In an exclusive interview with ATT, Rohini Singh, CPO, Fractal talks about the company’s journey in the Indian market, key focus areas, and future growth plans.
Q: Since starting out two decades back, how would you explain the growth of the company from a talent viewpoint, your workforce presence?
We’ve grown organically over the years, with our highs and lows, and grown organically consistently through the last 22 years. And, it’s been quite a journey where there have been a lot of learnings. Today, we’re close to about 4,100 people roughly, and this is our global number. We’re spread across multiple locations across the world. The largest portion of this workforce is based in India. Out of the total 4,100 employees, 3,500 individuals are based in India, with the other workers being spread out across the US, UK, and Europe.
Additionally, we are opening offices in Australia. Australia is, therefore, one of the newer markets where we’re looking to make investments. We don’t have many employees there, but we already employed close to 30 people as we’re looking to expand into that market. There would be 82 of us in Ukraine. Of course, given the current circumstances and the ongoing crisis in the region, we are unsure how things will unfold.
Q: What was the business demand from India and global markets in the last two years?
We experienced very high demand in a high-growth market. Near the end of 2020, demand unexpectedly increased for us, and we continued to see high client demand (existing and new). Demand is mostly from global markets. And, we operate across different sectors like consumer packaged goods (CPG), healthcare, financial services, insurance, and retail. Of course, the CPG industry remains one of our primary focuses, but we also have a number of other sizable clients in other industries. We experienced consistent and steady growth across most of our business lines.
“One thing we’ve done recently is to move away from many of the smaller, organic systems that had been in place for years and switched to one integrated holistic HRIS and that is a big move for us because that meant letting go of systems that we have been used to for many years. The first move is for you to be able to create this tech architecture, which is holistic, integrated, scalable, and also integrates very well with all the other existing systems in the organisation.”
Q: As digital adoption increased across the board, how did that reflect on you in business and employee growth?
Before Covid hit, there were about 1,500 people. And today, there are more than 4,000 of us. We’ve witnessed very dramatic growth within the company over the last 2 years. And, we have, of course, been hiring quite aggressively. Especially in the last fiscal year, we hired a lot of people. We have also, like many other organisations, been struggling with the great resignation. We’re not far away from the market in terms of our overall numbers. However, we are not satisfied with the statistics in absolute terms. We would have loved to see those numbers in the low 10s.
So, given the market conditions, the great resignation, and our massive growth plans, our hiring engines had to scale rapidly. As a result, we have grown significantly during the past two years. Of the 4,100 people, I would say, at least 65-70% are new who joined us in the last 2 years.
We have developed and implemented a strong talent acquisition plan. Over the years, we’ve improved it. Past two years, we’ve added a lot of fresh, intriguing components to it. Therefore, we are confident we can meet the organisation’s demand for talent.
Q: About three-fourths of employees joined in the last two years. How did you integrate them?
As the talent landscape has shifted so has the cultural fabric of the organisation. We believe that in the long run, culture is our strategy and it is going to be our biggest differentiator. And therefore, we plan to make significant investments in this space and have already started doing so.
Q: With multi-fold growth in the employee base, how did your talent strategy evolve?
I won’t say that we were entirely prepared, but we have been thinking and building our muscle in talent acquisition over the last 3-4 years, and we have been making investments and building our strategy in terms of how we will be able to win or have a significant edge in this war for talent. If we continue to rely on conventional methods of hiring talent, such as going out and hiring somebody laterally into a job role where you require a person X with a certain set of skills, we don’t think we’ll have an edge over others.
Given the demand, supply, and talent shrinkage that we’re seeing in the market today, and which is likely going to continue in the future, we feel that we need to take a very different approach towards talent acquisition. So, our strategy for talent acquisition is quite simple. First, we believe that most of our talent should come in largely from campus hiring. Second, we think that hiring high-quality talent into the system and making significant investments in their learning, development, and upskilling will allow us to grow that talent over time within the organisation.
Q: Analytics as an area of expertise has its own challenges in identifying quality talent. How are you identifying relevant talent?
We are moving away from the traditional hiring process of searching for the Pink Unicorn talent (candidates with perfect qualifications but are passive) and going closer to becoming net creators of talent. Over 4.5 million individuals are employed in the IT-BPM sector today. There are many people that want to transition into analytics consulting. They may be interested in data sciences work or data engineering work. But, can we create that bridge where we’re able to offer a career change? The value proposition is that we’re looking for people who have that potential and that learnability. We will train them because most skills in our industry are trainable. Our strategy is to hire candidates with potential, learnability, and skills that can be developed through training. After that, we will open up the aperture for them internally within the organisation in terms of choices of different career tracks. As a result, they will have the freedom to be able to choose their career path and be able to grow and also move across the organisation.
At Fractal, talent acquisition is not just about hiring, it’s also about unique value propositions once you join us. So, our value proposition is deep investments in learning, upskilling, and freedom to be able to design your career even after joining Fractal.
Q: How do skilling for different roles take place?
We have a training academy called The Fractal Analytics Academy (FAR), which offers access to a library and other multiple resources that allow people to upskill themselves. Therefore, from a talent acquisition viewpoint, the entire ecosystem of training, investment in learning & development, plus unlocking the internal talent marketplace, has really worked for us. And, have we perfected it? Not entirely but we’re getting better with each passing cycle.
Q: How does assessment play a role in your lateral hires?
One important factor to consider is – hiring for potential and training for skills. The other is hiring for culture fit. We look for people who are humble, hungry, and smart (HHS). And we think the only way to be a good team player is to have all three of these qualities. Our HHS model allows us to determine who is most likely to succeed at Fractal, and all of our interviewers have received training in this area. At Fractal, we take that very seriously. Because, for us, it’s about taking the long-term view on talent. Therefore, a candidate’s ability to learn new things, try new roles, and thrive in our culture will determine whether the person is the right fit.
Q: How do you make your decision on fresh hires and how has it grown?
We have increased the scope of our campus program during the past year. Earlier, we used to hire in smaller numbers. We would hire anywhere between 30 to 50; there wasn’t really a structured program around it.
When we first started visiting colleges in 2019, we had a more organised approach to campus hiring. As a result, we have a 3-year structured program which we call the “Imagineer” program, where we visit all leading engineering institutes across India, and some specific master’s programs as well. This year, we would have rolled out offers to roughly 280–300 Imagineers. We anticipate welcoming roughly 250 or so Imagineers in the upcoming fiscal year. It is organised, carefully thought out program, and learning is an ongoing process. This is part of the 3-year plan.
Q: Across fresh and lateral hires, how does assessment play a role?
Our assessment gates are very important because they serve as a filter. Our top of the funnel has been expanding rapidly and consistently over the past 12 months. Just 2 years back, our top of the funnel had 250,000 applicants, today we’re at 450,000, and it’s projected to reach 500,000 in the coming month. As a result, there is a lot of interest in working at Fractal, as well as a lot of brand engagement and participation. Our requirement is only to hire 2,000 workers. Our assessment gates need to be really powerful in order for people to be able to go through all of this.
Q: What are these assessments and what do you check in a candidate?
We have a bunch of tests. We look for aptitude and learnability, but when we are hiring laterally we do a test for basic proficiency across certain skills. If we are hiring data sciences or big data engineers, we have technical assessments before we have interviews, which are very detailed and consist of at least three rounds across all grades. There is a reason why we structured it like that because each interview is addressing a different facet. It is a fairly stringent process. Someone would have had to pass at least two exams, followed by touchpoint assessments or interviews and possibly a case study to get to the offer stage.
Q: Does assessment merely help with elimination alone? How does it help in skilling, branding, and retention?
I think that assessment should not be used only for elimination. This is such a rich data source. While campus hiring, we administer a coding test, but we don’t use it to eliminate candidates. Instead, we use it as an input. At the time of interviewing, the results are available to the interviewer. It acts as a window through which the interviewer can get greater insights into the individual.
We plan to integrate them not only into things like employer branding and skill taxonomy but also into learning and development, developing something akin to a skills playbook for Fractalites.I would estimate that only cloud engineers would make up close to roughly 25 to 30%. One or two years back, it would have been around 10% of our overall hiring. Click To Tweet
Q: How much money have you spent, specifically on training, and digitising your HR stack over the past two years?
We started thinking about investing in learning, developing learning paths for people, recruiting for potential, and training for skills back in 2015. It is not triggered by Covid. We had to amplify and scale it very rapidly in the last two years.
One thing we’ve done recently is to move away from many of the smaller, organic systems that had been in place for years and switched to one integrated holistic HRIS and that is a big move for us because that meant letting go of systems that we have been used to for many years. The first move is for you to be able to create this tech architecture, which is holistic, integrated, scalable, and also integrates very well with all the other existing systems in the organisation. We now intend to begin layering and adding more advanced analytics-related AI tools, AI engines, and accelerators on top of it.
AI investment around technology is largely going to be in the area of hiring and talent acquisition. We receive between 450,000 – 500,000 applications and screening is the process of reducing that number to 50,000 or 75,000. So, if we can get better through AI in that part of the funnel, I feel like we may get the right 75,000 down the funnel. So, areas, where we believe we should make more investments in the space of AI, will be in hiring, largely around assessments and selection, and the other one would be around employees.
Q: What new skills are in demand for the company? Undoubtedly, there was a greater demand for some skill sets, for instance, cloud engineering. What percentage of your hiring would be for cloud engineering skills?
I don’t have the exact number. However, I would estimate that only cloud engineers would make up close to roughly 25 to 30%. One or two years back, it would have been around 10% of our overall hiring. And this is just cloud, we have other roles as well. We have our full-stack engineers. Demand for engineers has increased dramatically overall. Therefore, the need for engineers as a whole now would account for 45 to 50% of our total hiring.
Q: How does DoSelect help you in assessing your candidates?
DoSelect is one of the many partners that we work with in assessments. DoSelect has helped us immensely because it is a standardised assessment tool. We use DoSelect extensively for technical assessments. And for specific career tracks, we have a battery of tests which are available on DoSelect, which we use for external hiring. We also use DoSelect for hiring internal talent. Therefore, there are also internal applications for it.
Whenever we are running any internal assessments or simulations, a lot of that is done on the DoSelect platform for us internally. Like I said earlier, I feel that assessments today tend to be a little myopic. They are siloed. If we are testing candidates, our understanding of who is likely to be successful in a role or an organisation goes well beyond their ability to code and ace an IQ test. It is about behaviours, emotional intelligence, how they are likely to respond in a given situation, and their ability to manage multiple or different kinds of stakeholders, and all of this evolves across different careers. Therefore, my aptitude as a designer will be considerably different from my aptitude as a data engineer, human capital specialist, or any other professional.
Disclaimer: DoSelect is owned by Info Edge (India) Ltd, which also owns AllThingsTalent.org
Year of Incorporation: 2000
Number of Employees: About 4100
Founders: Srikanth Velamakanni, Co-Founder, Group Chief Executive & Vice Chairman & Pranay Agrawal, Co-founder and CEO, Fractal
Key Executives: Ashwath Bhat – Chief Financial Officer; Satish Raman – Chief Strategy Officer; Rohini Singh – Chief People Officer; Pavan Palety – Chief Growth Officer; Somya Agrawal – Head of Legal; Manish Tiwari – Chief Information Officer
Business Line: Fractal is one of the most prominent players in the Artificial Intelligence space. Fractal’s mission is to power every human decision in the enterprise.
Hiring Pipeline: We plan to add another 1000 employees in the next year
Key Investors: TPG & APAX Partners