How to win startup talent without promising everyone a ping pong table and free food

- August 30, 2021 4 MIN READ
ping pong
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Canva has an in-house chef, Atlassian offers staff a $2000 bonus for referrals and many other Australian tech unicorns offer free food, fitness classes, extra time off and world-class Paid Parental Leave policies.

While these benefits and initiatives should be celebrated, for early-stage startups that may not yet have the funding to implement such competitive and well-marketed benefits, it’s understandable that they may feel the heat when competing for top tech talent.

Companies need to reach a certain stage of growth to justify introducing some flagship benefits to their organisation. They can be costly and if not managed correctly, may not have the intended effect of encouraging retention or good work.

There are ways however for companies to create meaningful experiences for their employees without the commitment to significant investments. Indeed, many smaller startups are sitting on their own “perks” that with the right systems put in place, can help you draw in top talent.

Ask your team what they want

Don’t compare yourselves solely to your competitors or the external market but rather, ask your very own people what they want. This will help you understand your own employee value proposition and what your team values at work.Personalisation is key to the success of your benefits program.

Rather than free lunches and subsidised gym memberships, you’ll likely see that your team places greater value on opportunities for professional development, individualised career development plans, or great and accessible leadership.

Conduct a team assessment or ask people to rank what’s important to them in the workplace or today’s new working environment. In our recent survey, we found that Render’s staff valued professional development opportunities and flexible working arrangements over mainstream perks. With these insights, initiatives can be thoughtfully created into meaningful programs leveraging internal resources and leader’s networks to deliver mentoring, content, and value-add experiences.


Create a culture of celebration

Recognising and celebrating achievements is a powerful tool in building a strong productive company culture. It also fuels creativity and performance but can get lost in the day-to-day activity of operating a business.

Geraldine Nankervis

Geraldine Nankervis

The opportunity to create a culture of feedback is simple and accessible to every company. An email from a CEO or Founder to a junior employee for great work takes five minutes but is extremely powerful and shoutouts at team meetings allow for the wider team to share gratitude regularly.

Recognising personal or career milestones brings personalisation to the employee experience and celebrating alignment to company values promotes the importance and living by certain behaviours at work.

Give people credit for great work and startups have the powerful flexibility to push career development boundaries and promote or reshape positions to keep employees engaged and encourage progression.


Develop and communicate your approach to flexible work arrangements

The pandemic has fundamentally shaped how we think about work in many industries and the approach to flexible work has been recognised as a benefit that is here to stay, almost becoming a mandatory policy to attract and retain talent.

The perception of flexible work is broad and communicating your policy or approach to flexible work is key.

Companies have the opportunity to reshape how people work and develop an inclusive culture that is focused on outcomes and delivering for their customers.

Review your current work arrangements and rules coupled with the knowledge of what your employees and key talent segments want and be open to change. Once you have established your approach to flexible work, communicate to enable retention and attraction of great talent.


Give talent access to leadership and opportunities beyond their level of experience

This is perhaps the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal as an early-stage business for building an appealing company culture. We know from our latest survey that our people value the opportunity to work with great industry leaders.

Employees early in their career have regular contact with senior executives and our CEO conducts the final interview in the recruitment process which plays an important role in communicating our culture, the vision of the business and the role they will play in our success.

This level of executive contact is unique to early-stage companies and can be a powerful method in attracting top talent from larger organisations who want more visibility to the strategy of an organisation.

People & Culture and Marketing should be best friends

Top talent is often drawn to an organisation based on their connection with the vision, mission or brand promise. We also know that when talent is proud to work for an organisation or brand, retention is higher.

This is where the importance of the People & Culture and Marketing relationship comes into play. Brand communications have the power to attract and retain talent as they articulate the company’s purpose and brand value to customers and the market.

When People & Culture works closely with Marketing, there is a shared understanding of shared objectives and hiring needs, and what messages will appeal to the market, in a number of cases your customers could also be potential employees.

Marketing can also play a role in enabling employee advocacy programs, arming teams with the content and confidence to share the company’s culture, values, and customer or project success.  All of which are incredibly interesting insights for talent you are looking to attract.

Prioritising People & Culture and Marketing talent as an early-stage business will help support the company to scale and effectively hire in the increasingly competitive market.

  • Geraldine Nankervis is the People and Culture Lead at Render Networks.