Hyderabad: While the attrition rates in the Indian BPO industry are between a staggering 50 per cent and 60 per cent according to recent estimates, attrition in even the Indian software industry, too, has become a cause for concern. HR professionals say that a majority of call centre employees quit for want of adequate future prospects though a vast majority of those who quit actually stick it out in the industry and move up the salary ladder from one call centre to another.
Attrition in the software industry is also higher than the average for the rest of Indian industry. Against the norm of five per cent attrition across the entire Indian industry, IT sector majors like Infosys, Satyam and Wipro have managed to bring attrition rates down to 10 to 15 per cent through a combination of various HR efforts in the past one year.
Not surprisingly rapid staff turnover remains a cause for concern for the majority of the rapidly growing IT / ITeS sector in India. According to Nasscom studies, while only 284,000 professionals were employed by the IT / ITeS industry in 1999-2000, the numbers had increased to one million in 2004-05.
As demand for skilled personnel has been rising steadily over the past two years, issues of employee selection, retention and compensation levels are assuming centre stage. Consequently, IT sector employers are increasingly focusing on how to hire and hold professionals who matter and are looking at HR strategies, which are focused on employee engagement and providing their personnel with rewarding experiences within the organisation.
Hiring the right people and getting them to stay is the domain of Kenexa Technologies, a US-based hiring and retention firm that has set up a centre in Hyderabad. Headquartered in Pennsylvania, its customers vary in size and include more than 100 of the Fortune 500 and half of the Dow 30 companies.
In India Kennexa has provided its services a host of companies including Baan, a global ERP business recently acquired by SSA Global (2Q 2004 revenues announced on January 31, 2005, $178 million) and Invensys, the UK-based production and energy resources. management business with a turnover of £3.585 million, to handle its recruitment in India. Kenexa is now positioned as a global provider of integrated human capital management, software and services.
Established in 1987, Kenexa's global turnover in 2004 was close to $60 million. The company provides recruitment consultancy relating to talent acquisition, recruitment management and support, retention consulting, employee survey administration and talent management solutions focused on hiring and retaining a productive workforce. Its suite of web-based applications automates the entire employee lifecycle from sourcing, screening and assessing to measuring and development.
Harish Battiprolu, Kenexa Technologies vice president, sales, heads the business division of Kenexa India as director, sales and is evolving the necessary sales and strategic thrust required in domestic & South East Asian markets.
A science graduate, Harish holds a diploma in personnel management from Osmania University, Hyderabad. On completing his masters' degree, Harish started his career with the Delhi-based Industrial
Personnel and Security services" as a HR practitioner before joining "Choice Solutions" a firm with operations in India and USA as a head of sales and delivery services.
In a career spanning 11 years, Harish has held key sales and marketing positions, where he specialised in information security and storage management. Battiprolu talks to Mohini Bhatnagar about how the company has developed hiring and retention into a technology.
What differentiates Kenexa from other HR firms in India?
Kennexa started out as a simple recruitment firm in the '80s. Along the way we realised the factors that differentiate ordinary companies from great ones was that great companies attracted good people and had a very good performance management system. The company identified two factors that was getting the right talent and then tracking performance management to lead to further engagement of an employee in the workplace. We then developed systems to increase the efficiencies of the recruitment system.
What do you rate as the most important aspect of recruitment?
We found that hiring the right person for a job is crucially important. You cannot develop a person in this day and age of competitive pressures. Either a person is right or he or she is wrong for the job. The costs of a bad hire are very high ultimately because he or she will leave the job with very high cost to the company. Secondly, once you get the right person, retaining the person is equally important.
Why do companies find it difficult to retain employees?
We have found that the longevity of an employee in the workplace depends on his engagement with that organisation. By engagement we mean the attempts an organisation to maximise the experience of an individual within that company. We believe that very highly satisfied employees do leave but engaged employees are likely to stay on more. We made that distinction and started measuring the engagement space.
In the process we developed two distinct spheres of operations. One was to identify the right talent and second to recruit it. In the process of talent acquisition we realised we needed to improve the efficiencies of the talent management system. We do this through our product called Prove It.
We also developed a central repository of data mining and reporting abilities known as the applicant tracking system, which we conceptualised into a technology.
Called the Kenexa recruiter, it facilitates applicants and employers. Applicants who visit a company's websites for job information will find the career sections handled by Kenexa to be very comprehensive and easy to navigate. We post all job openings, with job descriptions which applicants find very useful.
Then we have the 'Kenexa selector' to test personality traits that are not revealed in online tests. These personality tests are sent to a team of qualified psychologists for analysis.
What is the situation in the HR space in India?
In India the costs of hiring are going up. With rising salaries recruitment budgets are going haywire. It now takes more time to find a single person because employers have become finicky about hiring just the right people. In earlier days, employers looked for leadership qualities after a number of years but now they want leaders from the start. This is because software organisations in India cater to global companies who expect high quality output. So high is the quality expectation that certain companies in India experience worse than 0.8 ratio in recruitment. That means that after scrutinising 100 profiles they cannot find even one person!
Employees are also gearing up for higher expectations and are getting soft skills, which was not there ten years ago. People dress up very well when they go for an interview and speak English with an accent. The focus on outward appearance and looks has definitely increased.
What do you feel about manpower problems in BPOs?
While we do some recruitment for BPO outfits, it is not much. Indian BPOs are going through a sensitive time. They tend to be very secretive for entirely understandable reasons. Most outfits remain under heavy security. Indian BPOs are also under the global spotlight at present and a lot of uncalled attention is coming in due to job threats in the West.
Indian BPO's costs are rising as salaries and expectations also rise. In the years ahead, Indian BPOs may just lose their cost advantage and outsourcers will be forced to lower cost locations. It is thus important for Indian to move into the higher end of the work pyramid such as research and development and innovation.
But at the rate at which call centres are coming up, in the next decade there is also the much bigger danger of India turning into a nation of call centres with the majority of the student community aspiring for nothing more than to become call centre employees. The much-talked about high attrition rate in BPOs is also nothing but call centre employees moving from one call centre to another for quicker salary increases.