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How we found the best companies to work for

For the past eight years Business Today, along with survey and knowledge partners, have been bringing you an annual listing of India's Best Companies To Work For.

     Print Edition: February 7, 2010

Why do we work for the company we work for? Is it because the company gives us the highest salary we can command? And a career profile that best suits our abilities? And a career prospect that best fits our aspirations? And training and mentorship to enhance our skills and confidence?…the list can go on and on. In reality, getting all of these in one company would mean getting a dream job. That may be an unrealistic target to set for ourselves.

But we can surely aim for a good job. For the past eight years Business Today, along with survey and knowledge partners, have been bringing you an annual listing of India's Best Companies To Work For. The exercise goes much beyond just the listings. In the process of arriving at our rankings we have also tried to highlight and analyse the best HR practices and how they have evolved in India. This year's survey takes a huge leap in this direction—it not only captures a much larger number of companies, but also reveals several facets of HR as it is practised by India Inc.

The Old and The New

Earlier

  • Company participation was voluntary—they could drop out if they wished.
  • The rankings were based on weights across factors like HR processes, views of stakeholders and employees.
  • Company universe not large enough to arrive at more than 10 Best Companies To Work For.

Now

  • No direct company participation sought. Only employee participation obtained.
  • Rankings are based on what employees think about employers—present, past and future.
  • Universe big enough to arrive at 25 best companies and some sector-specific best companies.

The superior outcome of this year's survey wasn't exactly in our minds when we first thought of drastically overhauling the methodology sometime in the middle of 2009. That we should be reviewing some of our processes had occurred to us while concluding our last year's survey that appeared in BT dated January 25, 2009. While reporting on companies we came across certain discrepancies in the data that companies had provided during the course of the survey and what they were sharing with us after the survey results were ready.

It wasn't that companies were misleading us through gold plating of data, but due to regional and inter-temporal variations in ratios like attrition rate, promotion ratio and training budget, the data recorded in the survey and that in the reporting were beginning to differ. While we could have found ways to fix this, the occurrence of variations made us wonder if there is a totally different way to arriving at The Best Companies To Work For.

A new way that not only helps address the discrepancies, but also settles some other outstanding issues like:

  • Enlarging the scope of the study to include more companies.
  • Identifying sector-specific best employers, in addition to the overall best employers.
  • Getting out of the participation route, which exposes the study to a situation where a company can simply opt out.
  • Getting more "public" data—in the past companies would share lots of information only if we promise not to publish.

To address all these, and some more issues, the consensus was to make the study a "by the employee, of the employee" kind. That is, instead of reaching out to companies, we reach out to employees directly, asking them about the best employers based on a structured questionnaire. We could then also ask them about what they think constitutes a good HR practice, what would make them quit their existing job (both the pull and the push factors), which company according to them is India's best employer (not only in their sector, but also overall). This way, among other things, we would be able to test the true HR equity of a company across the entire employee landscape. And, after all, a company's HR is only as good as its current, past and future (potential) employees think it to be.

But setting on this course would require committing to certain big tasks. Like reaching out to as large a set of employee base as is possible (we achieved close to 9,000); designing a questionnaire that captures all the nuances of HR, and yet is short and simple enough for maximum number of people to easily respond to; using a technology platform that allows us to reach out to people across regions, age, professions, functions; monitoring the survey process to ensure that dummy and motivated responses are not filled in that would skew results.All this meant choosing a survey partner that has expertise and demonstrated comfort in conducting such surveys. We chose Indicus Analytics, a partner in several studies with our group's flagship publication India Today, as also with BT. For the design of the questionnaire and to help us interpret the results, we partnered with PeopleStrong, an HR consultancy.

The results of this year's study match most of the expectations we had. We have more companies, we have some of India's biggest employers and we have made a beginning towards sector-specific best employers. While details of the results and philosophy of the study have been dealt with elsewhere in this package of cover stories, a few more words on our approach to the study are in order.

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