Richard Lobo is a qualified mechanical engineer who decided to pursue a career in human resources. Post his PGDM in Marketing and Finance, from Xavier Institute of Management, Lobo dabbled in sales and marketing at Godrej & Boyce.
He joined Infosys in 2000 where he was recently appointed as the senior vice-president & head-HR. In his new role, he oversees the functions of business HR, employee relations, geography-HR and HR delivery for Infosys.
In the last one year, the company has introduced several changes in terms of people practices. Lobo chats with HRKatha on the company’s people strategy and his overall view on the changing dynamics of the human resource function.Excerpts!
Infosys recently abolished the bell curve. What was the core thought behind this strategy?
I would say, more than abolishing the bell curve, what was significant is that we redesigned our performance system to make it more contemporary and relevant.
For any organisation, it is important to differentiate the performance of individuals within a company, and thereafter, reward them on the basis of their performance. This holds the key when it comes to redesigning any appraisal methodology – where a limited number of well-defined goals, that are objective in nature, are set.
Periodic evaluation through continuous feedback and manager interaction is also critical to the implementation of a good performance system. These will help eliminate the angst associated with forced ranking that comes with a bell curve. Irrespective of the bell curve model, it is imperative for organisations to ensure performance-based differentiation that will result in the rating of employees along a pre-defined spectrum.
At Infosys, we have always aimed at creating, maintaining and enabling a high-performance work ethic, where good performance is rewarded and recognised. The changes that have been made to our performance management experience are based on this foundational philosophy.
As a step in this direction, we have moved away from using a percentage-based ranking, and have created a new system for appraisal and goal-setting. Managers will rate employees based on their individual performance and not in comparison to others.
You had earlier said that the absence of performance management will bring down the attrition rate. Can you explain how?
With a better performance management system, we intended to ensure that we have a better culture, which will drive retention. One strong reason for attrition in companies is a perceived unfairness in performance ratings and the subsequent process. Of course, there is more to retention than just better performance management, and we acknowledge that.
The attrition rate is quite high among Indian IT companies. What according to you is the core reason behind this trend?
The reasons are many, but two that stand out are, an upbeat market, and the willingness of the workforce to experiment and change.“In 10 years, the current roles and organisational hierarchy may cease to exist.”
With the Indian economy continuing to grow, I believe this trend will persist in the near term. As long as the attrition remains within a band, I don’t think we have much to worry about, as a dynamic job market spurs innovation and fresh thinking among companies on employee engagement and offering better value to people.
Do you think a higher growth rate and opportunity to do newer stuff is driving people from large and established IT majors to new-age Indian companies?
I do not think so. I believe that start-ups have their own value proposition to offer and the overlap between the two talent pools is not high. In addition, there are people who have worked in start-ups and who would like to shift to larger companies. Overall, this leads to better availability of talent.
What will be the role of contractual employees in the workspace, in the coming years? How productive and cost-efficient will they be?
Employees hired on contract fulfil a particular requirement for a specific period in time. And therefore, they will continue to be hired for this requirement in the future as well.
Their niche skills are of value to the organisation, and there will always be a market for the same. Their productivity is, therefore, determined by how well they fulfil the requirement, and add value to the organisation’s goals. The cost economics is good as long as it is used as a limited option.
What is the biggest challenge in managing the ever demanding workforce of today’s times?
Today’s workforce consists largely of young employees willing to embrace flexibility and change. The average age of the employees, in large organisations such as Infosys, is around 28, and millennials – people born between 1977 and 1997 – account for almost 90 per cent of the population. The people practices that attract and retain this workforce need to be markedly different from those that were used in the past. These practices also need to constantly evolve to keep pace with new ideas and trends.
“The cost economics of contractual workforce is good as long as it is used as a limited option.”
This workforce realises that merely moving up the hierarchy is not enough. What keeps a career vibrant and relevant are the experiences that employees gain through different on-the-job opportunities, for learning and career building. Through our various initiatives and constant innovation, we ensure that we have an engaged workforce. We believe that Infosys’ longevity will depend on how well we build on our people resources and how we keep them motivated.
The requirements of this generation are very different from the Gen X workforce. They look for career advancement and require a strong understanding of the company’s vision and a platform for constant two-way communication with senior management. Our internal communication platforms – blogs, Yammer, InfyBubble, e-mail and intranet – facilitate this two-way communication to build a constant feedback loop.
How do you evaluate the cultural fit of a new hire at Infosys?
Our hiring strategy is simple: we hire the best people and encourage them to make their dreams a reality. We are looking for individuals possessing good learnability and communication skills along with a focus on technology. We constantly seek smart, talented and self-motivated people with an entrepreneurial bent. We provide them with an incredibly supportive environment including world-class training.
We focus on hiring people who are conceptually and technically strong, can scale up in a very short period of time and thrive in a dynamic work environment.
Client centricity, problem solving orientation, engaging communication, culture fit and the ability to learn are the key attributes we look for, in addition to the basic technology and domain competencies required.
How does a company qualify as an ‘agile workplace’? Many companies confuse agile working with just flexible timing whereas there is much more to the story.
It is entirely possible that in the span of a decade, roles and organisational hierarchy, as we see them today, will cease to exist. The signs of a networked non-linear organisation are already evident and those entering the workforce today will be the first to experience and make their career in this future. So, the work environment plays a key role here.
Keeping a young workforce engaged requires the creation of an organisational culture that fosters a less formal atmosphere — a flexible environment open to change, and focussed on sharing and innovation through dialogue. To build a culture of this nature, organisations must adopt creative approaches that provide the employees with balance, autonomy and control over both their professional and personal lives.“We constantly seek smart, talented and self-motivated people with an entrepreneurial bent.”
Millennials view work as a key part of life, not as a separate activity that needs to be planned for or balanced. For instance, people want to include their friends at work, to learn skills together as well as have a larger purpose. And they want all that together in a seamless manner. This is what drives satisfaction and engagement.
In addition, we believe that we need to provide a reasonable amount of flexibility, so that employees can take care of personal exigencies as well as be productive at work.
Facilities, such as satellite offices for expecting or new mothers, telecommuting for employees on a need basis, ‘work from home’ options on a temporary basis, are some of the interventions provided by us. The ‘work from home’ facility is available to all employees. Our experience has been that, when used appropriately, such interventions aid productivity and help employees contribute their best.
From Engineering to HR, how did this transition happen? Does your engineering degree help you to be better placed as an HR head in an IT company?
I started my career as an engineer on the shop floor. That opened my eyes to the large impact that people had on any company. From then on, I think I have always kept the focus on people irrespective of the roles I handled.
Whether you are in an IT company or any other, I don’t think the art and science of people management differs too much; it continues to be as interesting and challenging as my first day at work!