Managing talent in a changing environment

SkillingIndia on November 26, 2012 1 comment
Raghavendra K., Vice President & Head – HRD, Infosys BPO


People practices are an integral lever of driving the growth agenda of the organization.

The corporate world is in a midst of a churn and is focused on building an enterprise for the future. The emphasis has shifted to building a smarter organization that is future proof. Most competitive organizations are focusing on new technologies, newer markets, higher end work and more importantly newer way of doing business. The dramatic shift in paradigm brings in its wake a host of exciting challenges and every business leader and HR professional is grappling with the need to substitute quantity with quality. By doing this, talent utilization becomes a lot more planned and efficient. In today’s competitive world and in an era of clones, every technology or process looks uncannily similar.

Talent which is the backbone of most organizations ends up as being a true differentiator. With many competing strategies being formulated around the differentiation of skills and competencies, it becomes imperative for organizations to focus on Building a Workplace that enhances productivity, nurtures creativity and recognizes outcomes. This results in becoming the cornerstone for increased morale and motivation amongst the employees of any organization. More and more progressive organizations are focused in deploying various practices and policies that would help develop the workforce’s capabilities in line with the organization’s objectives. Therefore, it becomes imperative to have a multi layered approach to look at the different generations of workforce juxtaposed with new business models in today’s complex business environment.

The employee value proposition (EVP) – “What is in it for me?”

There are numerous ways to enumerate the EVP. However, to put this in perspective, it is important to answer two questions:

  • ‘How does the HR function deliver?’
  • ‘What is the outcome of the actions undertaken?’

The answers have a direct co-relation as to how an employee views and benefits from the practices and policies institutionalized by the organization. Secondly, there is a need to study in depth the immediate impact it has on the employee’s well-being at the basic level while also evaluating and understanding the long term effects it has had when implemented. It is obvious that the basic content of HR has continued to remain the same across ages, the approach, the way it functions and more importantly the thinking needs to evolve a lot more. The HR function, as a strategic partner is no longer a fresh theme, it is a norm in most high performing and forward looking organizations. It therefore becomes critical that the function further evolves into its new role of being “future-proof” given the nature of the way business environment, technology and the workforce continue to change. The new-age HR professional must ensure that (s)he develops strategies that can be quickly adapted to and seamlessly integrated with the changing context.

From an employee perspective, (s)he must be seen as visibly availing benefits from these strategies. Therefore, there is an urgent need to define the 3Cs- Career, Compensation and Care, which become the corner stone to manage talent in this dynamic environment. A clear focus on thinking long term and working towards providing a ‘career for life’ with adequate avenues for both vertical and horizontal growth with ample learning has to be implemented. There is a need to put in place an effective ‘compensation and benefits’ program in a fair and transparent manner. There is a strong need to ensure that the entire reward and recognition mechanism is well defined and easily understood. This in turn will give an entirely new meaning to the principle of pay for performance. Last, but not the least, the employee needs to be taken care of in a fair manner and given due respect. Care can further be broken into – Connecting, celebrating and complying. The need is to ensure the employee feels the connect with the organization through various employee touch-points and by ensuring relevant communication to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements (of the employees) through various forums, events while not forgoing and institutionalizing various control mechanisms which ensure safety and security. All of the above has to be institutionalized for it to become business as usual and be a part of the routine.

The need for rich domain in a dynamic workplace

With the increased focus on chasing high end work, the landscape of work itself is evolving by the day. Apart from increasing efficiency of delivery, innovation has become the key to business. Stakeholders don’t just expect delivery, but also transformation that would help them add value to their business. This has led to many changes in the way work is defined and structured. In ensuring a greater understanding of the workforce and managing expectations, the HR professional has to be in line with the way the business is run and be fully aware of the dynamics and the business objectives with which the organization is running its operations. For the stakeholders, even to have a conversation with the HR professional, (s)he has to give the required confidence that s(he) understands the business dynamics and not lost in the ‘HR’ world which otherwise could give an impression that the HR professional operates in a world far from reality of the business needs and requirements.

There is also an increased requirement of skills in both generalist and specialist domains. People management is as important as domain expertise. To ensure effective management of talent the HR professional has to ensure that there is a clear linkage between business objectives and the skills and competencies required to perform the same. To get the best out of talent, we must invest heavily in preparing the workforce to think long term. Therefore, there is a need to develop mature frameworks and define suitable career architecture for people to grow through a planned approach by having appropriate career lattices.

The argument of build vs buy seems extremely relevant when there is a mismatch between talent supply and demand. There is a strong need to create relevant internal training programs for and building a talent pipeline while leveraging on external training interventions. Employees clearly need to see a value proposition and increase their knowledge through a formal and structured process of learning. There is a greater need to partner with education institutions for both pre and post hiring capability building. Organizations also need to be extremely cautious and mindful in determining their build vs buy strategy. To meet short term needs, it is obvious that one would need to look beyond the organization and hire from outside while for the long haul, there has to be a plan in place to create future leaders and domain experts in a particular space and invest in suitably nurturing talent from within to develop a pipeline. Both from an organizational perspective and the employee view-point, this will enhance the value add and self-worth to both the stakeholders and thereby increase the talent quotient from all aspects – within and outside of the organization. With corporates increasingly focusing on quarterly results, the challenge of firming up the build vs buy becomes more real. Therefore, the HR professional would need to be responsive, up-to-date and focused to ensure that (s)he is in a position to understand and articulate what the business would need to do to manage talent and  meet their aspirations too.

At Infosys BPO, we have had many success stories where HR has partnered with both business leaders and employees on the points mentioned above. The objective has been to successfully implement work practices which have resulted in establishing a workplace that positions us as the “Employer of Choice”.

In today’s business environment a lot of employment is being generated in the services sector and a large chunk of Generation Y is getting attracted to this sector. NASSCOM indicates 43% of new generation of employment in the urban area is in the ITES industry. It is therefore critical while managing talent, HR has to innovate continuously to be relevant which in turn helps to attract and retain them. The need is to develop an environment that aligns the psyche of the new generation without ignoring the aspirations of the experienced personnel within the organization. The HR professional has to take cognizance of the generational differences and how that maps to driving behaviors at workplace. Right fit for the right role is just the first step.

In addition to the above, other important elements of talent management include understanding the talent landscape, their needs and their career aspirations and implementing talent strategies to suit the same. For instance, a Gen Y employee may be more inclined towards innovation and entrepreneurship while a Gen X employee may be more inclined towards aligning his aspirations to the larger objective of the organization. It becomes imperative for organizations to understand what motivates employees of different generations and develop suitable strategies. An HR professional must look at other finer aspects of building the required culture and work environment that accelerates learning & development in an organization. Any high performing organization must imbibe a culture of mentoring, coaching and even “reverse-mentoring” so that there is enough “catching-up” and networking among individual employees.

Key development levers in managing talent

If we look at the BPO industry, the scenario is no different. The entire industry is driven by the higher complexity of the businesses being right-sourced. More and more companies are gearing up to ensure that they target complex and value added services to ensure greater returns to their clients and also moving up the value chain. This in turn would mean better margins and a greater degree of choice in providing interesting options and opportunities for learning, growth and experiences for the employees within the organization. This has also given rise to a transformational approach to business delivery and even creating suitable platforms that would help the clients achieve much higher efficiencies and providing employees a lot more value add which would take care of his 3Cs. This enables the leadership to focus on some core HR practices that drive the organization success and would become self-fulfilling. In an employee life cycle the focus should clearly move from basic hygiene factors into ensuring a right fit and providing a lot of enrichment and enhancement in terms of experiences resulting in learning, development and growth which most employees yearn for. Most organizations are tracking and developing these different stages through a well defined competency model.

Competencies are best described as a set of knowledge, skills and attitudes that drive or define superior performance. The foundation of all HR practices can be laid on the bedrock of these competencies. Most organizations look at both professional/technical and behavioral competencies that align with the organization’s objectives. Organizations are defining career architectures that clearly bifurcate the skills/competencies required as well as the responsibilities for different types of roles. This architecture enables a framework that can be used to consistently design practices and policies across various HR aspects.

  • Workforce planning: It is imperative to have workforce model that encompasses both talent acquisition through external hiring while also focusing on deploying talent from within through processes such as competency development, promotions, job rotations and internal job postings. This planning is critical as it defines the HR strategy of the organization by carefully reviewing the business plans typically for the next financial year. Further, when one has to plan and deploy talent, aspects such as spans, ratios, utilization, talent mobility and business growth have to be effectively foreseen to ensure that there are no gaps and the talent is appropriately positioned on time every time. This will ensure business continuity and deliverables will be as planned.
  • Talent Acquisition: Acquiring the right skill sets and putting them in the right positions is one of the most critical steps for any talent strategy to be successful. Clearly articulated job descriptions would be the starting point for the process. The process of recruitment and selection can be modeled around the requirements put forth in the workforce modeling exercise. The key themes around this would include the sourcing model and the selection process – most companies assess both technical and behavioral competencies. At leadership levels, it also becomes important to look at leadership dimensions such as relationship and content. Other key elements would be to ensure appropriate expectation setting with the incumbents that would help in effective assimilation into the workplace.
  • Employee development & growth: Employees in today’s context look forward to organizations that offer ample learning and growth opportunities. Some of the best practices would include:
  • Training opportunities aligned to current and possible future roles, higher education tie ups that help build domain/technical expertise, industry acknowledged certifications/training programs.
  • Performance management practice that defines and reviews goals for the employees and enables a culture of performance feedback.
  • Providing avenues for lateral and vertical movements that enable both growth and development.

Employee growth is one of the most critical aspects one would look forward to and must be dealt with utmost care and sensitivity. The HR professional and organization at large should be creating/providing opportunities in the most fair and transparent manner that would help remove any bias and create a sense of belonging and pride in the employee.

In addition to the above, the other focus areas would include:

  • Creating robust rewards and recognition practices
  • Compensation philosophies to be aligned to create a motivated workforce
  • Enabling a workplace that will help boost employee morale and productivity

The Infosys BPO Approach

“Visionary Companies carefully select, develop and promote managerial talent grown from inside the company to a greater degree than the comparison companies. They do this as a key step in preserving their cores………” Jim Collins/Jerry I Porass in “Built to Last – Successful habits of visionary companies”.

At Infosys BPO, the organization’s strategy is defined by what the CEO, Swami Swaminathan, who continuously propounds his version of the GDP… he defines GDP as a mantra which should be a panacea for all our actions. The GDP as understood by all of us is different from what is universally understood. The G stands for “Growth” on which the entire organization should focus and ride upon and the D stands for “Differentiation” and should be the bedrock where our customers would look at a more differentiated set of offerings with technology and domain led innovative solutions to make a difference to them and their customers and the P for “People” who will lead the change and innovation to make it happen. As an offshoot of the GDP strategy, the following three HR focus areas emerged:

  • Increasing retention in highly mobile workforce
  • Just in time deployment
  • Building an internal talent pipeline to fuel the ambitious growth plan of the organization

The clear focus is on nurturing and developing our own employees to grow, to meet their own career aspirations whilst they meet organization objectives. The focus is to build Infosys BPO is not just an Employer of Choice, but also a workplace wherein employees envision a Career for Life!

The word ‘Career’ is loosely defined as the general progression of professional life and signifies different things to different people. At the beginning of an individual’s professional life, one normally associates a career being defined more by how much one would earn, the number of promotions, an important or a high sounding designation and the likes. This is essentially a very narrow view of what the term career is defined as! But, as one grows professionally and moves higher in the corporate ladder, there should be a conscious design and effort in ensuring a greater understanding as to what a career should be. This is defined by multiple aspects such as opportunities to learn and build ones skills and competencies and roles enabling the talent with the required experience and knowledge. This would help the individual to get the confidence to influence and drive path breaking changes, better compensation packages, challenging roles and positions, etc.

However, with employee’s growth aspirations being high, we at Infosys BPO provide ample opportunities for the individual to reach his/her true potential and ensure an enabling infrastructure and process to make it happen. Human Resource Management plays a pivotal role at Infosys BPO as part of the GDP (Growth, Differentiation and People) strategy. The people practices are an integral lever of driving the growth agenda of the organization.

Our experience from implementing various programs/initiatives has enabled us to enhance the people agenda within the organization and with each passing year, we have improvised on these to ensure that the strategies we have put in place are aligned with the growth and vision of the organization. We also firmly believe that every idea has a definite shelf life. Solutions that are very successful and novel at one point become business as usual and we either need to enhance or discard a successful mantra. The charm of what was successful in the past becomes jaded and the need is to innovate to be as relevant as and more successful than the past. While there is a strong need to ensure fairness and consistency, there is a crying need to continuously re-look and innovate without compromising on the basic principles of fairness and justice. We have been able to create a fine balance of what worked well in the past to what needs to be implemented to meet the changed dynamics in the business and meet the expectations of the new generation of talent only by following this approach.

Some industry best practices

  • Enhance retention: Organizations need to ensure that they proactively respond to the pull of the market by deploying practices that enhance retention within the organization. One of the most important aspects of the same is to ensure that the employees feel connected with the organization.
    • Communication: Communication forms the backbone of any organization and it is imperative for HR to specially focus in this area. Connecting with the leaders through townhalls or floorwalks, ensuring consistent communication through mailers, newsletters and posters/displays, increasing managerial effectiveness through team huddles, etc are some of the common effective practices.
    • Use of portals and social media: Another extremely effective and important practice is to develop systems and portals that help ease of implementation. In today’s world where it is all about managing scales and complexities, there is a clear focus in this regard. Social media as a platform is another area, which is increasingly becoming an effective medium to communicate with the employees.
    • Induction and assimilation of employees: The first few months that the employees spend in the organization define their future. A smooth transition into their new units and complete assimilation to ensure that the productivity and performance are scaled up in no time is important. A lot of focus and attention is paid to ensure a structured induction program is rolled out which is then followed by manager enablement to groom new employees. ..
    • Careers for Life: Another and perhaps the most crucial area for HR professionals to concentrate on would include practices related to careers-
      • Learning opportunities: Enhancing domain and technical expertise, programs to enhance behavioral competencies, opportunity to look at industry acknowledged certifications and higher education programs.
      • Growth: Vertical growth to ensure the employees move up the ladder, horizontal growth to provide avenues of moving into other domains through processes such as Internal Job Postings. This also needs to be substituted with the highest degree of fairness as this impacts the employee in more ways than one on most occasions and is a great source of motivation.
      • Workplace: To make the workplace a dynamic and fun one, helps increase motivation. The employees should look forward to come to work. This includes workplace infrastructure, ambiance, code of conduct, safety measures etc.
  • Time to deployment: In the services industry, and in any sector and more importantly in BPOs where the work undertaken is in real time, the time to respond is critical. One of the most important measures of effectiveness could be the time taken to deploy resources. More often than not, the transition timelines are fairly crunched and HR needs to have structured and well thought of processes that include sourcing, selection, offer, induction and background verification etc. It is not just critical to have these processes clearly defined, but also to ensure that all the handshakes are smooth and all the different teams in the work flow process work within the defined timelines and ensure seamless delivery. This becomes a very clear example of how HR supports business in meeting their requirements.
  • Internal growth: One of the key themes for any organization is development of the internal talent pool. The objective is to create opportunities and provide avenues for employees to aspire and achieve the role of their choice in addition to realizing their potential to do their best. There can be different tracks such as competency based assessments to identify and develop potential; competency based development programs and creation of internal talent pipeline. Promotions and Progressions are one of the most critical HR focus area. The need is to provide avenues of growth from within to the employees and facilitate in meeting his/her career aspirations. Having robust processes to facilitate Promotions and Progressions (P&P) and Internal job Postings (IJP) mechanisms, become instrumental in developing a talent pipeline which becomes decisive for talent continuity and meeting aspirations for growth. It therefore becomes essential to align all promotion and progression assessments to the competency framework. Any individual being considered for the next level within the organization needs to be proven competent for the next level. There are various scientific tools and methods that organizations employ including panel interviews designed along the lines of Competency Based Interviews (CBI), assessment centers etc to achieve this. Also, it is extremely important to showcase achievers within the organization to strengthen the internal brand.

For any HR professional to gain the respect of business and employees, the most important attribute is that(s)he is a role model and should be able to walk the talk. The HR professional also needs to understand the way the industry runs and continue gaining functional mastery and deep domain knowledge through the years. While the HR professional today needs to be able to adapt to the realities and challenges of an extremely dynamic environment, (s)he also needs to keep things simple and effective to gain the confidence of the decision makers so as to be in a position to influence leadership and drive outcomes. It is therefore imperative that the HR professional needs to be the eyes and ears of the management while being the voice of the employees. This is one attribute that will make the HR professional to stand out in a crowd, gain acceptance and command the respect of all the stake holders.

If we talk about Infosys, what guides and drives the HR fraternity could be summed best in the words of our founder chairman & chief mentor, Mr Narayana Murthy, who states that “Our assets walk out of the door each evening. We have to make sure they come back the next morning!” and that in essence drives all our actions in managing talent…

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