Ganesh S, Global CHRO, Emeritus & Eruditus
The HR function has become an integral part of organisations today and empowered HR teams are capable of delivering systems and practices that offer a significant competitive advantage. In this article, we understand how HR has played a critical role in shaping global business at Emeritus.
It’s rare for HR to drive business decisions, especially at a startup. But at Emeritus, uniquely, HR has a seat at the table whenever a decision is being made, whether that’s expanding to a new geography, or onboarding A+ talent, or coming up with creative solutions to business challenges.
It’s been a busy year for our HR team as we have rapidly expanded while simultaneously developing critical initiatives to support our team and their families during a global pandemic.
Three years ago we had 280 people, almost all based in India. Today we are 2,098 people based in 20+ countries. That team growth has allowed the business to grow at a breakneck pace.
At Emeritus, we believe that education has the power to transform lives. Our team is united by our mission: To make world-class education accessible globally. To do this, we partner with top-tier universities, work with world-renowned faculty to create programs across a multitude of topics and bring them to students worldwide. With courses available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Arabic, our learner base is truly global. We have impacted more than 250,000 lives to date; working with students in more than 120 countries, collaborating with more than 60 universities.
Given our rapid growth, HR has played a critical role in shaping our global business. Our strategic priority of onboarding A+ talent globally has been central to this. However, in a larger perspective, the role of HR is about leading strategic decisions that are people-first.
We Turn Our Values into Action
There are two ways to onboard talent—you can buy or build it. We of course go to the open marketplace, attract the best people, and bring them on board. But we also believe in building talent. High-quality talent is sometimes difficult to find, and most scarce.
One of the ways that we’ve gone about finding people for niche-skilled roles is by the creation of our Instructional Design Academy. The aim of the Instructional Design Academy is to bridge the gap between those who want to join the online learning revolution and the dearth of professional training available in India.
Instructional design is a specialised skill set in huge demand right now as our business grows rapidly across the globe, but there is no formal instruction for it in universities in India. Emeritus created this training program to cultivate talent in an area where there is currently no professional training.
The idea for the Academy was conceived by HR as we faced a talent shortage. We recruit students with potential, but no formal training, in several key areas, from quant skills to communications. Students learn the science and art of Instructional Design from Emeritus’ industry experts, with hands-on exercises, courses that focus on eLearning and training to prepare them for a new career. Program participants will be paid a stipend as they build skills and create opportunities. Our team will train aspiring candidates and offer them instructional designer roles in the organisation post-course completion. In the end, students are evaluated for internal roles at Emeritus and onboarded. It’s a strong model for the rest of the business for how we can build and bring on strong talent through our own initiatives.
The program will scale slowly to maintain quality. There’s no barrier to entry. In that way, our Instructional Design Academy furthers Emeritus’ mission – creating opportunities where there currently is none, changing lives, and building a pathway to professional success and financial mobility.
It’s not just an internal strategy: People who are not onboarded can take roles in other organisations. That, for us, is a great contribution to society and the market.
And when your mission truly drives your business and vice versa, that result is a win.
We Hire Diverse A+ Talent that Attracts Top-Notch Partners
The reason why we’re based in so many different countries is our approach to talent acquisition: We hire the very best, and only the very best, of talent, regardless of their location. Our process is rigorous, serious, and comprehensive. We hire not just for skills but also mission and culture fit.
“The reason why we’re based in so many different countries is our approach to talent acquisition: We hire the very best, and only the very best, of talent, regardless of their location. Our process is rigorous, serious. and comprehensive. We hire not just for skills but also mission and culture fit.”
Our diversity is a large strength and is a testament to the way we’ve gone about working with A+ talent regardless of the location. Our talent spans races, languages, physical abilities, sexualities, and genders. Our employee base reflects our customer base, and that’s how we serve our customers better—by making our decisions more inclusive, stronger, and more strategic.
Because Engagement and Culture Thrive, Retention is Strong
Most central to our success is empowerment. Each team manager is given the autonomy to make decisions. There’s no bureaucracy requiring a few hours’ wait because a decision-maker is in another time zone. Individual managers can reward their own teams. The company has its own programs, but we’ve also empowered managers to recognise team members and performers across the globe. About 21 percent of our existing team took on larger roles last year.
“Most central to our success is empowerment. Each team manager is given the autonomy to make decisions. There’s no bureaucracy requiring a few hours’ wait because a decision-maker is in another time zone. Individual managers can reward their own teams. The company has its own programs, but we’ve also empowered managers to recognise team members and performers across the globe.”
Our rapid growth, even as the great resignation rages, is a testament to these strategies at work.
Despite that resignation wave that’s hitting the world right now, across the globe, we’ve only lost about 6 percent of our top-rated resources. Our attrition globally stands at a very healthy 16 percent. People stuck with us when they possibly had better offers in hand in the market because we believe in our people and we take care of our people.
In March 2020, when the pandemic started, Emeritus was 615 people. Our classroom business went close to zero, which put us under heavy stress. But we remained extremely people-friendly: We made no severances and cut no salaries. We not only stuck by our team; we also enhanced benefits and insurances, increased Covid leave so people could take more time in countries that were affected, went completely virtual, and provided home office infrastructure support. We vaccinated close to 1,000 employees and their family members and friends in India.
A large part of last year’s back-end growth stagnated. But when things opened up somewhere around May of this year, we started hiring. We ended the last academic year with about 1,200 people. From that point on, we added 800 people in five months. That includes about 150 people whom we backfilled because of attrition.
We were explicit when the pandemic hit us, saying that our number one priority was not revenue or costs. It was the health and safety of our team members and their families across the globe. We did that in letter, spirit, and still follow it, and our team is reciprocating in kind.