To Win India’s Talent War, Get to Know the Candidates

March 2, 2005

There is a war for talent going on in India, and multinational companies with a presence there are concerned.

    Early results of a CEO Vision Study that Korn/Ferry is conducting in the Asia Pacific region show that 72 percent of executives in India cite "gaining and retaining talent and people" as the main hurdle they will have to face in the next two years. In fact, this was rated as a higher concern than gaining and retaining customers, which less than half of the respondents listed as their primary challenge.

    The quick pace of attrition in India hit home for Adayana, a Minneapolis e-learning developer, when another U.S. company that had developed significant operations there snapped up one of Adayana’s key employees within weeks of his placement in a managerial role in Hyderbad.

    The India-born employee had been working in the United States for Adayana since its formation in 2001. He started as a software engineer and was promoted to software architect. The company sent him back to India in September 2004 to head the software engineering group in a design management position. By December, he was gone.

    "He had a good opportunity to move to another part of India. After six years in the U.S., this guy is hot," says Minneapolis-based Sunil Kandlikar, who is chief of operations for Adayana. "The profile of people who are very much in demand are those with good stateside experience. He has the right education and right functional discipline and was working for an interesting company."

    It’s hard to hold on to employees because of the abundance of jobs. Given the number of companies outsourcing to India, job growth in the region will steadily climb. In fact, U.S. spending for offshoring and outsourcing of computer software and services alone is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of almost 26 percent, increasing from about $10 billion in 2003 to $31 billion in 2008, according to a study by the Information Technology Association of America, a trade association for the IT industry.

    "The real key for retaining people starts in the hiring practice," says Philadelphia-based Ed Steinberg, vice president of human resources for Synygy, which has hired 47 new employees in India over the past three months. Its India division now totals 150 employees of the 450 on the company payroll.

    Synygy, a provider of Enterprise Incentive Management software and services, has started holding on-site open houses for prescreened candidates. At the last one, it had 50 pre-screened candidates, and hired seven people from the gathering. The event is perhaps a pre-employment version of a "Herbert," a 7 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. in-house staff "happy hour" named after an image in a former corporate advertisement.

    "The great thing about events like that is you can sell people. The opportunity for the candidates to interact with the environment is significant. They want to see the company to scope out their own part in it," says Steinberg, who in February made his first trip to the India offices so that he could oversee and even tweak the process.

    Synygy puts candidates through arduous behavior interviews with its seven-person India human resources team and two interviews on the technical side to make sure they have the ability to work on that level. But before they even get to that stage, the candidates have already gone through one or two specific skills tests and a personality profile. Once on board, the candidates go through three months of training conducted by teams sent from the United States. Some of the India hires may also be sent to America for very specialized training on specific project needs.

    About three years ago, Mindbridge Software had two employees of Indian descent in its Norristown, Pennsylvania, office who wanted to move back to India, coincidentally within two months of each other.

    "One wanted to raise his kids in India and one had elderly parents who didn’t want to move here," says director of human resources and COO Scott Testa, who worked out a deal to keep them on as employees and open up the intranet applications developer’s first India office. Their salaries were cut to about 70 percent of what they were making in the United States, says Testa, but were 30 percent to 40 percent above what the average software programmer in India makes. Still, within the first five months, another company recruited one of the employees away. The second person is still on staff and heads the division, which now has 10 employees, including assistants. There are 60 total in the company.

    Efficiency was the biggest challenge with starting the India office, Testa says. Issues ranged from office setup, communication, duplicated work and just getting settled on a personal level. "Whenever you have people physically separated by time zone you are going to have issues. But if I did it all over again, I still prefer that we did it with people we already have a relationship with versus hiring someone over there we didn’t know."

    What works in the United States doesn’t necessarily work abroad, says Danbury, Connecticut-based Lisa Johnson, director of consulting services for Cendant Mobility, a provider of workforce development solutions. International recruiting practices need to avoid a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

    "Taking into consideration the impact of local culture and values is critical for success," says Johnson, who offers three tips to help hiring decision-makers understand the Indian job candidate’s values.

    1. Training is key. The ability to offer training opportunities, certificates at the conclusion of training programs and general ongoing professional development will be appealing.

    2. Family means everything. Indian employees will have familial obligations and responsibilities that are quite complex and often more demanding than a U.S. notion of family responsibilities. Both time-off benefits and relocation policies should provide flexibility for weddings and funerals, for example.

    3. Global competencies count. When companies demonstrate how their headquarters and employees outside of India with whom Indian management will be working are adept at working across time zones and with people of other cultures, they will provide Indian employees with reassurance that they’re valued. This will create loyalty and confidence in the larger organization.