Business Today

Cracking the employee code

Bangalore's top HR executives munch on ways to keep employee morale high and wonder aloud if staff gets enough training.
twitter-logo Alokesh Bhattacharyya       Print Edition: Mar 30, 2014
Morale boosters
(Left to right) Mayank Bhatnagar, Director - HR, GE Healthcare; Manoj Biswas, Managing Director - Geographic Unit HR Leader, Accenture India; Priya Chetty Rajagopal, Executive Director, Leadership & Board Practice, RGF Executive Search India; Shamni Pande

As India ponders how to ensure the so-called demographic dividend does not become a demographic disaster, one group of people is exercised the most. The human resources (HR) manager has the unenviable task of providing not just a continuous supply of employees, but also ensuring their skills are continuously upgraded. In the current gloomy economic climate, with companies tightening their belts and disaffection amongst employees spreading, keeping the flock together and keeping it motivated is a critical task. Again, training needs to continue, but is there enough of it?

Two big challenges; two subjects of spirited panel discussion at the first Business Today Knowledge Forum on HR held at The Oberoi, Bangalore. In a discussion moderated by Shamni Pande, BT's Senior Editor, the first panel took on the subject "Neutralising negativity: keeping employee morale high in tough times" - most relevant in today's context, not just for HR professionals but also the entire business community. The panel comprised Srikantan Moorthy, Senior Vice President and Group HR Head of Infosys; Manoj Biswas, Managing Director-Geographic Unit HR Leader, Accenture India; Sreekanth Arimanithaya, Vice President for Human Resources at CSC India; Mayank Bhatnagar, Director, HR at GE Healthcare; and Priya Chetty Rajagopal, Executive Director for Leadership and Board Practice at RGF Executive Search India.

(Left to right) J.M. Prasad, Chief – HR, ING Vysya Bank; Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, TeamLease; Saagarika Ghoshal, Director – HR, Metro Cash and Carry; Shamni Pande, Senior Editor, Business Today; Seema Nair, Cisco India Head of HR and HR Leader for APJC Regional Business; Pratik Kumar, Executive Vice President – HR, Wipro, and CEO, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering. The panel discussed the need for adequate training
Infosys's Moorthy began the discussion by stressing the need for adequate communication, and maintaining that negativity could be countered by giving employees a sense of pride in their company by celebrating success. "Help deepen the trust by simply saying what you do and doing what you say, and communicate, communicate, communicate," said Moorthy. GE's Bhatnagar noted that engaging employee morale was a continuous process, not a one-time activity. Later in the discussion, he also stressed the need to help people find alternative jobs in the same organisation when required. "That's the biggest focus because that is in the organisation's control."

Accenture India's Biswas believed the current situation would remain the new normal, and pointed out three critical areas of focus at Accenture - treat employees as fully mature professionals, give them opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge, and listen to them.

"We take pride in being a listening organisation," said Biswas. CSC's Arimanithaya recounted lessons he learnt at his current and two previous organisations, which faced both the external challenge of a slowing economy and the internal challenge of being on the brink of bankruptcy. "The bottom line is leadership and culture, and within culture how you engage your employees with straight talk so that they appreciate and understand you," he said. RGF's Rajagopal said that from a search firm's point of view, things were very different. "A reflection of these turbulent times is a lot more people out there engaging with search firms because they are sort of de-risking themselves," she said.

The second panel discussed another critical issue: "Employee training: Is India Inc. doing enough?" And holding forth on the subject was another power-packed panel comprising Pratik Kumar, Executive Vice President for HR at Wipro, who is also CEO of Wipro Infrastructure Engineering; Manish Sabharwal, Chairman of TeamLease; J.M. Prasad, Chief of HR at ING Vysya Bank; Seema Nair, who heads HR at Cisco India, and is also HR Leader for the company's Asia-Pacific, Japan and China businesses; and Saagarika Ghoshal, Director for HR at Metro Cash and Carry.

The discussion was initiated by Wipro's Kumar, who said there was a dichotomy between board level thinking and ground reality in this matter. At the board level the conversation is about enabling the organisation for the future and innovating, but at the ground level companies are immersed in finding and training employees quickly for that next billable project. "I will do something which can actually show me returns immediately. But real development and need will play out over a period of time," he said. TeamLease's Sabharwal said there was a financing failure in skill development or corporate training. "Companies are willing to pay for training of candidates, but not for trained candidates. Candidates are not willing to pay for training, but willing to pay for a job. Banks or microfinance firms are not willing to pay for candidates unless the job is guaranteed. And training companies are unable to fill up."

Cisco's Nair said: "What we're doing at this moment from a training standpoint is to some degree due to a lack of choice." She also pointed to some successful programmes run by Cisco such as CCNA and CCNP. A lot of people who pass these programmes end up joining Cisco, but there are those who join other companies too. ING Vysya Bank's Prasad said that the banking industry would earlier hire probationary officers and train them for 12 to 18 months, but that has changed because employees no longer stick around for the next 20 years. "The model has changed from hire-and-train to one where you source, enroll the person in a third-party programme sponsored by him, financed by banks, and then he gets hired by the banking organisation." Metro Cash and Carry's Ghoshal gave insights into how the company hired people below the level of graduates and facilitated their education. "All our associates - people who help you in the store - are 10th standard pass. We help them not only with getting their 12th standard degree, we also make sure they have their certifications in the retail space."

Panellists spoke frankly, passionately and without constraint. SRM University was the presenting sponsor of the BT Knowledge Forum on HR.

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