India's IT giant Infosys is unique in more ways than one. A company that took off as a technology icon and helped spawn an IT services revolution in India has found itself on a bumpy ride in recent years. Be it 2013, when Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy had to step in again, or 2017, when the then CEO Vishal Sikka made an exit, and more recently, the whistleblower controversy. But the company bounced back every time.
The latest quarter (Q3) results show nine months' revenues at Rs 67,524 crore, a year-on-year growth of 10.4 per cent, and operating profit at Rs 14,447 crore, up 1.3 per cent y-o-y. In addition to that, the company saw a fall in its attrition rate, a problem that many leading IT companies have been grappling with for the past few quarters. In the earnings call post the results, Pravin Rao, the company's COO, said, "Our efforts to stem attrition continued to show results. On a standalone basis, attrition reduced by another 1.8 per cent sequentially to 17.6 per cent. Voluntary attrition was even lower at 15.6 per cent." He attributes this to an "enhanced focus on increasing employee engagement, performance and skills-driven value proposition for employees". Analysts feel some of the employee stickiness has to do with the efforts aimed at redesigning work around capabilities and investing in learning and career advancement programmes. There is a palpable sense of pride when Krishnamurthy (Krish) Shankar, Executive Vice President and Group Head of Human Resources at Infosys, speaks about a slew of initiatives the company has been taking to prepare talent for the future with niche skills.
The company that has seen the IT sector transition from body-shopping to brain-shopping to niche skill tapping now, is acutely aware of the need to bring in differentiation riding on skill capabilities. Last year, Infosys rolled out its 'Skill Tags' initiative. It identifies an employee's skills associated with a specific digital or "agile work" area, such as 'AI Professional', 'IoT Professional', 'Big Data Professional', 'Cloud Professional' and others. It imparts a skill identity that sets an employee apart and makes him eligible for associated rewards, and a stronger career profile. Employees aspiring for a 'Skill Tag' need to complete relevant certification and experience to get awarded. All of this is in keeping with times and business needs that require specific skills such as full-stack developers, scrum masters, polyglot engineers, power programmers and pod specialists. In all, Infosys has identified 36 skill areas that are important and are the future of the company. About 3,000 have got skill tags. "This is a big area of driving skill upgradation of our employees," says Shankar.
Two years back, Infosys undertook a big survey within the organisation. The focus group was employees with one to three years in the company and about 1,000 employees who were less than six months in the company. "The idea was to know what is it that they really want in the first three to four years. One of the things they came up with continuous learning and career development as the biggest need - about 50 per cent wanted that. Around 30 per cent wanted good compensation; another 20 per cent wanted a great environment," says Shankar.
The company matched what it was good at with its employees' professional aspirations and "there were two areas that came out clearly in terms of perception - one was investment in people and training and the second was the whole culture and environment."
Employees at Infosys have various learning programmes to choose from. "There is the bridge programme, the fast track programme or the Lex initiative, which is a scalable, mobile-first, modular learning platform that allows employees access to learning content from anywhere, any device, at any time. The company has about 700 courses on Lex, in addition to over 1,500 courses in what are called 'instructor-led training mode'," adds Shankar.
Another focus area is middle managers. "We believe in strengthening them, retraining them for the future and also leveraging their experience. The focus is on empowering managers through analytics-based, customisable learning tools such as Manager Quotient (MaQ), and initiatives such as MPACT, MSPEED and Pravesh, that focus on continuous learning, reskilling and refactoring of talent. Significant rewards await the managers who ace the challenges," says Shankar.
Infosys has been driving gender diversity in its workforce. Of the 2,43,400-plus employees, women form 37.8 per cent (December 2019). In 2018 December, women formed 36.7 per cent of 2,25,500-plus employees.
Central to making the company an attractive destination to pursue a career, Shankar says, is the need to ensure that talent is able to see the impact the company or their work has. "Knowing the purpose of the job is crucial. For instance, a person is working on an account of a leading petroleum company. We talk about the objectives and get the teams to talk about it and look at what one can do better to meet that objective." Here kicks in the 'Be The Navigator' or BTN initiative. "An employee could look at what is the improvement idea that he or she has and then the teams come together and put it across to the customer directly; some of it is monetised too," explains Shankar.
The employee focus extends to wellness. Shankar himself has run some half marathons. The wellness initiatives at Infosys include HALE (Health Assessment and Lifestyle Enrichment Program), online wellness tools and health challenges.
In 2001, while participating in the launch of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, T.V. Mohandas Pai, former director, Infosys, and who led many people initiatives during the company's early years, had declared: "Trespassers will be recruited", referring to the newly built Infosys campus across the road. He says the biggest question for any IT company is what will keep people up at night would be: "Are we going to miss a technology trend that is going to hurt us badly and therefore miss a chance to lead the next technology wave? Talent has many choices in the industry today and therefore the question is how should a company make sure that the best people join it." A strong supporter of higher compensation for freshers, he says, "You cannot keep body and soul together with what the IT industry pays its freshers today. It should at least be Rs 5 -6 lakh per annum." Last year, Infosys, as also a few other leading companies, raised the entry level salaries to around Rs 3.6 lakh from about Rs 3.3 lakh earlier.