Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Industry Concerns-Attrition Part 3

This is the third part in the series on attrition. Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with teaming and recruitment, respectively. While I promised last time that I will spend some time on the role of HR, I will take it on at a later stage. Today, I will focus on something that has been a traditionally weak area for offshore services providers (some say a big gaping void)—Leadership.

From the outside, we see, hear and respect senior managers for Indian IT companies, icons like Narayana Murthy, Pai, Nilekani, Premji and their ilk. Great leaders all. They are a big reason that Indian IT industry is where it’s at. This post is not about them. It is about the leadership one level lower—the middle management. These are the realities:

This section of leadership is under intense pressure

  • They are the links for the downward flow of the vision of senior leaders
  • They are the future senior leaders
  • This section is the most fragile of all with Indian vendors
  • They are squarely responsible for high attrition rates at lower levels

Consider this cycle: Middle management is under tremendous pressure—to deliver, to get business, to groom AND to fulfill their own ambitions. Some of the cadre leave, and are replaced (as is the norm) by fresh MBAs or, worse, with fresh engg trainees. Hence, the remaining managers face increased pressure, and some of them leave and so on….Charming picture, isn’t it?

To tackle this a few cultural aspects have to be addressed:

  1. Rhetoric: Morale killer. Leaders espouse things which do not exist, or grossly exaggerate the few good things that are done. People are not dumb, and will not be fooled by empty promises or threats, or the doctored results of a survey. Just repeating things will not make them true. My advice, be restrained in proclamations, and when you do make one, make sure that it is true and remains true. Kill cynicism and distrust in the bud.
  2. Good News: In all my working life in the IT industry, I have never officially heard a piece of bad news. Good news abounds. Worse is the spin put on things which are wrong, making sure they will never be fixed. People picking up unsavory topics are discouraged. Only in a culture of transparency will an organization truly know where it is at, and can accurately plan for where it has got to go.
  3. Communication: Employees take their cue from their bosses. If the bosses are not committed to the organization vision, nobody will be. It breeds skepticism. Keep the middle management in the know and get their commitment. They may disagree, but allowing them to voice their opinions is a big step towards getting commitment.
  4. Compromise: Whatever be the short term stakes, do not compromise on quality of middle level managers, for the sake of long term health. Using unsure, not-so-confident, short-on-knowledge managers drives down everybody. It is like a steroid, it may allow getting benefits for the short term, but will return to haunt you.

Excellence in execution is predicated on having good quality, capable, happy managers. Remember too, that their confidence, capability and knowledge flows down and in turn creates more managers, unleashing a virtuous cycle. It is a fragile segment of resources, in high demand and under a lot of pressure. Let us admit that, acknowledge the importance of middle management and try to give them a positive atmosphere to work in. This will not only prevent them leaving, but also reduce attrition at lower levels. Easy to say, tough to do (ain’t they all???). It IS the most powerful way to arrest attrition up and down the chain. As more and more large deals get signed, the pressure will be on, and organizations will be caught wrong-footed. Then we will perforce have to take remedial measures too late in the day. Better fix problems while the going is good.

Next (and last) time, I will try and tackle the prickly issue of the role of HR. Don’t expect me to be gushing about the current HR practices or attitudes.




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