Managing Gen Y's expectations is a challenge: Dr Ganesh Natarajan

Dr Ganesh Natarajan, vice chairman and CEO of Zensar Technologies and a member of the board of directors of RPG Enterprises, has authored four McGraw Hill titles on business process reengineering and knowledge management.

He talks to Swetha Amit about his new book What we really want, which explores the aspirations of Gen Y, the role of the corporate sector in dealing with these aspirations and the future of the IT industry.

Dr Ganesh NatarajanAspirations of the Gen Y is a contemporary yet complex subject. What inspired you to pen this one down?
The inspiration came over the last 10 years, while working with very young people in our organization. If you look at most of the employees in the IT sector, they are all in the 25-30 age bracket which is the classical Gen Y.

I think it's very important for companies to understand exactly what their aspirations are and what really makes them tick.  If we can understand what motivates them in the short and long term, we can make sure they mould their careers according to their own requirements. There was an interest in understanding that, in the context of enabling them to shine in the corporate sector.

Earlier family and financial responsibilities led people to give up their aspirations and choose a mundane job. Do you think the environment is more conducive today for youngsters to follow their dream or unconventional vocations today?
One of the findings of our research was that in many cases, they have a sense of loyalty towards their parents.

Many like to be successful in terms of their own parental aspiration. They tend to have an attitude of wanting to work in a company for two years, make some money and pay back some loans. After that if they really like the company, they stay on otherwise find another career.

In fact, there were a couple of young people we interviewed, who eventually wanted to become rock stars.

So there is now this perception that there is something beyond a corporate role. But they fulfill their responsibilities first before launching out there. 

In the book, there is an instance of a boy who comes from an army background, and was strongly motivated to go to work in Uttarakhand. We also have youngsters who have their heart in the right place and we need to encourage that.

The thinking in the affluent urban youth in terms of their dreams and ambitions has undergone a paradigm shift. Do you think the youth in small towns are behind in this transition considering their financial positions?
I wouldn't say far behind but I personally believe that youngsters from second tier towns in India tend to be balanced about where they want to succeed. Sometimes very upmarket youth like those, for example, from Mumbai tend to have their feet above the ground.

One needs to a sense of responsibility, a steady balance between earning reasonable incomes and being ambitious enough to pursue their own aspirations. This is an ideal combination for the youth today. It's essential to have this right mix.

Some young people tend to start off with lofty ambitions too early in life, which soon leads to a burn out. And, it doesn't matter whether they come from small towns or big cities. They have to stand on their own feet and be successful in whatever they do.

The rise of the BPO and IT sector has led to improved earning potential for many undergraduates. Do you think such financial independence curbs ambition for higher studies in the future?
I should hope not. If you look at the way things work in Europe or the US, people get an undergraduate degree, work for three or four years and then do a post-graduation.

Learning is a continuous process and youngsters shouldn't become satisfied too soon. I think it's much more sensible for people to work for a couple of years before doing a post graduation. In my own case, after my engineering studies, I worked for 15 years before my PhD. 

In my opinion if you have work experience, you also tend to appreciate these higher study programmes much more. So it's a good thing many post-graduate courses ask for two or three years of work experience.  That way, students will learn to value these courses a lot better.

You have mentioned that Gen Y employees do not hesitate to change jobs when they get bored or don't find it challenging enough. What should organisations do to retain their loyalty and keep them motivated and engaged?
We have a programme called Jugnu (firefly). Our concept is jugnus fly in different directions and light up in a different ways. When we look at career dialogues with these youngsters, we ensure that there is an individual aspiration.

Let me give you an example. We hired a student from ISB a few years ago; today she is a very successful professional in California. We would change her role every two - three years to keep her motivated. Our view is if we shift roles at regular intervals, we will sustain excellent people much longer.

I feel the key is to give lateral opportunities to help retain youngsters much longer.

We must to understand that this generation is different and not get judgmental. We need to understand that they are smarter and corporates must align their HR policies in tune with their aspirations.

With the upcoming immigration bill in the US, how do you see it affecting Indian IT firms' competitiveness and the opportunity to provide a global exposure to the Gen Y employees?
I don't think it will affect them that much. There should be a healthy balance between people who are employed from different geographies.

We have a global management program for which we take people from different countries, give them exposure in India and then move them back to their geographies. Every responsible employer will need to employ people from their local countries as well as talent from India. Certainly Indian IT companies need to globalize faster. I think this [immigration bill] will probably accelerate that.

There is no short cut to success. How should the Gen Y resist the temptation of resorting to short cuts to make money and not compromise on ethics?
There is no problem of ethics with them, but the feel the need to be very successful fast. They tend to be impatient about their career progression.

One has to think where they want to be in five years, and if they are progressing in that direction, the tendency to be very short term can be avoided.

But it is a challenge to temper expectations and make opportunities available.

Parents have to be mature as they tend to live their dreams through their children and put pressure on them. Trying to understand what youngsters want rests with parents, who have to realise that the youth tend to have ambitions different from what theirs, when they were younger.

Parents have to give them space to evolve and support them in being their own people. 

What are your own future plans? Do we see another book from Dr Ganesh Natarajan and what will it on?
Right now I am doing research for a very serious book, which is based on what we call the process of collaboration-to-transformation in the corporate sector. We are looking at how technology can help the country in areas like education, healthcare and financial inclusion? That is a slightly long-term project.   Hopefully, in the next 15 months, we may complete that.

Book excerpt: What we really want

The millions of young Indian youth entering the workforce every year have strong aspirations and keeping a balance between being and having, intrinsic and extrinsic, is a fine line they are treading. Some will do well and adjust to new realities as they progress through life, but some others will get frustrated as their soaring dreams get dashed to the rocks of life's realities.

When speaking of aspirations of Indian youth, Bollywood has a number of depictions that could be borrowed from to illustrate the value of aspirations and their ability to transform fortunes.

One such story is the story of 'Iqbal'- for the uninitiated, the story of Iqbal is of a cricket-obsessed boy from a remote village as he aims to overcome his difficulties and become a cricketer.

Adding to the cinematic drama is that the boy is deaf and mute, who dreams of playing cricket for the national team in India. However, he is discouraged by his father who thinks that his daydreams are a waste of time. Instead, he wants Iqbal to help him tend to the crops and to become a farmer like him, which would be a stable profession.

Cricket moves from being Iqbal's 'pursuit at leisure' to a 'fire in the belly' that he dreamt of every waking hour of the day. This aspiration was expressed in the lyrics of a song from the film.

The song essentially urges one to have aspirations - to aspire for something special, and to make every attempt war like, and to do or die in making it happen! It speaks of the true unadulterated joy in attaining such a dream, after battling all odds. Aspirations give us the drive to do what otherwise seems impossible. Fired by undeterred enthusiasm, aspirations are now no distant dream, and nothing then is impossible.