Workforce.com

Tata Consultancy Services <i>Optimas Award</i> Winner for General Excellence

December 3, 2010

For most human resources executives, the notion of hiring 25,000 employees in six months is unfathomable. But in India, in the information technology and outsourcing services industry, it is an imperative.

Most people in HR couldn’t comprehend how to process that many applicants or “be a fundamental driver of a $6.3 billion company that is still growing,” notes Gartner Inc. vice president Partha Iyengar, who is a distinguished analyst and the firm’s head of research for India. “The scale and pace of recruiting in India is unprecedented. They do it better than anyone on the planet.”

Tata Consultancy Services, part of India’s largest industrial conglomerate, is the winner of the 2010 Optimas Award for General Excellence for its ability to recruit and train a huge, multilingual workforce and to align its workforce strategy with swiftly changing business demands. In past years, companies outside North America have won honors in other categories, but TCS is the first overseas company in the Optimas’ 20-year history to receive the top prize.

The IT and outsourcing giant, with nearly 175,000 employees representing 88 nationalities in 42 countries, was recognized by Workforce Management in several categories including innovative recruiting and staffing programs, career development partnerships with colleges, a sweeping foreign language and cross-cultural initiative, expansion of its programs to help educate poor communities, and creation of a streamlined digital system to link people management with business strategy.

Like other firms that hire and train huge numbers of employees quickly, TCS faces pressing shortages of talented people. Traditional technical skills no longer suit burgeoning business demands. As Diane Morello, Gartner vice president and fellow emeritus, observes in a written statement, “The intersection of business models and IT requires people with varied experience, professional versatility, multidiscipline knowledge and technology understanding—a hybrid professional.”

In one of several noteworthy HR programs, TCS created a plan called Ignite to expand and deepen its recruiting reach beyond the larger cities to attract students at lesser-known colleges.

India produces about 2.3 million college graduates every year, 690,000 of whom are math and science majors, TCS reports. The Ignite program team—initially composed of only six people—established a program in nine months to capitalize on the potential of the science talent pool. The seven-month high-tech, high-touch program, which combined electronic instruction with face-to-face contact, was structured to broaden the company’s talent sources beyond engineering and technology, create new learning models for recruits and increase the company’s social impact in rural communities.

Highlights of the program include metrics to better identify people with skills ranging from computer programming to general business acumen. Reaching out to a broader talent base also necessitated a significant shift in how employees are developed and trained.

TCS moved from the traditional teacher-student approach to a “learner-centric” model designed to create a culture of high energy, active participation and collaborative learning. Trainees not only learn at computers, where they can revisit lectures and self-monitor their progress, but also work with personal coaches and in teams.

In 2½ years, 2,517 math and science graduates were trained and deployed throughout the company. Many in this new talent pool are women, who now comprise 65 percent of program trainees. More than 60 percent of the trainees have come from rural towns in India, communities where TCS plans to provide more educational and economic opportunities.

Another HR program that has significantly affected business results is TCS’ service initiative to better align the company’s workforce strategy with changing business demands. In a major digitalization effort, the company managed to become more agile and accurate in staffing and to cope better with the recent global economic downturn.

The initiative involves trying to ensure that the right person is in the right place at the right time. Because employees are cross-trained, they have many skills and can perform a variety of tasks. This minimizes downtime because employees are always working on a project and honing their skills. The company estimates that by significantly reducing the amount of “unutilized” employee time, it saved $50 million in fiscal 2010.

CEO Natarajan Chandrasekaran says that all new TCS hires go through an initial learning program of several months. “Additionally, we have in place a very well-established talent development program that ensures our associates are continuing their skills development throughout their career,” he says. “Our investment in our associates has resulted in TCS having” what the company believes is the highest retention rate in the industry.

Other successful HR initiatives include the company’s career development partnerships with groups such as AIESEC, the largest international student organization with 50,000 members. The one-year program—which partners with students in countries ranging from Uruguay and Ecuador to Hungary and Finland—encompasses application screening and interviews with prospective TCS leaders in fields such as IT, HR and marketing. Participants receive cross-cultural training, work with individual mentors who advise and support them in their personal and professional development and meet with members of senior management at an annual conference.

This approach will be critical to TCS’ long-term success, Gartner’s Iyengar says. “This is one of TCS’ key cultural challenges. In the U.S., people in sales and marketing are the rock stars. In India, it’s the techies who are the rock stars. India might need to recruit more in the U.S. and Europe, or how are they going to move the whole culture more to sales and marketing?”

Perhaps nowhere is TCS’ global response more important than in its language and cross-cultural programs. Over the years, TCS has created a vast spectrum of classes blending learning via its intranet, the Internet, telephone and face-to-face instruction. A few years ago in Japan, for example, TCS began an offshore center to develop bilingual training and business skills in the local culture. The program was not only implemented ahead of schedule, but also TCS estimates that it helped expand its business in Japan by more than 50 percent in six months.

Despite all of TCS’ sophisticated HR programs designed to handle large numbers of employees, Iyengar says, the company will continue to experience the same problems organizations—large and small—will face in the coming years: finding and developing skilled, versatile employees.

“TCS is known to be best in training,” Iyengar adds. “But if they still have a goal of achieving revenues of $10 billion by 2012, and if their linear model continues, they will have to employ another 350,000 people. That isn’t tenable.” The company’s revenue for fiscal 2010, ended March 31, totaled $6.3 billion.

The quality of hires is another major challenge, Iyengar says. “In India, only 20 to 30 percent of college graduates are employable. Most degrees aren’t worth the paper they are written on.”

But Ajoyendra Mukherjee, TCS’ global head of HR, says he believes the company manages to attract many of the most talented graduates. “Our model of recruiting 50 to 55 percent of our annual talent requirement from the top universities in India and abroad and then training them and grooming them to become top-class IT professionals has proven to be very successful,” he says. “We are very proud of the fact that in a year when the business environment was very challenging, we went ahead and recruited 38,000 people and all of them joined TCS in the same fiscal year.”

TCS’ Chandrasekaran knows better than anyone how complex it is to run such a huge organization. “This fiscal year we expect to hire around 50,000 associates around the world, adding to our already sizable employee base,” he says. “Managing this enormous growth across multiple geographies is an ongoing challenge and one that we continue to learn from and improve upon.”

Workforce Management, December 2010, p. 18 -- Subscribe Now!