Mobile services have been around in India for 20 years. What they have done to the country is nothing less than transformational. The network effect on India’s social and economic fabric is immeasurable. Its impact on personal living styles and family relationships is intense. And there is more to come! The future is going to be very different. For employees in this sector, it will all be about ‘jobs never done before. Here is a parallel drawn between telecom and startups.
I returned back from the UK in 2008 to join Bharti Airtel. During these seven years, I have experienced at close quarters the tremendous change in the lives of ordinary citizens brought about by ‘mobility’. But, this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. The five Es of change still remain to be experienced:
Empowerment – The Digital India initiative of the Government will impact every citizen deeply, with basics like identity, authentication, taxes, welfare and self-governance going digital. Employers will follow suit, empowering their employees through mobile-enabled self-care.
Economics – Increasingly, people will see m-commerce becoming the main economic route—shopping, banking, payments, to name a few.
Experience – Enabled by smartphones and high- speed networks, such as 3G and 4G, people are looking for experience especially in entertainment and health.
Education – The mobile is the gateway to oceans of information and knowledge. With seekers of ‘education’ growing in number, there will be an inflexion in ‘m-education’.
Enterprise – With well-meaning efforts to improve ‘ease of doing business’ in India on all fronts, there is a new energy in Indian enterprise, powered by the Internet and mobile tools.
For people who work in the mobile telecom sector, 2016 is not just another year. It promises to be the beginning of a new ‘era’ in every sense. With billions of dollars getting invested, mobile companies are bracing themselves to meet the rising customer expectations. The battle to become the customer’s preferred provider is quite brutal, and has all the portents of an epic. Top talent is in high demand. If one wants to work in a sector which promises to be so dynamic that one cannot recognise the organisation one joined just a year ago, then it is without doubt telecom. For employees in this sector, it is all about ‘jobs never done before’.
Talented people will have many choices within the telecom sector. What are the essential ingredients of an opportunity that will allow a determined, talented employee to find happiness and fulfilment? The employer–employee relationship will either see a positive or negative experience, depending upon the degree of ‘match’:
Find the right environment, wherein one is appreciated for what one is, and for one’s attitude and skills. It must be a culture one doesn’t have to adapt to. One must be comfortable from the very first day. That’s the company to choose.
Given the creativity and innovation that the telecom sector needs, an inclusive and respectful culture will attract the best talent. Culture and values will tilt the scales, and top talent will stick to such an environment.
Does one’s vision of the purpose match that of the company leadership? How comfortable would one be in a company where the leadership says that ‘people are our greatest asset’ but their actions are quite the opposite.
In a sector where physical assets are so enormous, it takes a leadership with ‘heart’ to actually say and mean that ‘people are our greatest asset’.
Is one actually interested in the service that one’s company is providing to its customers? How passionate is one about customer experience? How much joy and pain does one experience when customers react? Telecom is all about empathising with customers, and vicariously sharing their emotions and experiences. One needs to reflect and discover what fires one’s passion, and connect with that personally and professionally.
What kind of people does one want to work with? Does the company provide iconic learning and development opportunities? Does one get to rub shoulders with diverse people? One’s own dynamic career plan requires one to cultivate healthy relationships with colleagues—some of whom think alike and others think differently— under the same roof! One can have a wildly diverse community of thousands of employees from all walks of life, still unified by one thought: ‘we are all here to win customers for life, and if we can respect one another for our diverse and creative ideas, we can be great as well!”.
Does one see oneself at the top of this company, at some point of time? How professional is the working environment for young and talented people to grow as they learn and deliver? How much importance is given to people being rewarded for creativity and risk taking? One should look for a company that provides growth opportunities in multiple ways, matching one’s own career ambition.
In conclusion, even as the mobile sector celebrates its 20th year in India, it has all the characteristics of a startup. The heat in the telecom sector has never been so intense, with the five Es of change and customers’ rising expectations and competitive environment being what they are. Like any startup, what will determine the success or failure are, leadership passion, people connect and culture match.
(Srikanth was appointed the global CHRO of Bharti Airtel in August 2015, prior to which he was the global CFO for almost seven years. Earlier, he worked with Unilever for 23 years.)