Business Today

HSBC: Nursery for talent

Encouraging its people to take long leave to do their own thing, helping them learn the salsa after office... What is the bank doing? Well, everything it should to retain top talent.

Anand Adhikar        Print Edition: January 25, 2009

Forty-five kilometres away from Udaipur in Rajasthan, the villagers of Kemri and Bahuri have a new visitor. He is a 44-year-old HSBC banker Mayur Singh, on a six-month stay to give shape to his dream project of freshwater conservation and reforestation. This Senior Vice President is developing plantations and trying to hasten the acquisition of land that he needs for his purely private effort. “A lot of effort is required to convince the villagers on land acquisition,” says Singh.

Engaging employees: Country Head Kidwai (front, centre) with staffers outside the heritage HSBC Building
Engaging employees
Singh has been pursuing the project for the past 10 years, but this is the first time he has been able to take a long break from office, courtesy the bank’s FWA or Flexible Working Arrangement, launched two years ago, based on feedback from employees.

The FWA has proved an innovative platform to help the bank retain top talent. Today, almost 30 per cent of the bank’s workforce in India has some kind of arrangement for flexible working hours. And the innovation has not come from the top or HSBC’s global headquarters. “Decision-making is very inclusive at HSBC,” says 51-year-old Naina Lal Kidwai, Country Head at HSBC India

Take, for instance, the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks: the bank was quick to offer its employees the services of a team of psychologists.

“There were some apprehensions initially as these programmes have traditionally worked more in the West, but the initial response has been positive, with many staff signing up for assistance,” says Tanuj Kapilashrami, Head of Human Resources at HSBC India.

Such proactive measures are a big relief for employees in a hightension banking job. There are also other stress-busters like Salsa classes. “There are 16 sessions of Salsa (Latin Cha and Waltz) for employees and two batches of 22 employees have been completed so far,” says Kapilashrami.

Banker’s trust: HR Head Kapilashrami (centre) with the office decked up for Christmas; and staffers at the cafeteria
HR Head Kapilashrami (centre) with the office decked up for Christmas
HSBC’s gains from its engagement with the employees even beyond office hours have helped it score high in parameters like internal employees perception and HR process & policies. Its ranking has improved substantially from past BT-Mercer surveys—from 6th in 2005, to 10th in 2006 and to 4th in 2008. The bank is also the only financial services firm in the top 10.

“HR is not just a stand-alone function in the bank. It is an integral part of each business and becomes the disseminator of best practices across the organisation,” explains Kidwai. The nature of the person put in HR is also very important. So, for example, HSBC’s HR relationship manager for retail has come from the retail banking segment.

HSBC also ensures that the lines of communication between the top management and employees are kept open all the time. Kidwai communicates with employees through blogs and town hall meetings and talks about business performance face-to-face with employees.

Nowadays, her message to employees is that the days of high growth are over and the bank has to tread carefully.

“The big challenge would be learning and development because of the upskilling and mindset shift required to do business in boom times as opposed to more volatile economic environments,” says Kapilashrami. The bank is training and retraining people with multiple skills, so that they can handle various jobs in the group. “Today, even in these difficult times, we will end the year as a net employer,” says Kidwai.

What’s special about HSBC is the diversity of its workforce. Deputy CEO Heredia has had 16 years of global experience before coming to India. The Head of Credit Risk, Ranjit Gokarn, has come from the UK. CFO Raj Tandon worked in Indonesia before coming to India.

“Very often people associate diversity with gender. Diversity goes beyond gender. It is also about employing people across different age groups and those who are differently abled,” says Heredia. The bank recently sponsored an IIM study on gender research to help it map the agenda. “HSBC aspires to be ahead of the curve. It’s an extremely central theme for us.”

There is also no dearth of leaders at HSBC. There is a clear career path for employees. “HSBC looks upon India as a nursery for developing future leaders,” says Heredia.

Kidwai herself was deputy to Niall Booker before becoming the CEO in April 2006. The second line or the succession is clearly defined; Heredia is probably being groomed for the top job. HSBC India also strives for higher benchmarks, and the high points it scores in many HR surveys does not stop it from its task of improving further on performance management.

  • Number of people laid off in 2008-09 (as on Dec. 31, ’08).....0

  • Number of people hired in 2008......2,796

  • Head count in Dec 2008 vis-à-vis Dec 2007......7,989 (7,243 )
  • Head count post-March 2009.....Likely to go up

  • Pay-cuts resorted to/planned......None

  • Innovative HR practice......The bank launched the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help them cope with trauma and stress post 26/11.

Source: Mercer, Company

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