CIOs Winning Strategy

DQI Bureau
New Update

War of Talent, Growing Attrition, Manpower Crunch: phrases which have caught

the attention of the media. It has taken HR out of the office boundaries of IT

companies and into peoples living rooms and evening cocktails.


Suddenly everybody (also IT outsiders) is talking vociferously about hiring

woes, and talent managementall thanks to the booming Indian IT services

industry. Competition is tough. Despite being a young country, its obviously

becoming a problem to satisfy the services companies insatiable appetite for

more and more manpower.

But though these companies are weighed down because of the huge volumes they

have to hire and train (and retain), they are able to offer very attractive

salaries, big perks, glitzy work environment, globe-trotting, et al. Not to

forget the lure of extensive training.


Where is the Fire?

Many CIOs become part-defensive, part-reflective when asked how they manage

to attract and retain IT talent, in the face of tough competition from an

industry that competes on peopleIndias vibrant IT services exports industry.

After all, whether it is salary, proactive feel-good HR policies, or growth, the

IT services industry offers a lot to its employees as compared to any other.

Most CIOs point to the responsibility and ownership in user companies as clear


With a tech user company, theyll be working with the business people,

learning functions, processes. They will grow into becoming business leaders.

Whereas the services firms offer fast growth, big salaries but they dont get

the same depth, the width of experience, says Hilal Khan, head, Corporate IT,

Honda Motors, who looks for a 50:50 mix of freshers and skilled-professionals

for his team.

Most CIOs insist user companies offer their own brand of glamourthe glamour

of being a part of the companies business decisions, and wholesome, fulfilling



They are not overtly worried about attrition and hiringa sure sign that

their strategy is paying off. For example, Arun Gupta, CIO, Shoppers Stop,

places hiring and attrition way down at a #3 or even below in his pain list.

Price is an issue and retention

a pain area, but with IT now being looked upon as a business enabler rather

than a cost-center, hiring is not a problem

Zoeb Adenwala, CIO, Essel Propack

There is an across the board

shortage of people who want to do a good job. Long-term skill development

and a career approach is at a discount across functions

Shikha Rai, director, IT, Canon India

Over the last year, we have been able to create stability within the team by

offering a mix of projects and operational activities such that they do not find

themselves stagnating in their current roles. With reduced attrition, and the

focus on skill upgrades and enhancements, our IT team has been able to scale up

to the need at hand. Coupled with tactical outsourcing, our people issues have

been addressed, Gupta adds.


Guptawho, before his present assignment, was with Pfizer, a company often

referred to as a CIO factory, with so many IT heads in India being its

alumnirefers to tactical outsourcing, thereby hinting that the real job of an

IT guy in the future may not necessarily be doing IT, but ensuring business

happens through IT. Inadvertently, thanks to their exposure to the world of

outsourcing, many Indian CIOs understand that going forward, they will have to

outsource more and more. In such an environment, it is not knowledge of the

latest technology but translating business vision to IT and managing services

relationships will be key to success of an IT professional in a user


In line with that, most CIOs look for fundamentally different qualities in

the candidates that they look for hiring into their IT organizations from what

IT firms look for.

What I look for is if the person is mentally ready to join my company, do

the job I require him to do, understand the business implications. Id rather

take a positive attitude and a long-term commitment, than skill-sets, says Ritu

Madbhavi, VP, IT at FCB Ulka.


Khan of Honda Motors agrees. Instead of restricting the choice to a person

with skill-sets he goes for people who are logical, astute, positive, and who

have good selling skills, team spirit, and communication skills.

He says for a techie who passes out of college, there are two choiceseither

become a user of IT or a creator of IT. S/he has to measure the merits and

demerits of both, and make her or his own choice.


There are some CIOs who acknowledge that at a broader level, finding skilled

IT professionals is a challenge, though it may not be a top worrying factor as

of today. Says Shikha Rai, director, IT, Canon India the malaise runs deeper in

that there is an across the board shortage of people who want to do a good job.

Long-term skill development and a career approach is at a discount across


But most CIOs say IT skills are secondary to business acumen quite

unequivocally, though that will be tested only when they do not find enough

people who have both!

What the user companies have managed to do is focus away from the traditional

requirement of skills, skills, and more skills, and on business acumen and the

ability to take responsibility. They have managed to attract a fundamentally

different breed of IT professionalswhore not nerds but the future business

leaders. And the strategy is paying off.


Inclusive Growth

So what seems to be winning the war of talent for the user companies is

the job role they have on offer. And it is very important, as Madbhavi rightly

points out, that you sell the job honestly. If you present a false picture,

youll end up the loser. Considering what a huge cost losing people is to the

company, when you take into account the spend on an employeetraining, HR

processes, hiring costsit sure seems like very sensible advice.

The employee works closely with the business people, works on every damn

thing as she puts it, and has complete ownership. Theres instant praise and

problem solving, and a strong sense of belonging.

To keep employees happy you

have to facilitate better HR practices within the department, and reward


Pradip Lele, VP,

IT, S Kumars Nationwide

An IT company can give you fast

growth, big salaries but what a user company gives you is depth, width, and


Hilal Khan, head, Corporate IT,

Honda Motor India

What I look for is if the

person is mentally ready to join my company, do the job I require him to do,

understand the business implications

Ritu Madbhavi, VP, IT, FCB Ulka

We offer them the exhilaration

of being able to reap the benefits of their toil and effort by seeing how

the technology solution they created has impacted the business

Arun Gupta, CIO, Shoppers Stop

What we offer is a long-term career option, and we look for commitment in


Its a close group, they can walk up to me anytime and share their

concernspersonal or official. There is continuous mentoring and hand-holding,

is the kind of atmosphere Madbhavi offers to her team. Agrees Gupta: We offer

them the exhilaration of being able to reap the benefits of their toil and

effort by seeing how the technology solution they created has impacted the

business. Many professionals are driven by this, and their love of business and

technology, in combination, is higher than other incentives offered by the

services companies.

In a technology company you will be given software applications to develop,

which you just go back and do, but in a user company you have a say, a

complete sense of ownership. You know what is good, what will work, and you put

it across, and you are heard. That itself gives tremendous satisfaction, says

Madbhavi, and she knows, shes been there, having worked with TCS and NIIT.

Pradip Lele, VP, IT at S Kumars Nationwide finds that getting them

(manpower) within the designations, role fitment, and package limits is a

problem. He puts a lot of stress on checking personal reference, and evaluating

total exposure with fitment to his requirements. He says that though tech

companies do get the advantage of internal and external competition, at the

user-end psychological analysis as well as personal background analysis at the

interviewing stage plays a crucial role. He says to keep employees happy you

have to facilitate better HR practices within the department, and reward

achievements, though he feels that aspirations of candidates are much higher

compared to capabilities.

Shikha Rai of Canon says hiring, retaining, salary, growthall four

dimensions have their own challenge. The principle shift is the paradigm of

instant gratification. All across there is a transformation where expectations

from the job has overtaken the responsibility to deliver but adds that people

who deliver develop a reputation and are sought after. The grass does appear

greener across the fence, but walking across and exchanging notes with friends

leads to similar storiespeople who have stuck around with the organization do

find security that the environment provides and the gaps created on account of

attrition provides a huge opportunity. Hence, yes, there are those who choose to

stay and flourish.

Image Makeover

What seems to have worked for these companies is the huge image overhaul

that the IT departments have undergone. And here again, the CIO has taken the

lead. It is no more about writing operating systems or learning programming, it

is about earning more revenue, lowering costs, improving customer

servicehelping the company change the way it works. And thats the big pull. As

Rai says, The organization is alive to and thrives on account of the enablement

that the IT provides. Gupta of Shoppers Stop says its extremely important for

the CIO along with other CXOs to address this image issue: The leadership

team contributes to the public awareness and perception. And the pull to an

industry or company is driven by the perception at large on what kinds of

opportunities are available within the industry and enterprise.

Then comes the bigger challengeretentionbecause that is a far larger

challenge than hiring itself. People within a team stay if their goals are

aligned to the organization goals and they continue to see new opportunities for

growth. Salary is important to all of us, but it is not the primary driver for

retention. There is an old saying: People join organizations, but they leave

their bosses, says Gupta, and Rai believes that each situation and each

employee demands a unique method of handling, This is a challenge while working

for an organization which is global and process driven. Yet I find that open

communication channels and a continuous dialog with the team helps in

establishing a bond. Another important need in todays fast moving, dynamic

world is to have very tight processes; and checks and controls in place, says

Madbhavi, one has to document everything; one-person dependency has to be

minimal. This not just saves on precious time and resources, but also makes the

newcomer feel s/he belongs, right from day one.

Zoeb Adenwala, CIO, Essel Propack says an in-house IT job gets monotonous

after sometime and meeting aspirations of young techies becomes rather

difficult. One has to then settle for the second best and outsource high skill

jobs. Price is an issue and retention a pain area, but with IT now being looked

upon as a business enabler rather than a cost-center, hiring is not a problem.

The Current Reality

A much talked about McKinsey survey pegs the available, hire-worthy tech

talent at only 25%. Though the survey was primarily focused on multinational

off-shoring companies, Gupta feels that it reflects the current reality for

enterprises in India. The technical skills are not adequate to become

productive in an internal IT environment. In India, we expect our teams to be

multi-skilled, whereas in other parts of the world, a specialization in a

specific technology is adequate to remain productive and employable, he says,

but does believe that all thats slowly changing.

The ecosystem has to gear up toward the increase in demand with the country

observing good growth across industries. Most of the students completing their

academics do not have the skills required by the industry. Some of us partner

with selected academic institutes to provide a platform for the students to

acquire skills that will assist them in their and our quest to be productive

quickly. Such partnerships need a larger platform to create a bigger pool of

talent, says Gupta. As feels Madbhavi and Essel Propacks Adenwala: Technology

is moving much faster than academia can keep up with, thats understood. The

educational institutions are not being able to cope up with the changing and

growing skill-sets that are demanded. The curriculum will have to be improved

upon faster to avoid stagnation. So, what came is that the government and the

institutes should work together on the course curriculum; need for hands-on

skill-set validation test centers was put forward by Pradip Leleto improve the

employability of fresh talent.

Moral of the Story

With the Indian economy on a high, the war for talent is an undeniable one

for corporates. Though working for a tech user company might not be considered

too hot by the techie community, they seem to be making the right moves in

keeping their people happy. Maybe theres a lesson to be learnt.

Atreyee Ganguly