doing their best work.

That's 

Soumya Singh: a, that's a great question. I think, um, engagement as a term is often misunderstood. Not everyone understands engagement, but we sort of are quick to, uh, roll out engagement surveys and whatnot. I think it's important for the leaders of the organization to first of all, unpack the word engagement.

Soumya Singh: Well, what does it mean? You absolutely can measure engagement. Um, So it's not something that can't be measured. So that's, that's the good news. But, um, there is always this thing with engagement surveys. You, you very quickly fall into the trap of let's have 30 standard off the shelf questions. And then let's roll it out.

Soumya Singh: And I don't think we need to take that approach necessarily. Of course, it helps to have some kind of a structure, but Asking [00:07:00] five important questions around motivation, what keeps your, uh, people motivated and happy in the workplace really is what engagement is, is all about. So crafting five meaningful questions, asking people, you don't even have to do a survey through your one to ones, you know, people, um, can, can take that temperature on.

Soumya Singh: What, what keeps you happy? What keeps you engaged? What keeps you motivated? And if you're regularly asking people those questions, I think you, you get that picture and you're building that, that picture around. Okay, this is what is important to my people. Um, if I'm not as an organization or as leadership team, if I'm not being able to provide.

Soumya Singh: Uh, whatever you know your people have identified, then there is that risk of people will leave. And with so many options available in the market, um, I think engagement and sort of [00:08:00] treating engagement as an important driver in the work, workplace is, is very important. Often, You know, we are so worried about organizational priorities and objectives that things like engagement, motivation, morale is just seen as a soft, um, or softer aspects.

Soumya Singh: And you, you know, I've seen in my experience, I've seen where the intention was there, but there was never enough time to actually have these conversations. So I think it's important to understand what that means for your people. It's important to measure it. But I think what is even more important is to do something about it.

Soumya Singh: So often people will measure engagement through these, you know, very fancy engagement surveys, but will not do anything about it. And that's when it becomes into a disengagement survey. It's like a recipe, uh, where people will see, Oh, I, I have given you this feedback, but you haven't really done. Anything about it?

Soumya Singh: [00:09:00] So I would say, um, that's the structured approach to engagement, but some of the other levers, uh, that you can rely on, especially in a, in a smaller setup when you're starting up or when you're scaling up is to have a degree of consistency. You know, people do not like being treated inconsistently. They compare and despair, as they say.

Soumya Singh: So having, even if it is some kind of a light touch, uh, system of process policy, some kind of a system where you're tracking things, that will be appreciated. And often I understand people will not have the time to put in place a very basic system. But trust me, if you don't have that kind of a structured, consistent approach, gradually as you're scaling up, you will see that You know, because of of a lack of that system, uh, that it has led [00:10:00] to discrepancies and you don't want those kind of discrepancy, especially in, you know, in your starting up years, because you want to treat people more or less in a consistent manner.

Soumya Singh: Uh, it has to be equitable. The word equity is used often, but we don't necessarily connected with day to day. So having some kind of a light touch system helps because that contributes directly to that feeling of fairness and feeling of fairness. leads to, you know, people feeling motivated and, um, it's a little bit of that psychological contract, isn't it?

Soumya Singh: Like, I have entered into this contract that I'm going to work for you. I'm going to give you my best as an individual. But there is something in exchange, um, that, that I want from the organization, which is being treated fairly. Um, that career progression, my personal development, but you need to have some kind of a system to make sure that the outcomes are equitable for everyone.

Soumya Singh: Uh, and I think [00:11:00] transparency will follow. So if you have a light touch system, um, You know, the outcomes are going to be fairer. They are going to be transparent and you can defend, uh, you know, some of the decisions that you're making on a day to day basis if challenged. So instead of waiting for people to challenge you.

Soumya Singh: On the decisions that you're making around career progression, around hiring, around who gets promoted, who gets developed. I think it's better to start with some kind of a system, whatever that looks like for you, uh, around performance, around managing performance, around having those open and honest conversations, call it appraisal, call it development conversations.

Soumya Singh: Um, having some it. Uh, processes and policies in place. I'm not, I'm not talking about a 500 page staff handbook because not everyone will have the time to, and often, you know, it's, it's, you know, it never gets looked at. So I'm not suggesting that, but having something in place that [00:12:00] will guide your decision making, uh, and making decisions on evidence, evidence, evidence, evidence is, is I think what people should remember because it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's.

Soumya Singh: People can see through, uh, your, your decision making and even if you, um, try and justify it, uh, if it is not based on hard evidence and data, people won't buy it. So don't insult their intelligence. It's better to, to sort of have in place something that will. Enable you with the day to day management and day to day decision making instead of, um, waiting for that one person to call it to call it out.

Soumya Singh: And that's when you realize, oh, we made a mistake. So and mistakes have consequences. So I think taking that proactive approach to engagement using some of these levers. will, will help. It is time taking slightly, and you don't have to do everything. You can be quite creative, [00:13:00] um, identify what works for you.

Soumya Singh: I'm definitely not a, not an advocate of copy and paste. So you have to think about what works for me, what's manageable, what's sustainable, what can easily scale up, um, and what I can, I can stick to. you know, into guiding principles. So really, I'm talking about guiding principles. I'm not even talking about, you know, fancy processes, policies, and systems, but I am definitely talking about guiding principles because it is about equity.

Soumya Singh: It is about respect. It is about showing, um, that respect to people, uh, and treating them with the, with the care. Really, if you're calling them talent, the least you can do is to treat them with, with that. That care and respect. So those, those are some of, uh, in my long winded answer, those are some of the leavers.

Amardeep Parmar: I'm Amma from the BayHQ and this episode is powered by HHPC Innovation Banking. If you enjoy this content, make sure you press subscribe because that can keep us. [00:14:00] Making more videos and more content, just like this, let's say that you've got great talent. And while you're in here, it's like people want like huge pay rises all the time, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Or they have these certain demands. How do you know what boundaries to set with people? And let's say, when is the right time to give in someone's demands to keep them there. And you're just getting the feedback of what they want. And sometimes maybe it's a case of actually that isn't right. And it's probably better to let somebody go than to maybe bend the rules that you have for the organization.

Amardeep Parmar: to keep them there. And what else could you potentially do to keep those people happy when sometimes the demands are 

Soumya Singh: more than you're capable of? That's an excellent question. And in, again, in smaller setups or when you are growing your organization, you will often come across these kind of, um, you know, demands around what's in it for me.

Soumya Singh: I [00:15:00] want to go to the next level and I can't wait. You're rightly classifying that person as talent for your organization, but then how do you, how do you have that conversation around, it's not the right time, or maybe there is someone else who I think needs to be promoted at this time and that sort of thing.

Soumya Singh: So, um, I think the starting point. is again that, that system, uh, being clear on the remit, uh, and clarifying that remit with the individual. So often people will not necessarily work to their job description. It doesn't happen like that. Nobody works their job description and no job description in this world can actually, you know, include every single, you know, activity, task, responsibility that you do, but having some kind of A job description always helps because that's when you [00:16:00] can say, well, this is, this is the scope of your role and this is where you are at now, measuring that gap between this is, you know, this is the scope of your role, but you're definitely, uh, you know, delivering.

Soumya Singh: Above and beyond what is expected of you. And we want to recognize that, um, or we, we can't, we know that you're doing that. But unfortunately, on this occasion, we cannot do much about it. But, uh, let's talk about in six months requires a degree of confidence and requires a degree of honesty and requires a degree of, um, authenticity.

Soumya Singh: So I, I think if you can have that conversation, I think you should. Um, with the individual who is making that demand around, okay, increase my salary or, you know, promote me to the next level, uh, you have to be honest. Again, you know, the point that I made before, people can see right through your justification.

Soumya Singh: So try to be honest, [00:17:00] even if it is, um, to do with, you know, your judgment of the situation or your, um, you know, analysis of. When someone needs to be promoted, you have to enter that conversation with that degree of humility that look, this is my understanding. This is the situation that we are in. These are some of the internal factors.

Soumya Singh: And on this occasion, unfortunately, we cannot do this. Or if you are in a position to do it, then, you know, being equally ready to do that, because you don't want to delay that recognition Transcribed Uh, isn't you're putting that person at a flight risk. So I appreciate these are sensitive conversations, but and they require a degree of practice.

Soumya Singh: So, you know, you may not get it right in the first go. If you're having this kind of conversation, uh, for the very first time. Don't beat yourself up if someone then decides to leave because there is that risk of putting someone at flight risk if they don't get what [00:18:00] they're asking for. But people also value and respect honesty and transparency.

Soumya Singh: So if you give them a justification which is honest and where they know that you're not making things up and it's. you know, based on a solid reason, then they're more likely to buy into it. So there is no formula as such, but if you have that ecosystem in place where that decision making is based on evidence, half of your problems are solved straight away because people know that you are relying on some kind of a system that is.

Soumya Singh: You know, driving your decision making and then the softer aspects, which are to my mind, they're not soft. I mean, they're essential aspects when it comes to running any business, any organization is, is being honest and is being transparent. It is about respecting people, and it is also recognizing that people are there to, [00:19:00] to grow.

Soumya Singh: And, uh, you know, they are there for, for there is an interest, a vested interest. Like if I joined an organization, I want something in return. So recognizing that, and then maybe not over promising either. So if you cannot promote someone in six months time, please don't. make that promise in that conversation.

Soumya Singh: There is a tendency of, you know, procrastinating it and saying, well, I'll, you know, let, let's, let's come back and let's talk about it in six months time. So if you are making that promise, then just honor it as well. So it might sound basic, but, um, it is really about handling that conversation with that combination of, you know, evidence and some of those aspects around, you know, Trust, doing what you're saying, uh, being humble about it.

Soumya Singh: And also if, if you make a mistake, accepting that, you know, a mistake was made and then moving on from it. So I, I would, I would suggest that we take that 

Amardeep Parmar: approach. I [00:20:00] think another situation, which is quite difficult for many people when they're trying to scale a startup or grow an organization is where they've got people in positions where The head of division or chief executive of something or another.

Amardeep Parmar: And as organizations scales, it's very different role from being 20 person organization to 100 person organization. And one of the things that people struggle with is like, how do you know if the person you have the moment? Is right for the role that what's going to be happening in two years time or one year's time and how would you think about that?

Amardeep Parmar: So obviously it's you're hiring people for what the current role is, but you've also got to take in the future. Do you maybe need to get somebody above them? And how do you think about that in advance so that you can maybe manage expectations? 

Soumya Singh: Another great question, Amar. I think, um, you touched on the keyword there, which is right for the role.

Soumya Singh: Now, is someone right for the role that they're currently doing? Uh, if so, how do we know that? Uh, are [00:21:00] we having those regular conversations around, uh, performance, uh, objectives, capability, potential? Um, you know, whether you do that through annual appraisals or you do that through, um, you know, your regular one to ones.

Soumya Singh: Uh, but there has to be that measurement of, am I doing my current role effectively? Yes or no? The next thing is, Do I have potential to go to the next level again, if, if, if we talk about potential in those conversations, and more importantly, if I, if I have that line of sight, if I'm the employee, if I have that line of sight between yes, I'm doing my current role effectively, but I want to go to the next level.

Soumya Singh: How do I. Go to how do I go from point A to point B? What's the plan? Uh, so I think that conversation is important around where I am today, where I want to be in the future as an employee. [00:22:00] And then the line manager. Whether it's, you know, the CEO or someone next level down or whatever, the level is not important.

Soumya Singh: It's that conversation, which is important. And I think that responsibility sits both with the employee and the, and the person who's, who's responsible for the development of that employee. And again, honesty is important. Like if someone doesn't have those qualities, or that potential to go to the next level.

Soumya Singh: I think it's better to let the person know that, look, you know, you, you have tremendous potential, but you're not quite there yet. And this is my, my, um, plan around how I can get you from this point to the next point, but it will take time. So once you have been honest with the individual around their strengths and their areas of development, You have sort of already managed the expectations to a certain extent.

Soumya Singh: So if you then go [00:23:00] out and, um, you know, hire someone who's above them, it wouldn't be a complete shocker to them because you've already had that honest conversation with them around their potential. That time that they need to sort of grow into, uh, into the into the next role. So I think measurement of performance, honest feedback on performance, uh, will help.

Soumya Singh: And in terms of, uh, I think the second question was, um, the current role versus, you know, the future role. Not everyone wants to go to the next level. So again, making that assumption around we are scaling up from a 10 percent team to 100 percent team. I would, I would say, don't make that assumption that your head of marketing also wants to be your director of marketing or, you know, the chief marketing officer.

Soumya Singh: Having that conversation around where do you want to be in, you know, two years time, is [00:24:00] I know some people find this question a little bit. You know, artificial, but just having that, um, that sense of succession, like who in your head, even if it's a small team, you will know as the leader of the business, who will fit into what role if someone resigns.

Soumya Singh: So thinking about successors think actively thinking about, uh, what happens if X. leaves. Do you have someone within the business who can take that role? Uh, can you grow someone into that role or do you have to go outside and find a replacement? So thinking about succession planning, uh, and again, I'm not talking about, um, you know, fancy processes and bringing in a consultant to do your succession planning exercise for you.

Soumya Singh: It is in your head, but giving it some thought so that you're not caught out. If one of your key Uh, people leave. Um, you should have that sense of, okay, if this person leaves and people do leave, you know, they will leave for better opportunities outside. Nobody [00:25:00] signs up, um, to stay at your organization forever.

Soumya Singh: So I suppose, um, that combination of regular performance evaluations, feedback, being honest, um, not misleading people, uh, to think that, okay, they, they are definitely going to be promoted if there is a vacancy. One level above them. And and also, I mean, if that if they are ready for the role, then managing their expectations in such a way that you keep them and they, you know, they don't leave you for for a better opportunity outside.

Soumya Singh: So it is work. And I fully appreciate that. This takes time from doing your core. Stuff, you know, uh, and often people don't have the time to do it and they are time poor, but, um, sort of carving out some time to have these conversations is important as well. And I have, in my view, effective CEOs are not people who are [00:26:00] just delivering against organizational priorities.

Soumya Singh: They are people who carve out time for their people, like they're effective people. managers as well. So there has, in terms of that split, it doesn't have to be 50 50. Of course, that's for you to decide as a leader. But if you're constantly thinking about these things, you know, at the back of your mind, if, if You know, you're giving these things some time.

Soumya Singh: I think I think you can you can navigate through through some of these demands. And, you know, these decisions around who to hire, who to keep doing. Do we need another layer? And if so, who who goes into that layer? So it's it's like an active. Discussion that you're having with yourself. If you don't have allies within your team, if you have allies within your team, I would suggest that you, you keep them in the loop because you, you know, it's the diversity of thinking as well.

Soumya Singh: You might approach a problem in one way, whereas your allies, you [00:27:00] know, your peers might give you a suggestion that you may not have thought of. So, um, Yeah, I would, I would say, uh, that would be how I would navigate a challenge like 

Amardeep Parmar: this. So you've shared lots of great advice so far. Is there anything else in your mind that you think that the audience should know about how to retain the best talent?

Amardeep Parmar: That maybe we haven't covered so far. 

Soumya Singh: I think I, uh, I have sort of touched on, on the important aspects, but what I do want to say at the end, just to wrap it all up is, um, you know, those days are gone when people were secondary to the business, uh, people. You know, whatever you're trying to achieve as an organization, that will be delivered through your people.

Soumya Singh: And if you can treat them with respect, uh, if you can treat them as, as people and not [00:28:00] as resources, Um, I think they will appreciate it. And if you spend some time proactively thinking about That system that you have put in place for your people, I think half of your problems will be, will be sorted purely because you have some kind of a mechanism takes care of your day to day running of the organization, because problems arise from, you know, very, very, um, basic situations.

Amardeep Parmar: Thank you so much for all the advice this episode so far. We're going to quickfire questions. The first one is, who are three British stations that you think are doing incredible work that you'd love to spotlight to our audience?

Soumya Singh: The first one is Neha Issar Brown, who wears multiple hats. She's a senior executive, she's a non executive director, she's a trustee, [00:29:00] and you know, she's a woman of multiple talents.

Soumya Singh: Uh, the reason why I respect her is that, um, she's carved a place for herself. Um, she's gone up the so called career ladder purely on her ability, uh, her can do attitude, um, and, you know, her, her talent really. So she's doing very well in, in, in the field of science and research. The second person who I really admire is Rubina, Rubina Singh, who, um, is also someone who has carved up

Soumya Singh: a brilliant place for herself in, um, the climate deep tech, um, space. She, I think she's with Octopus Ventures and she's gone from strength to strength. Um, and finally, I would like to mention, um. [00:30:00] about Sunil Sheth. Uh, Sunil is, um, a lawyer by profession, uh, but he feels very, very strongly about, um, uh, anti slavery.

Soumya Singh: He also is the chair at, uh, Anti Slavery International and, uh, he's someone I, who I really look up to in terms of, um, not, not only, um, guidance and he's, he's like a, he's like a mentor to me, but in terms of, uh, what he's achieved. how strongly he feels about human rights and what he brings, uh, to the table when, you know, when we have discussions around, um, how can we tackle some of these, you know, basic human rights issues that, that go unnoticed, uh, someone I, I hugely respect and admire.

Soumya Singh: So those would be my three. Three people. 

Amardeep Parmar: Awesome. So I hope the audience checks them out. The next question is, how can we find out more [00:31:00] about you and what you're up to?

Soumya Singh: Oh, yes, absolutely. So I'm on LinkedIn, uh, surprise, surprise, and, uh, very keen to, to connect, uh, with, with, with you, uh, people who are listening to, to this podcast.

Soumya Singh: I am very passionate about, uh, about people. People management as, as you can probably tell, uh, very happy to share thoughts, ideas, tips, advice, um, around people management and in general around, um, you know, uh, creating workplaces where people feel valued, respected. 

Amardeep Parmar: The next one is, is there anything that you're looking for help with right now?

Amardeep Parmar: Is there a way that maybe somebody listening today will help you? 

Soumya Singh: Yes, absolutely. I talked about curiosity and humility in this podcast. And I am, I'm very curious as an individual. Um, I want to broaden my horizons. I would, you know, be very open to learning more about the business side as [00:32:00] it were, uh, to contribute to the business side.

Soumya Singh: Um, as well. Um, I would like to obviously build and expand my network. So very open to, um, connecting with people who are like minded, talk about business ideas to solve problems, uh, you know, which businesses face on a day to day. I'm a problem solver. Um, no problem is big or small. So yeah, if, um, if there is anything that we can, uh, connect, um, around, whether it's people or business, yeah, that would be great.

Soumya Singh: And I'm looking forward to, to it. 

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you so much for coming on today. And thanks for sharing your advice.

Soumya Singh: Thank you for having me, Amardeep. It was, it was brilliant. Thank you.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello, hello, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. It means a huge amount to us. And we don't think you realize how important you [00:33:00] are. Because if you subscribe to our YouTube channel, if you leave us a five star review, it makes a world of difference. And if you believe in what we're trying to do here,

Amardeep Parmar: to inspire, connect and guide the next generation British Asians. If you do those things, you can help us achieve that mission and you can help us make a bigger impact. And by doing that, it means we can get bigger guests. We can host more events. We can do more for the community. So you can play a huge part.

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you so much for supporting us.

Soumya Singh: [00:00:00] I would say, um, curiosity, respect, humility are important traits.

Amardeep Parmar: How do you retain your best talent in the startup ecosystem? How do you identify what traits make somebody stand out? How do you keep them happy when maybe you can't offer them financial incentives? How do you keep them engaged so that they're doing their best work? And how do you handle all the awkward situations that come up as part of a scaling company and make sure the expectations are correct?

Amardeep Parmar: In order to answer those questions, we've got Deputy Director of People at Smart Energy, Soumya Singh. She's also a lecturer at Kingston University, an angel investor, and sits at the board of multiple organizations. Thanks so much for coming on today. So tell us like, how do you define and identify key talent?

Soumya Singh: Thanks Amar. Thank you for having me. Um, in terms of how we define talent, um, I think every organization will define talent slightly differently because you're [00:01:00] relying on people to get things done. So that, that is, you know, a very simple definition to go by. Who do you want? What capabilities you're after?

Soumya Singh: Um, who can deliver your organizational objectives, your priorities, and you, you work backwards in terms of, you know, those typical profiles. The world of startups and scale ups, I think it's important to devote some time to define talent, because if you don't quite know who you are after, you won't have those people in in in the right roles who will do the job for you.

Soumya Singh: So it's important to understand who you're after. Devote some time to do that and then go out in the market and get those those people into those roles. So, uh, definition of talent. However you define it. It's an important activity. It's an important process. It can be light touch. So I'm not saying, you know, you have to Uh, go to great lengths and have a team and whatnot, [00:02:00] just giving it some thought, especially if you are starting up, what is it that you're trying to achieve and who will help you to achieve those objectives as an organization.

Soumya Singh: I think that's a good starting point. 

Amardeep Parmar: What are some of the key traits that people should be thinking about that? So could you give us some examples of maybe things that you've identified in the past when you're looking for talent? 

Soumya Singh: Absolutely. I think, um, the way I look at talent, it has to be two separate categories.

Soumya Singh: So there has to be that technical competence. And by technical, I don't mean technology. It's your ability to do the core job. Whatever job you're doing, you need to have that capability in order to deliver. Especially, you know, if we're talking about the, the startup world again, because there is no time, right?

Soumya Singh: There is there is not much time, uh, to train people up. You want someone to come in, uh, and in a cliche way, [00:03:00] hit the ground running. So you need to have that, that core capability to deliver in that in that role. However, in my view, I think, um, some of the the traits that are important that will help you be successful.

Soumya Singh: I think number one would be attitude. Um, and again, it might sound a bit cliche, but that can do attitude. Leave it with me attitude, you know, I'll, I'll, I'll, there's so many people who will articulate, you know, problems brilliantly and in a very sophisticated manner. There are very few people who will actually do something about the problem.

Soumya Singh: So having that attitude is important. Being curious to my mind is, it's very important because if you're not curious, if you, if you genuinely are not interested in what's happening around you and how you can be an active part of what's happening around you, [00:04:00] um, you will, you will end up just focusing on your core role and often in smaller setups, especially, uh, there is a big overlap between what one person does and what one someone else in the team does.

Soumya Singh: So you have to understand, okay, this is what we are trying to achieve collectively. This is my role in it, but how can I add value to some of the other things that are happening around me? So being curious, trying to understand what, you know, what's happening around you. And I think the third one will have to be humility.

Soumya Singh: So whatever you do, there has to be an element of humility and respect because ultimately, um, you're collaborating, you're working together, um, and, you know, very few people can, can claim to have all the qualities in them, uh, all the traits in them [00:05:00] to, to, uh, achieve, you know, things. It is about that that collaboration.

Soumya Singh: It is about coming together working as a team. Uh, and what drives all of that is is self awareness and humility. So, um, technical competence aside, you have to have these. Um, you know, it sounds. You know, quite commonsensical. But if you don't have some of these qualities, it leads to conflict. And a lot of time gets wasted in trying to resolve conflicts, which, which were completely avoidable if only people knew that how to navigate, you know, some, some of these, uh, day to day challenges through, through the application of these qualities and traits.

Soumya Singh: So I, I would say. Um, curiosity, respect, humility, um, are important traits. And 

Amardeep Parmar: let's say you find people who are like that, right, who are delivering well for the company, they're a [00:06:00] great team player, what are the levers you have to retain them, to keep them in? Not only just keep them, but also keep them engaged so they're doing their best work.

That's 

Soumya Singh: a, that's a great question. I think, um, engagement as a term is often misunderstood. Not everyone understands engagement, but we sort of are quick to, uh, roll out engagement surveys and whatnot. I think it's important for the leaders of the organization to first of all, unpack the word engagement.

Soumya Singh: Well, what does it mean? You absolutely can measure engagement. Um, So it's not something that can't be measured. So that's, that's the good news. But, um, there is always this thing with engagement surveys. You, you very quickly fall into the trap of let's have 30 standard off the shelf questions. And then let's roll it out.

Soumya Singh: And I don't think we need to take that approach necessarily. Of course, it helps to have some kind of a structure, but Asking [00:07:00] five important questions around motivation, what keeps your, uh, people motivated and happy in the workplace really is what engagement is, is all about. So crafting five meaningful questions, asking people, you don't even have to do a survey through your one to ones, you know, people, um, can, can take that temperature on.

Soumya Singh: What, what keeps you happy? What keeps you engaged? What keeps you motivated? And if you're regularly asking people those questions, I think you, you get that picture and you're building that, that picture around. Okay, this is what is important to my people. Um, if I'm not as an organization or as leadership team, if I'm not being able to provide.

Soumya Singh: Uh, whatever you know your people have identified, then there is that risk of people will leave. And with so many options available in the market, um, I think engagement and sort of [00:08:00] treating engagement as an important driver in the work, workplace is, is very important. Often, You know, we are so worried about organizational priorities and objectives that things like engagement, motivation, morale is just seen as a soft, um, or softer aspects.

Soumya Singh: And you, you know, I've seen in my experience, I've seen where the intention was there, but there was never enough time to actually have these conversations. So I think it's important to understand what that means for your people. It's important to measure it. But I think what is even more important is to do something about it.

Soumya Singh: So often people will measure engagement through these, you know, very fancy engagement surveys, but will not do anything about it. And that's when it becomes into a disengagement survey. It's like a recipe, uh, where people will see, Oh, I, I have given you this feedback, but you haven't really done. Anything about it?

Soumya Singh: [00:09:00] So I would say, um, that's the structured approach to engagement, but some of the other levers, uh, that you can rely on, especially in a, in a smaller setup when you're starting up or when you're scaling up is to have a degree of consistency. You know, people do not like being treated inconsistently. They compare and despair, as they say.

Soumya Singh: So having, even if it is some kind of a light touch, uh, system of process policy, some kind of a system where you're tracking things, that will be appreciated. And often I understand people will not have the time to put in place a very basic system. But trust me, if you don't have that kind of a structured, consistent approach, gradually as you're scaling up, you will see that You know, because of of a lack of that system, uh, that it has led [00:10:00] to discrepancies and you don't want those kind of discrepancy, especially in, you know, in your starting up years, because you want to treat people more or less in a consistent manner.

Soumya Singh: Uh, it has to be equitable. The word equity is used often, but we don't necessarily connected with day to day. So having some kind of a light touch system helps because that contributes directly to that feeling of fairness and feeling of fairness. leads to, you know, people feeling motivated and, um, it's a little bit of that psychological contract, isn't it?

Soumya Singh: Like, I have entered into this contract that I'm going to work for you. I'm going to give you my best as an individual. But there is something in exchange, um, that, that I want from the organization, which is being treated fairly. Um, that career progression, my personal development, but you need to have some kind of a system to make sure that the outcomes are equitable for everyone.

Soumya Singh: Uh, and I think [00:11:00] transparency will follow. So if you have a light touch system, um, You know, the outcomes are going to be fairer. They are going to be transparent and you can defend, uh, you know, some of the decisions that you're making on a day to day basis if challenged. So instead of waiting for people to challenge you.

Soumya Singh: On the decisions that you're making around career progression, around hiring, around who gets promoted, who gets developed. I think it's better to start with some kind of a system, whatever that looks like for you, uh, around performance, around managing performance, around having those open and honest conversations, call it appraisal, call it development conversations.

Soumya Singh: Um, having some it. Uh, processes and policies in place. I'm not, I'm not talking about a 500 page staff handbook because not everyone will have the time to, and often, you know, it's, it's, you know, it never gets looked at. So I'm not suggesting that, but having something in place that [00:12:00] will guide your decision making, uh, and making decisions on evidence, evidence, evidence, evidence is, is I think what people should remember because it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's.

Soumya Singh: People can see through, uh, your, your decision making and even if you, um, try and justify it, uh, if it is not based on hard evidence and data, people won't buy it. So don't insult their intelligence. It's better to, to sort of have in place something that will. Enable you with the day to day management and day to day decision making instead of, um, waiting for that one person to call it to call it out.

Soumya Singh: And that's when you realize, oh, we made a mistake. So and mistakes have consequences. So I think taking that proactive approach to engagement using some of these levers. will, will help. It is time taking slightly, and you don't have to do everything. You can be quite creative, [00:13:00] um, identify what works for you.

Soumya Singh: I'm definitely not a, not an advocate of copy and paste. So you have to think about what works for me, what's manageable, what's sustainable, what can easily scale up, um, and what I can, I can stick to. you know, into guiding principles. So really, I'm talking about guiding principles. I'm not even talking about, you know, fancy processes, policies, and systems, but I am definitely talking about guiding principles because it is about equity.

Soumya Singh: It is about respect. It is about showing, um, that respect to people, uh, and treating them with the, with the care. Really, if you're calling them talent, the least you can do is to treat them with, with that. That care and respect. So those, those are some of, uh, in my long winded answer, those are some of the leavers.

Amardeep Parmar: I'm Amma from the BayHQ and this episode is powered by HHPC Innovation Banking. If you enjoy this content, make sure you press subscribe because that can keep us. [00:14:00] Making more videos and more content, just like this, let's say that you've got great talent. And while you're in here, it's like people want like huge pay rises all the time, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Or they have these certain demands. How do you know what boundaries to set with people? And let's say, when is the right time to give in someone's demands to keep them there. And you're just getting the feedback of what they want. And sometimes maybe it's a case of actually that isn't right. And it's probably better to let somebody go than to maybe bend the rules that you have for the organization.

Amardeep Parmar: to keep them there. And what else could you potentially do to keep those people happy when sometimes the demands are 

Soumya Singh: more than you're capable of? That's an excellent question. And in, again, in smaller setups or when you are growing your organization, you will often come across these kind of, um, you know, demands around what's in it for me.

Soumya Singh: I [00:15:00] want to go to the next level and I can't wait. You're rightly classifying that person as talent for your organization, but then how do you, how do you have that conversation around, it's not the right time, or maybe there is someone else who I think needs to be promoted at this time and that sort of thing.

Soumya Singh: So, um, I think the starting point. is again that, that system, uh, being clear on the remit, uh, and clarifying that remit with the individual. So often people will not necessarily work to their job description. It doesn't happen like that. Nobody works their job description and no job description in this world can actually, you know, include every single, you know, activity, task, responsibility that you do, but having some kind of A job description always helps because that's when you [00:16:00] can say, well, this is, this is the scope of your role and this is where you are at now, measuring that gap between this is, you know, this is the scope of your role, but you're definitely, uh, you know, delivering.

Soumya Singh: Above and beyond what is expected of you. And we want to recognize that, um, or we, we can't, we know that you're doing that. But unfortunately, on this occasion, we cannot do much about it. But, uh, let's talk about in six months requires a degree of confidence and requires a degree of honesty and requires a degree of, um, authenticity.

Soumya Singh: So I, I think if you can have that conversation, I think you should. Um, with the individual who is making that demand around, okay, increase my salary or, you know, promote me to the next level, uh, you have to be honest. Again, you know, the point that I made before, people can see right through your justification.

Soumya Singh: So try to be honest, [00:17:00] even if it is, um, to do with, you know, your judgment of the situation or your, um, you know, analysis of. When someone needs to be promoted, you have to enter that conversation with that degree of humility that look, this is my understanding. This is the situation that we are in. These are some of the internal factors.

Soumya Singh: And on this occasion, unfortunately, we cannot do this. Or if you are in a position to do it, then, you know, being equally ready to do that, because you don't want to delay that recognition Transcribed Uh, isn't you're putting that person at a flight risk. So I appreciate these are sensitive conversations, but and they require a degree of practice.

Soumya Singh: So, you know, you may not get it right in the first go. If you're having this kind of conversation, uh, for the very first time. Don't beat yourself up if someone then decides to leave because there is that risk of putting someone at flight risk if they don't get what [00:18:00] they're asking for. But people also value and respect honesty and transparency.

Soumya Singh: So if you give them a justification which is honest and where they know that you're not making things up and it's. you know, based on a solid reason, then they're more likely to buy into it. So there is no formula as such, but if you have that ecosystem in place where that decision making is based on evidence, half of your problems are solved straight away because people know that you are relying on some kind of a system that is.

Soumya Singh: You know, driving your decision making and then the softer aspects, which are to my mind, they're not soft. I mean, they're essential aspects when it comes to running any business, any organization is, is being honest and is being transparent. It is about respecting people, and it is also recognizing that people are there to, [00:19:00] to grow.

Soumya Singh: And, uh, you know, they are there for, for there is an interest, a vested interest. Like if I joined an organization, I want something in return. So recognizing that, and then maybe not over promising either. So if you cannot promote someone in six months time, please don't. make that promise in that conversation.

Soumya Singh: There is a tendency of, you know, procrastinating it and saying, well, I'll, you know, let, let's, let's come back and let's talk about it in six months time. So if you are making that promise, then just honor it as well. So it might sound basic, but, um, it is really about handling that conversation with that combination of, you know, evidence and some of those aspects around, you know, Trust, doing what you're saying, uh, being humble about it.

Soumya Singh: And also if, if you make a mistake, accepting that, you know, a mistake was made and then moving on from it. So I, I would, I would suggest that we take that 

Amardeep Parmar: approach. I [00:20:00] think another situation, which is quite difficult for many people when they're trying to scale a startup or grow an organization is where they've got people in positions where The head of division or chief executive of something or another.

Amardeep Parmar: And as organizations scales, it's very different role from being 20 person organization to 100 person organization. And one of the things that people struggle with is like, how do you know if the person you have the moment? Is right for the role that what's going to be happening in two years time or one year's time and how would you think about that?

Amardeep Parmar: So obviously it's you're hiring people for what the current role is, but you've also got to take in the future. Do you maybe need to get somebody above them? And how do you think about that in advance so that you can maybe manage expectations? 

Soumya Singh: Another great question, Amar. I think, um, you touched on the keyword there, which is right for the role.

Soumya Singh: Now, is someone right for the role that they're currently doing? Uh, if so, how do we know that? Uh, are [00:21:00] we having those regular conversations around, uh, performance, uh, objectives, capability, potential? Um, you know, whether you do that through annual appraisals or you do that through, um, you know, your regular one to ones.

Soumya Singh: Uh, but there has to be that measurement of, am I doing my current role effectively? Yes or no? The next thing is, Do I have potential to go to the next level again, if, if, if we talk about potential in those conversations, and more importantly, if I, if I have that line of sight, if I'm the employee, if I have that line of sight between yes, I'm doing my current role effectively, but I want to go to the next level.

Soumya Singh: How do I. Go to how do I go from point A to point B? What's the plan? Uh, so I think that conversation is important around where I am today, where I want to be in the future as an employee. [00:22:00] And then the line manager. Whether it's, you know, the CEO or someone next level down or whatever, the level is not important.

Soumya Singh: It's that conversation, which is important. And I think that responsibility sits both with the employee and the, and the person who's, who's responsible for the development of that employee. And again, honesty is important. Like if someone doesn't have those qualities, or that potential to go to the next level.

Soumya Singh: I think it's better to let the person know that, look, you know, you, you have tremendous potential, but you're not quite there yet. And this is my, my, um, plan around how I can get you from this point to the next point, but it will take time. So once you have been honest with the individual around their strengths and their areas of development, You have sort of already managed the expectations to a certain extent.

Soumya Singh: So if you then go [00:23:00] out and, um, you know, hire someone who's above them, it wouldn't be a complete shocker to them because you've already had that honest conversation with them around their potential. That time that they need to sort of grow into, uh, into the into the next role. So I think measurement of performance, honest feedback on performance, uh, will help.

Soumya Singh: And in terms of, uh, I think the second question was, um, the current role versus, you know, the future role. Not everyone wants to go to the next level. So again, making that assumption around we are scaling up from a 10 percent team to 100 percent team. I would, I would say, don't make that assumption that your head of marketing also wants to be your director of marketing or, you know, the chief marketing officer.

Soumya Singh: Having that conversation around where do you want to be in, you know, two years time, is [00:24:00] I know some people find this question a little bit. You know, artificial, but just having that, um, that sense of succession, like who in your head, even if it's a small team, you will know as the leader of the business, who will fit into what role if someone resigns.

Soumya Singh: So thinking about successors think actively thinking about, uh, what happens if X. leaves. Do you have someone within the business who can take that role? Uh, can you grow someone into that role or do you have to go outside and find a replacement? So thinking about succession planning, uh, and again, I'm not talking about, um, you know, fancy processes and bringing in a consultant to do your succession planning exercise for you.

Soumya Singh: It is in your head, but giving it some thought so that you're not caught out. If one of your key Uh, people leave. Um, you should have that sense of, okay, if this person leaves and people do leave, you know, they will leave for better opportunities outside. Nobody [00:25:00] signs up, um, to stay at your organization forever.

Soumya Singh: So I suppose, um, that combination of regular performance evaluations, feedback, being honest, um, not misleading people, uh, to think that, okay, they, they are definitely going to be promoted if there is a vacancy. One level above them. And and also, I mean, if that if they are ready for the role, then managing their expectations in such a way that you keep them and they, you know, they don't leave you for for a better opportunity outside.

Soumya Singh: So it is work. And I fully appreciate that. This takes time from doing your core. Stuff, you know, uh, and often people don't have the time to do it and they are time poor, but, um, sort of carving out some time to have these conversations is important as well. And I have, in my view, effective CEOs are not people who are [00:26:00] just delivering against organizational priorities.

Soumya Singh: They are people who carve out time for their people, like they're effective people. managers as well. So there has, in terms of that split, it doesn't have to be 50 50. Of course, that's for you to decide as a leader. But if you're constantly thinking about these things, you know, at the back of your mind, if, if You know, you're giving these things some time.

Soumya Singh: I think I think you can you can navigate through through some of these demands. And, you know, these decisions around who to hire, who to keep doing. Do we need another layer? And if so, who who goes into that layer? So it's it's like an active. Discussion that you're having with yourself. If you don't have allies within your team, if you have allies within your team, I would suggest that you, you keep them in the loop because you, you know, it's the diversity of thinking as well.

Soumya Singh: You might approach a problem in one way, whereas your allies, you [00:27:00] know, your peers might give you a suggestion that you may not have thought of. So, um, Yeah, I would, I would say, uh, that would be how I would navigate a challenge like 

Amardeep Parmar: this. So you've shared lots of great advice so far. Is there anything else in your mind that you think that the audience should know about how to retain the best talent?

Amardeep Parmar: That maybe we haven't covered so far. 

Soumya Singh: I think I, uh, I have sort of touched on, on the important aspects, but what I do want to say at the end, just to wrap it all up is, um, you know, those days are gone when people were secondary to the business, uh, people. You know, whatever you're trying to achieve as an organization, that will be delivered through your people.

Soumya Singh: And if you can treat them with respect, uh, if you can treat them as, as people and not [00:28:00] as resources, Um, I think they will appreciate it. And if you spend some time proactively thinking about That system that you have put in place for your people, I think half of your problems will be, will be sorted purely because you have some kind of a mechanism takes care of your day to day running of the organization, because problems arise from, you know, very, very, um, basic situations.

Amardeep Parmar: Thank you so much for all the advice this episode so far. We're going to quickfire questions. The first one is, who are three British stations that you think are doing incredible work that you'd love to spotlight to our audience?

Soumya Singh: The first one is Neha Issar Brown, who wears multiple hats. She's a senior executive, she's a non executive director, she's a trustee, [00:29:00] and you know, she's a woman of multiple talents.

Soumya Singh: Uh, the reason why I respect her is that, um, she's carved a place for herself. Um, she's gone up the so called career ladder purely on her ability, uh, her can do attitude, um, and, you know, her, her talent really. So she's doing very well in, in, in the field of science and research. The second person who I really admire is Rubina, Rubina Singh, who, um, is also someone who has carved up

Soumya Singh: a brilliant place for herself in, um, the climate deep tech, um, space. She, I think she's with Octopus Ventures and she's gone from strength to strength. Um, and finally, I would like to mention, um. [00:30:00] about Sunil Sheth. Uh, Sunil is, um, a lawyer by profession, uh, but he feels very, very strongly about, um, uh, anti slavery.

Soumya Singh: He also is the chair at, uh, Anti Slavery International and, uh, he's someone I, who I really look up to in terms of, um, not, not only, um, guidance and he's, he's like a, he's like a mentor to me, but in terms of, uh, what he's achieved. how strongly he feels about human rights and what he brings, uh, to the table when, you know, when we have discussions around, um, how can we tackle some of these, you know, basic human rights issues that, that go unnoticed, uh, someone I, I hugely respect and admire.

Soumya Singh: So those would be my three. Three people. 

Amardeep Parmar: Awesome. So I hope the audience checks them out. The next question is, how can we find out more [00:31:00] about you and what you're up to?

Soumya Singh: Oh, yes, absolutely. So I'm on LinkedIn, uh, surprise, surprise, and, uh, very keen to, to connect, uh, with, with, with you, uh, people who are listening to, to this podcast.

Soumya Singh: I am very passionate about, uh, about people. People management as, as you can probably tell, uh, very happy to share thoughts, ideas, tips, advice, um, around people management and in general around, um, you know, uh, creating workplaces where people feel valued, respected. 

Amardeep Parmar: The next one is, is there anything that you're looking for help with right now?

Amardeep Parmar: Is there a way that maybe somebody listening today will help you? 

Soumya Singh: Yes, absolutely. I talked about curiosity and humility in this podcast. And I am, I'm very curious as an individual. Um, I want to broaden my horizons. I would, you know, be very open to learning more about the business side as [00:32:00] it were, uh, to contribute to the business side.

Soumya Singh: Um, as well. Um, I would like to obviously build and expand my network. So very open to, um, connecting with people who are like minded, talk about business ideas to solve problems, uh, you know, which businesses face on a day to day. I'm a problem solver. Um, no problem is big or small. So yeah, if, um, if there is anything that we can, uh, connect, um, around, whether it's people or business, yeah, that would be great.

Soumya Singh: And I'm looking forward to, to it. 

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you so much for coming on today. And thanks for sharing your advice.

Soumya Singh: Thank you for having me, Amardeep. It was, it was brilliant. Thank you.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello, hello, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. It means a huge amount to us. And we don't think you realize how important you [00:33:00] are. Because if you subscribe to our YouTube channel, if you leave us a five star review, it makes a world of difference. And if you believe in what we're trying to do here,

Amardeep Parmar: to inspire, connect and guide the next generation British Asians. If you do those things, you can help us achieve that mission and you can help us make a bigger impact. And by doing that, it means we can get bigger guests. We can host more events. We can do more for the community. So you can play a huge part.

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you so much for supporting us.

Other episodes you may enjoy: