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People Power

E Kumar Sharma     February 19, 2018

His travel schedules could compare with some of the most elite business travellers. Last year, Saswat Kumar Swain, 36, Associate Manager at Accenture, Bengaluru, spent six months in Sweden and, in the remaining part of the year, found himself in a different Indian city every two months. That the technology architect is wheel chair-bound and suffers from 'osteogenesis imperfecta,' or brittle bone disease, did not seem to matter as he went about his work - training next-generation architects and meeting clients. "The culture of this organisation is the biggest attraction. The company is spread across geographies but works on similar values whose centrepiece is respect for people. People take pride in what they do here," he says with a smile as he lets his long tuft of rockstar hair sway before taking off in his motorised wheelchair at Accenture's latest physical asset, the 4,40,000 square feet innovation hub where 4,000 people work that Accenture India opened at Bellandur in Bengaluru in July 2017. He should know, for he has spent a dozen-odd years with the company.

Accenture's India operations have over 1,50,000 employees, which accounts for about 35 per cent of the total global headcount of 4,35,000. Of those in India, over one-third are women, a growing number of them taking leadership roles, including the India head, Rekha M. Menon, Chairman and Senior Managing Director of Accenture in India.

BT met Menon in her office, some 30 km from the innovation hub and asked how much of her mindspace is taken by people issues. "A large part. It is one of my strategic priorities," she says. It is not because she was the human resources lead before getting into her current role two years ago. Her involvement, as we gathered from her, is a reflection of the priority the company accords to people policies. "How do we get people to think and behave differently, which means thinking creatively and out of the box and coming up with innovative ideas. That has been the journey for us," she says.

So, what has this approach translated into? "We have had to re-think how we approach business and we have had to restructure our organisation to be more innovative, open and collaborative. We have done a lot of programmes to make people come up with ideas and disruptive thinking." That, she says, is "good for our clients and also for us internally."

This is reflected in hiring too. While it does not share the numbers, it calls itself one of the largest hirers on campuses of leading B-schools. "The type of people we are hiring is shifting. We are hiring data scientists and also people with design skills." This is apart from graduates in liberal sciences, anthropologists, psychologists, doctors, lawyers and even architects. Earlier, it used to hire mostly engineers, management graduates and some specialists in areas such as finance and human resources. "The mix is changing because the type of work we do has shifted," says Menon. "When I am co-creating with my client, I am also doing design thinking, looking at different solutions, and so will need different skills." For instance, "we do a lot of analytics and for that we need data scientists and people who put pattern thinking together," she says.

Rohit Thakur, who leads Human Resources at Accenture in India as its Managing Director - Human Resources, says, "Two years ago, we shifted from an 'annual performance management process' to 'performance achievement', which meant real-time, ongoing conversations that focused on opportunities in the future rather than assessments of the past. We saw this getting reflected in increased collaboration and team work, with each member getting his or her strengths to the team."

When BT asked Menon about key initiatives over the last one year that she would like to talk about, she listed inclusiveness, skilling and employee health/wellness, apart from steps taken to build a culture of innovation, not necessarily in this order. "Inclusion starts with I" is a big thing at Accenture. "It is about continuing our inclusion journey and expanding the definition of inclusion," says Menon. The aims include eliminating some inherent biases. There is a Youtube video on this too. "Two years ago also I would have said that inclusion is a priority, but that time, it would have been more about gender," which she says is still a priority. The company, both globally and in India, is aiming for 50:50 gender ratio by 2025. In India, one-third workforce is women. Globally, the figure is 40 per cent. "We are on track to meet those goals for India too," says Thakur.

Menon says along with this, there has been an increase in focus on getting more women into leadership roles. While the company does not give region-wise breakup for this, globally, 32 per cent of Accenture's managing director promotions in 2017 were women, up from 21 per cent in 2014. "India is witnessing a similar upward trend," says Menon. "On inclusion, we have moved the needle, and it is about inclusion of all types - gender, disability, sexual orientation, colour, caste," she says. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Accenture offices with all-gender restrooms. "We need to sensitise people on the why and the business case behind it," says Menon.

On skilling, she says, "We invested close to $1 billion on learning and development last year globally. In India, from a physical infrastructure perspective, we have invested in a state-of-the-art learning centre at Whitefield in Bengaluru. Also, the innovation hub in Bengaluru is one place where all technology pieces and industries are represented." That apart, the manner in which learning is provided has been changed. "Today, 10 per cent is classroom, 20 per cent is online and the rest is learning on the go". Incidentally, learning is not just for the millennials. Menon, for instance, intends to deepen her knowledge of blockchain and securities.

Rekha M. Menon Chairman and Senior MD, Accenture in India(Photo;nilotpal baruah)

Another focus area is health and wellness. The company has an initiative called Truly Human. The concept, says Menon, is that "you have to bring your whole self to work and it is possible only if you are taking care of your body, mind and soul, and we want to help you do that." After all, a happier person is bound to be more productive. In October 2017, they organised a campaign called #StopStigma to encourage people to talk freely about mental health issues.

On building a culture of innovation, Thakur refers to some of the innovation programmes and contests last year where over 45,000 people at Accenture India engaged in innovation programmes as mentors, coaches, reviewers and sponsors. The number was three times what was achieved in the previous year. A similar increase was seen in ideas generated through innovation contests; over 13,500 ideas were generated by employees at the annual innovation contest.

Are there any challenges that the transition is throwing up? "Today, as an organisation, we have to think about how to co-opt others who are thinking differently or are problem solvers of tomorrow. This means we change our approach completely and co-create and co-innovate." Challenges indeed. But then, for Menon, a keen believer in meditation, answers may soon be forthcoming.


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