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Elephants can dance

SBI is pulling out all stops to bring about attitudinal changes in its 2.05 lakh employees.

twitter-logo Anand Adhikari        Print Edition: February 7, 2010

Till not so long ago, the perception of a public sector banker was stereotypical: Laidback, inefficient and disgruntled. Over the recent past, many public sector banks have undertaken massive makeovers—right from injecting technology to sprucing up the brand—and at least on the efficiency front, many of them compare well with their private sector and foreign counterparts.

But a public sector banker as a happy employee? There hasn't been much evidence to suggest that. Until the results of the BT-Indicus-PeopleStrong study came along, which has State Bank of India (SBI) at #7 position, with high-profile private sector institutions like HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank lower down the list.

So, what's SBI doing right with its army of over 2 lakh employees? "We started a humongous HR exercise some time in 2006, when we bluntly shared with our employees the state of affairs and what needs to be done to repair the situation," says Anup Banerji, Deputy MD and Group Executive (National Banking), SBI.

In July 2006, the country's largest and oldest bank (it dates back to 1806) kicked off "Project Parivartan", a massive mass communication programme that covered 130,000 employees in 100 days with 400 trainers. The brainchild of Chairman O.P. Bhatt, the project involves imparting communication skills to deal with customers to make SBI a customer-friendly organisation.

Three years later, SBI's top brass extended Project Parivartan with a new exercise called Project Citizen that was flagged off deep down south in Thiruvananthapuram. Since then, it has been taken nationwide. This project will run over two years by the end of which one can expect cultural and attitudinal changes across the organisation.

A crucial change at SBI is a willingness to experiment by moving beyond the traditional recruitment method—of a common test—and hire outside specialists like chartered accountants, law graduates, economists, statisticians and marketing professionals. One traditional initiative that holds SBI in good stead is its focus on skill development, with its four national level apex training colleges and 54 learning centres.

At the top, SBI has also begun focussing on creating a leadership pipeline. The bank has tie-ups with the Indian School of Business and the IIMs for training leaders. "We also send top executives abroad for training and development," says Banerji.

The good news is that SBI has finally cracked the equation that happy employees translate into happy customers.

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