Innovation in India

Helen
Rowe investigates just what it takes for a company to make it into the list of
the best employers in India

Workshops
to groom leadership talent, employee sabbaticals and an increasing emphasis on
helping staff develop an improved work-life balance are among the HR
innovations that have earned recognition for 25 employers in India.

For
the second year running, Infosys Technologies has been named India’s best
employer in a survey by HR consultants, Hewitt Associates. Procter & Gamble
and Hewlett-Packard also maintained their respective places in the top three.

GlaxoSmithKline
and Satyam were ranked fourth and fifth in turn, followed by Agilent
Technologies, Bharat Heavy Electricals, American Express, Colgate Palmolive and
Gillette.

Purva
Misra, a consultant at Hewitt, says focusing on developing leadership
potential, as Infosys has done, is becoming increasingly important due to the
unpredictable business environment in which large companies now operate.

"Strong
leadership is the most significant feature of surviving in difficult
circumstances," she said. "The best leaders have taken tough
decisions – business situations often demand it. But their hallmark is the
ability to do so with remarkable humanity."

The
best employers, Misra says, have all identified providing leadership and
management development programmes as key activities. Employees in these
companies averaged 53 training hours a year, which has helped them to cope with
change.

Other
innovations include sabbaticals which are offered by almost all (92 per cent)
of Hewitt’s top 25 employers.

The
top employers also have a common belief that pay alone will not help to retain
their best people, Misra says. "Few claim to be the highest payers, though
most are certainly in the top quartiles of their respective markets."

Instead,
she says, they tend to place more emphasis on a fair salary for the
contribution made and on the benefits offered to employees and their families,
such as health insurance – sometimes without any upper limit on liability – and
extended sick leave and maternity leave.  

Now
in its second year, the survey shows the top 25 remain committed to helping
employees achieve a work-life balance. A new trend appears to be the drive
towards finding new ways of encouraging feedback as a means of keeping staff
motivated.

Hewitt’s
first report found employers using a range of initiatives to encourage
work-life balance. This has continued, with particular emphasis on supporting
and involving the families of employees.

Companies
offer options such as flexi-time and the opportunity to work from home, as well
as scholarships for employees’ children and days off to celebrate birthdays or
other special events, at the company’s expense.

Work-life
balance

P
Dwarakanath, India HR director for GlaxoSmithKline, says employers need to
constantly monitor their work-life balance efforts.

"It
is so easy to say you have to have work-life balance. But when someone phones
and you are supposed to be having a ‘Thank God It’s Friday’, it is easy to
forget about going home early.

"What
we are trying is not unique, but having picked it up I really want us to do it
properly and observe the letter and the spirit of it."

Dwarakanath
says globalisation makes implementing work-life balance policies all the more
important, as employees are in a performance-driven environment and are
required to work unpredictable hours to meet targets.

"Most
of the surveys that look at global organisations say one of the main areas
where we are found wanting – or where there is scope for improvement – is the
area of balancing work and personal life. So we decided to make some honest
efforts on this."

He
says involving families is crucial, to avoid them feeling alienated and
resentful of the demands made by their loved one’s employers. "We are
performance-driven, so you have to balance it.

"They
should feel proud that their family member works for GSK," he says.
"Managers are encouraged to give instant recognition in a public forum for
achievement. For example, one man here worked right through the weekend to get
a report done. On Tuesday after the meetings, we told him to take off with his
wife for a few days and send the bill to the company. Something like that has
so much more impact than recognising it later on a one-to-one basis."

The
survey also notes a number of imaginative ways to give staff a voice at work –
from rewards for the number of suggestions made, to quick online surveys.

"On
average the satisfaction score of best employers was as much as 20 points higher
than other companies," says Misra. "The best employers tended to go
out of their way to gauge the level of morale of their staff, review their
feedback and provide them with the opportunities, systems and practices needed."

Distinguishing
marks

The
study found that on average, 18 per cent of employees at the best companies
made formal suggestions, with as many as 37 per cent of these being translated
into change on the ground.

The
best employers distinguished themselves from rivals by rewarding people for
their contributions and creating specific programmes and practices to help them
think beyond their own jobs.

Jayantika
Burman, HR director India for Agilent Technologies, says a weekly online
survey, called Pulse, was seen as an important tool in keeping staff motivated.

She
says: "Last year we took voluntary salary cuts so we could avoid
redundancies. At that time, for example, there were questions like ‘are you
getting fed up with this?’, and ‘what do you dislike most about working for
Agilent?’

"It’s
just one question presented in an informal way. The emphasis is on getting a
quick, spontaneous response. It is an opportunity to vent frustrations
anonymously. It gives people a voice and it is also fun. "HR then looks at
who we need to involve to act on the suggestions. Then we give feedback about
what we are going to do, which makes it more credible."

Top
10 Indian companies

1.
Infosys Technologies

A
leadership development centre is the grooming ground for future leaders. The
company’s most senior leaders dedicate a high percentage of their time to the
working of the centre and conducting workshops. The Infosys ‘campus’ near
Bangalore offers employees a dazzling range of facilities – from gyms and a
5,000 sq ft swimming pool, to mini golf and a sauna. The Petit Infoscion
programme gives employee’s children the opportunity to explore the workplace.

2.
Procter & Gamble

A
principle-based approach sees practices and policies aligned to employee needs
rather than to position. All initiatives are driven through employee task
forces, HR being only a facilitator. The task forces have both the budget and
empowerment to take decisions that ensure a project’s successful completion.
P&G also offers employees unlimited medical coverage. In theory, there is
an upper limit on sick leave, but it is rarely enforced.

3.
Hewlett-Packard

Work-life
balance is a prime focus. In addition to offering flexible working
arrangements, innovative practices include additional leave of 10 days when an
employee marries or is preparing for higher education, and an extra five days
off in cases of bereavement or paternity leave.

4.
GlaxoSmithKline

Compressed
work weeks, flexi-time, and provision of laptops, so that staff can work from
home, encourage work-life balance. Annual picnics are held for employees and
their families. On ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ occasions, employees leave the
office an hour-and-a-half early. A swimming pool and transcendental meditation
courses help staff combat stress.

5.
Satyam

A
‘mileage’ card awards points to employees for suggestions they make. The more
suggestions, the more points, which can then be redeemed for attractive rewards.

6.
Agilent Technologies

Employee
satisfaction is tracked through the online survey, Pulse. Immediate action
plans are formulated to address areas of employee concern. Employees are given
‘birthday money’ to take their family out for a meal once a year.

7.
Bharat Heavy Electricals

The
company takes complete responsibility for the health of its employees. Complete
medical coverage is provided with no upper limit. Retired employees are also
covered, and lifetime coverage is provided for employees’ children with
learning difficulties.

8.
American Express

Structured
forums and ‘management by walking around’ ensure effective communication.
Work-life balance is championed by senior management, who ‘walk the talk’.
Working late and at weekends is strictly discouraged. Over and above annual
leave, employees have the flexibility to choose 12 extra days’ holiday from 26
set dates.

9.
Colgate Palmolive

An
exhaustive career planning process means potential is identified and employees
are given challenging opportunities. All employees, irrespective of grades or
function, are required to work the market. Opportunities for cross-functional
moves allow employees to develop competencies in other areas. ‘Swap
assignments’ are encouraged in the company to provide global exposure.

10.
Gillette

Employees
are given exposure to international assignments, both long- and short-term,
giving them an opportunity to broaden their business perspective and exchange
best practices.

The
best of the rest

11.
Hughes Software Systems – Company New Year cards show drawings and paintings by
the children of employees

12.
Tata Steel – A series of libraries provide an exhaustive book collection

13.
Dr Reddy’s Laboratories – A range of clubs cater for employee interests

14.
Sasken – Development opportunities range from paid sabbaticals to enrolment on
leading international management programmes

15.
Oracle – The Oracle Caller Line is a free number prospective employees can call
for information

16.
Reliance – Managers and their teams make annual performance commitments to the
chairman

17.
Indian Oil – Employees choose their own training programmes

18.
Compaq – The HR portal facilitates multi-source feedback, self-paced learning
and concierge services

19.
Microsoft – A policy of planned diversity creates a culturally rich workforce
and enhances performance

20.
Maruti Udyog – A ‘Golden Week’ sees the company shut down for seven days in
June and December every year. The weeks coincide with school holidays

21.
Polaris Software Lab – A ‘bonzer’ man works with employee groups playing games,
running quizzes and so on, to faciliate bonding and teamwork

22.
Johnson & Johnson – Programmes and practices are all aligned to ‘The Credo’
– a statement of the company’s mission and values

23.
LG Electronics – Employees do compulsory exercises for five minutes each day

24.
ST Microelectronics – The employee referral scheme can see awards for referrals
go up to Rs160,650 (US $3,346)

25.
Tata Engineering – A ‘leave bank’ operates with employees able to debit leave
at any point.

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