Feature: India's Best IT Employers

Every year Dataquest in conjunction with IDC India, conducts a comprehensive HR survey titled as the Best Employer Survey (BES). The purpose is simple to gauge the latest trends in the IT industry from the perspective of the employers and more importantly from the view point of the employees. Like every year, this year's BES also throws up some interesting surprises, the biggest one is the downfall of the domestic companies and rise of the foreign firms. The implications are quite obvious, Indian companies can no longer take foreign for granted, thinking that Indian employees will choose them over the latter. They need to buck up, as the IBMs and Accentures of the world are adopting Indian customs and amalgamating themselves in the Indian milieu. The flattening of the world had benefited Indian companies, now the foreign firms are going for the kill.

I would encourage, all of you to read this story on DQ website (the link given below) as there are a lot of graphs that complement the story. Hopefully, it will be accessible. Await your comments...
The Other Side of the Flat World

American and European services firms have figured this out and are taking on the India-based firms head on in people management, even adapting global HR policies to suit Indian needs.
They're succeeding.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Smugness and Infosys hardly go together. Yet, in the spring of 2004, Nandan Nilekani had famously proclaimed that the global playing field "had been leveled. The CEO of Infosys was conversing with visiting American journalist Thomas Friedman. The change, according to Nilekani, had been brought about by technology and globalization. For once, Nilekani seemed to let go of his natural modesty as he extolled the strategies adopted by his company. And also by his other Indian peers.

Friedman was impressed. So much so that he called his wife from his hotel room to tell her that the world was "flattening". His book, World is Flat, eulogized the tactics adopted by Nilekani, Ramadorai, Premji and others, proclaiming a new world order. It was meant to be a warning note to the developed nations, particularly, America.

But even before Friedman loudly asserted it, companies like IBM, Accenture, EDS, CSC, and ACS the North American services firms were feeling the heat. Not only were these Indian firms taking their market share in IT services, many of them had listed in America and had soon become the darlings of Wall Street.

The Indians, of course, were beating them hands down in cost. A large part of that cost advantage came from Indias low-cost work force, which was equally good, if not better than the American IT workers.

It was time for them to tap that talent too. Between 2004-2007, almost all American firms and a few European ones significantly ramped up their Indian delivery. Today, for many of them, including the biggest of them all IBM have more workforce in India than in any other part of the world, excluding of course, USA.

In short, the success in the American (or European) marketplace is increasingly depending on how successfully you compete in the Indian market for talent.

While many of them were hiring rapidly, the Indian firms maintained that just hiring by paying more would not make them successful in India. Satisfying the needs of Indian employees which are very different from those in the US (say the need for job security)was not going to be easy.
Easy, it was not. But possible, it is.

This years DQ-IDC Best Employers Survey (BES) gives enough reasons to believe that the non-Indian firms are steadily mastering the art of managing Indian employees, because that has become the numero uno factor for success in the marketplace.

This years BES gives an interesting insight that seems to coincide with Friedmans flat world contention. For long, Indian services companies were making the most of tech democratization, going from strength to strength. But, somehow, non-Indian service firms have come to terms with the new order, and are bringing the battle to India. They have realized that the Indian workforce is the key to the future and have staked a claim.

The success in the American (or European) marketplace is increasingly depending on how successfully you compete in the Indian market for talent . When Indians started to pitch for American IT contracts, they were the challengers; the American firms were the incumbents. In the Indian talent market, the same phenomenon is repeating itself, with the order having been reversed. It is the Infosys and Wipros who are the incumbents; it is the IBMs and Capgeminis that are the challengers.

The survey results show that the world is indeed flat equally flat for all. Or, as they often say, globalization is a two way street. We have come a full circle.

Challenge to Indian Service
If Friedmans flat world was the new world order, call it the new, new world order. In BES07, four non-Indian services firms have made impressive debut. Now there are a total of five non-Indian services firm in the list. IBM, Capgemini, Cognizant, CSC, and Ness Tech these companies have either made a debut or have moved up in the ranking, while the Indian giants, but for TCS, have tumbled.

Non-Indian services firms have also learnt how to make best talent in this flat world It is obvious that Indian services companies that had been using the global service delivery model had a lot of faith on their people management skills. While these companies were bidding and winning contracts abroad against global service companies, so were the non-Indian service companies. Not only have these global companies set up base in India, they have also studied and adopted themselves to the Indian climate. Thus IBM India is just like any other Indian IT biggie, only more attractive due to the international lineage. The implications are loud and clear.
Non-Indian services firm have also learnt how to make best use of the not-so spiky world of ours.

The Charge of the Foreign Brigade
It is certainly not the first time that these non-Indian services firms have performed well on BES. Over the years, they have staked claim to quite many places on the Top 20 list. Last year, five non-Indian firms were on the list, of which three (Cadence, CSC, and Kanbay as part of Capgemini) are back again this year. There were six non-Indian firms in 2005 and over 10 in 2004. In fact in 2004, non-Indian firms topped 4 out of the 8 broad categories like image, culture, job content, etc, while they had topped 8 of 10 in 2003. Over the last few years, non-Indian firms have been recruiting heavily, for instance, IBM India and Cognizant added around 14,000 employees each in the last year itself and were amongst the largest recruiters in India. Little wonder these companies are gaining prominence in the BES.

By and large, the reasons remain the same over last year. The only significant change: overseas opportunities now matter more than growth opportunity. However, managers complain that the love for overseas is restricted to postings abroad for one-two years, unlike earlier. Most of them want to come back to India after a short overseas stint

Of the lot, Cadence has been the most persistent. It was ranked at the very top (#1) in 2003, came in #4 in 2004, #6 in 2005, and #5 in 2006. This year Cadence falls 9 places to be ranked #14because of a fall of 12 places in HR rankings. IBM India has been another regular in the BES, it was ranked at #5 in 2003, #3 in 2004, and #8 in 2005. It did not participate in 2006 and this year IBM re-entered the list again at #6. IBM ranks at #3 on HR rankings and #12 on employee rankings, meaning it still has a lot of work etched out for it. The other most interesting MNC debut this year was that of the European major, Capgemini that ranks at #6, with IBM. The interesting part being that it ranks #31 on the HR list and #5 on the employee ranks, a difference of 26 ranks between the two, the second largest in BES this year.

The change is evident. In the past these companies tried to fit the operations to the processes they had brought along with them. This was certainly not the best way, as Indian employees lay a lot of emphasis on inter-personal relationships. Indians not only work for a company, but, more often than not, are married to them. So while a good pay package was always good, it was never the be all of a job. Thus, a lot many employees preferred the hospitable and informal atmosphere at Indian companies rather than process driven MNCs.

Non-Indian companies have woken up to this unique characteristic of Indian employees and are changing themselves with a gusto. Take the case of Capgemini, its India center is not a clone of the HQ, but follows distinctive HR policies that are aimed at the Indian audience. IBM is trying to be more personal, with Sam Palmisano making frequent trips to India and displaying his love through huge get-togethers that seem like a typical Indian wedding. On the other hand, Intel, has taken a leaf out of the Tatas and is increasingly talking about its CSR activities. It would seem that these non-Indian services are adapting to the Indian work culture and beating the big Indian players in their own game.

Interestingly, growth opportunity and technology one is working on are the two parameters where people are fairly satisfied; yet they would change for those reasons. The toughest challenge for employers

The results of this transformation are there for all to see. Take the case of dream companies four non-Indian companies have made their place in the Top 10. The implication is clear: more Indians prefer non-Indian service firms to their Indian counterparts.

Even when it comes to work culture, non-Indian firms are scoring. There are four non-Indian services companies in the Top 10 with Infosys plummeting to #20 on the culture parameter. The myth that non-Indian companies pay better seems to be dispelled as there are only three non-Indian services companies in the Top 10 list. In fact Infosys is last at #20, preceded by IBM at #19. When it comes to satisfaction parameters, growth opportunity tops. Not surprising considering the industry is still growing at more than 30% and with that everyone is growing

The signs are ominous. There are still a lot of non-Indian firms, like HP, Oracle, etc that used to be part of the BES in the past but are not so now for a variety of reasons. Whereas companies like Microsoft, Accenture, EDS, SAP, Google, etc, that have been quite active in India did not participate in the survey. In the days to come, as these non-Indian services companies adapt further, they will continue to give the Indian companies a run for their employees.

Bangalore Tigers Tamed
But for TCS, the big Indian IT humpty-dumpties have taken a fall, especially the Bangalore tigers. The biggest surprise has been Wipro Technologies, which has dropped by 14 places and is out of the Top 20 list. The main reason can be its dismal performance on employee ranking. It is rated quite poorly on parameters like preferred employer (internal), appraisal, training, and culture. But has retained its HR rank, and is ranked at #3. Over the years, Wipro has had its ups and downs on the annual BES. In the first survey, in 2001, it was ranked a #8, rising to #3 in 2002, falling to #7 in 2003, to #18 in 2004, rising again to #15 in 2005 and #9 in 2006. There has been a lot of inconsistency in Wipros performance over the years, and for the first time, this year it is out of the Top 20.

On the other hand, Infosys has dropped by 4 places and is ranked #8. Like Wipro, Infosys also has performed badly on the employee rank, falling from #8 to #15 this year.

The drop could be attributed to the fact that the company has performed badly on the following parameters: preferred employer (internal), company image, salary, and others. In fact, on a lot of parameters Infosys is at the bottom, like appraisal, people, overall satisfaction, image, job content, culture. There seems to be a major discontent brewing among Infosys employees, all this while the company makes a media splash of its foreign interns.

The explanation offered oft times is that as both these companies are ramping up rapidly, there seems to be a tradeoff. Employees joining the organization now might be expecting the same informal atmosphere that used to exist half a dozen years back, for which these companies have been known. But that personal touch might have been lost in the huge number game. Whatever might be the case, one thing is certain, the Bangalore tigers need to get their act together.

A Giant on Top
While the rest of the Indian biggies have tumbled, TCS has, in a way, improved on its performance. This year too it retains its number one position in the overall rankings. In the HR ranking, it tops the list, though there is minor drop in the overall HR score due to low CAGR as compared to last year. But on the employee part, TCS has gone a notch higher and is ranked #3.
TCS is ranked at the top on two parameters: overseas opportunity and job security. With the company going more and more global, obviously the employees seem to be excited about the opportunities opening up. The employees also seem to be quite happy, as the company scored well on the preferred employer (Internal) parameter, as compared to last year.

Yet, TCS must pay attention to lower and mid-level employees as it is ranked #9 on the issue that the appraisal system was fair. It is ranked #10 for "I get regular and constructive feedback from manager/superior" and #8 "I get a sense of great professional and personal accomplishment from the work I do". TCS is followed by another Indian strong player, HCL Info, ranked at #2.

Size Does Not Matter
Year after year, there is a discussion on how well small companies have fared on the BES. When we talk of small companies it means relatively, in terms of the big Indian and non-Indian giants. This year there were close to eight small companies in the Top 20: iGate, RMSI, Synechron, Tavant, Accel Frontline, Cybage, AztecSoft, and Geometric. iGates performance has been truly impressive as it gained 26 places to be ranked #3.

These small companies have performed well on the employee ranking vis--vis HR, implying that employees are satisfied with things like salary hikes, payment at par with industry standards or, more importantly, that employees are encouraged to take risk at work. Most of these companies have ranked high on the employee ranking, like iGate at #2, RMSI #4, and Tavant #6. Only Synechron, amongst these companies, has been ranked high on the HR ranking, # 5, and RMSI is #8.

There has also been a change in the way employees perceive these companies. Take the case of image, there are three small companies that have come in the Top 5. Even on the preferred employer (internal) parameter, there are two small companies in the Top 5. Though in the dream company parameter, there is only one small firm (iGate) in the Top 5. Small companies score on the job content front, as was made obvious from the fact that four small companies appear in the Top 5. They are also ranked highly on the culture parameter, with three in the Top 5.

The small companies have also learnt the art of retaining: RMSI is ranked at #1 and iGate at #2 on the retention rate. Though attrition is high as well, as on the same parameter, there were three small companies in the Top 5.

According to some arguments, employee rankings are no real indicator of a companys success, as a sudden windfall to cash to employees or other emoluments like ESOPs could influence that. So these companies need to get their HR processes in place to be termed as the great Indian employers.

The Ones that Lost Out
This year there have been quite a few upsets in terms of companies in the last years Top 20 missing the list this time round. Seven companies, to be precise. As stated earlier the most notable was Wipro that has been ranked #22. The others are GlobalLogic (formerly Induslogic) at #21 and Nucleus Software at #28. Companies like NIIT, Sasken, Sierra Atlantic and Interra IT did not qualify for the employee round.

The main reason being a drastic drop in employee ranks. Take the case of GlobalLogic, while its HR rank fell by three places, its employee rank fell a whopping 15 places. In case of Wipro the fall was all the more drastic, with employee rank falling a whopping 19 places to be ranked #30. Nucleus Softwares employee rank fell by 13 places and it was ranked #26. These three companies fared badly on basically three major employee parameters, namely salary, appraisal and preferred employer (internal).

Meanwhile, there were other companies like Honeywell, Virtusa, Zensar, L&T Indo, Tech Mahindra, Nagarro, Mphasis, and Patni that are ranked beyond the top 20 and could find place in the coming year or years.

Roti, Videsh aur Tarakki
Salary, overseas opportunity and growth opportunity are the top three factors employees cited that would make them shift jobsthe same as last year. However, there is a slight change in priority. While salary and compensation did continue at top, this year, overseas opportunity has replaced growth opportunity as the No 2 factor. Surprising considering that the number of Indians abroad who want to come back to India is also on the rise.

The HR managers agree, however, with the finding, while offering an explanation. Many of them contend that overseas posting is still a big lure for employees; but unlike say ten years back, todays young IT engineers do not want to go abroad to settle there. "It is very difficult to find someone willing to be posted abroad for five-six years; but everyone wants a 1-2 years stint," says an HR chief. The reason, he explains, is saving some good money "so that you can come back, buy a property and settle in Delhi or Bangalore." So, in essence, it is a reaffirmation of the first point.

However, what is noteworthy is that in almost all the top parameters (except location), the scores have come down, meaning no single reason is now enough for changing the job. They want a better balance of everything.

When it comes to satisfaction about parameters, growth opportunity tops. Not surprising considering the industry is still growing at more than 30% and with that everyone is growing. Surprisingly, all talks of long hours/stress notwithstanding, most employees feel that they have a good balance of social life and work life. And most of them are happy about organization culture and work climate as well.

The BES also asked the employees to react to specific statements. The maximum agreement was in the area of peer relationships. As many as 84.2% employees strongly agree to the statement that "my relationship with my peers make for a better work environment". More than 81% strongly agreed to the statement that their colleagues help them when they need them. About 76% respondents strongly agreed that people in their organizations treat each other with mutual respect and trust.

The other area that got a lot of strong agreement to positive statements was company culture. Most employees (more than 70% in each case) strongly agreed about their employers value & ethics, fairness of business practice, honesty & integrity, and professionalism towards all stakeholders.

Not surprisingly, most of the disagreement and "somewhat" agreements were in the area of salary and compensation. Only 34% strongly believed that they are getting paid at par with the industry and 28% said they are not encouraged to take risk at work.

It is still a very positive feeling by Indian employees. Peer relations and organization culture are the areas employees are most satisfied about. The total agreement is obtained by adding the "Strongly agree" and "somewhat agree" responses

Attrition Down
While the Indian employees have become more confident and are demanding more salaries, the average attrition rate of the industry has, in fact, gone down by a percentage point. It currently hovers at around 14%, unlike 15% last year. The main reason for Indian employees leaving the company are: overseas opportunity and growth opportunity. Subsequently, retention rates have improved by a percentage point and are currently at 82% for the industry at large.

Being Fair(er)
As India marches on with high growth and rapid development, so do Indian women. Over the last many years, the percentage of Indian women in companies has been steadily rising. In 2007 it was 23.7% (from the companies surveyed). It has grown from 14.5% in 2004 to 19.7% in 2005 and 23.6% in 2006. A growth of 0.1% point is nothing much to cheer about though, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

The number of people who strongly agreed that the company is sensitive to its women employees has dropped over the years from 66% in 2004 to 64% in 2006, to 63.32% in 2007. It could also be due to the fact that a lot of women employees in the workforce were able to voice their concerns this year.

Summing up, its obvious that Indian service companies are facing stiff competition from non-Indian service firms. The paradigms of the games have changed. Companies like Wipro and Infosys need to gear themselves against the turning tide. The war for the Indian employee is on, and at the moment the adaptive non-Indian firms seem to have an upper hand.

Much water has flown since Nilekani made the assertion about a flat world. He was indeed right, the playing field had been leveled, but one doubts if he counted on the fact that non-Indian firms could also use it to their advantage.

A flat world is certainly not a safe world.

Shashwat DC

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