In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Atul Sahgal – Head, Talent Acquisition, India & APAC, Publicis Sapient talks about the Company’s growth, its plans to double its workforce in India over the next few years, key initiatives around L&D, and how it is using technology and data to fundamentally reimagine TA strategy.
1. Could you give us an overview of Publicis Sapient’s presence in the Indian market?
We are a premium IT service company and are predominantly involved in the digital business transformation space. We were established in 2001 and went from having three large offices in India pre-pandemic to having employees operating from more than 80 cities across pan India. We are present mainly in Gurgaon, Noida, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, with plans to expand further in the coming years.
India continues to be a crucial market for us and at present, we have 10,000+ employees based out of India which makes up 2/3rd of our workforce globally. Typically, most businesses think about India as an offshore location for them to advance a particular capability or part of their business. However, at Sapient, our focus is on our tech and engineering capability, experience, strategy, consulting, and design. This is world-leading and is driven largely by our teams in India.
Our priority for India is twofold:
- First, to take the office to our people. We continue to ensure that we create opportunities for people to work where they want to and how they want to and ensure that by bringing in new people into the workforce and our company, we can broaden the scope of the work and the impact we create.
- The second is, of course, continuing to hire. We’ve hired more people in India over the last year than we have over the previous three years. And we’re continuing to see that kind of trajectory going into the next year. We expect to double the workforce in India from 10,000 to 20,000 across all our SPEED capabilities – strategy, product, experience, engineering, and data, over the next few years.
2. How was the growth in the initial phase and what has it been like in the last 3-4 years?
We have never been aggressive in terms of growth as an organisation and that was a conscious call. Our growth trajectory has always been in the single digits but if I look at last year, our growth has been in double digits – we grew by 13 to 14% which is the highest ever growth we’ve ever seen in the history of Sapient.
We distinctly observe a much faster growth this year than we did last year. Therefore, there has been a change in how we are approaching India as a market or overall as an organisation in terms of growth.
“At Publicis Sapient, we believe that in order to transform organisations, we must also transform ourselves and our own people. Being a people-first company, our core values of inclusive collaboration and adoption of a learning mindset also facilitates growth. We focus on skilling, upskilling, and development programs, giving people the freedom to learn at their own pace. We also have programs to encourage women in tech.”
3. What are the key offerings and growth exposure that Publicis Sapient provides to its employees in India?
We are not limited to just one industry but have expertise in over 9 diversified industry verticals which give our employees opportunities to grow and learn. We hire based on capabilities, not portfolios, which enhances development. There is a great deal of global exposure to innovative solutions for different tech stacks, especially for engineering. We work with various tools such as Salesforces, MarTech, and e-commerce stack, which powers our diverse tech portfolio.
In addition, we are a company with a diverse talent group for which we have initiatives by affinity groups:
- Viva Women – forum for women to voice, and gain skills and competencies
- Mental Health – understanding and responding at the organisation level
- Caregivers – discuss parenting, elderly care, work-life harmony, single-parent needs, etc.
- LGBTQI Inclusion – enhance understanding, gather allies
- PwD – understand PwD employee experiences and work towards embracing this group
- Generational Diversity – facilitate the interaction of different generations and understand the challenges of different groups
4. Since Publicis Sapient is an expert in digital consulting, can you provide some context on how digital transformation is applied to the HR/TA department? How does digitally enabled HR, in general, can help any organisation?
As a digital business transformation hub, we do have significant tools that enable and transform the HR function. For example, not only at Publicis Sapient but at a Groupe level, we have Marcel, which is a custom-made AI platform. With a suite of features and services designed to connect the 80,000 creative minds of Publicis Groupe to opportunities, knowledge, expertise, and to each other, Marcel is a platform where our talent can learn, share, and create more than ever before.
5. According to you, how can tech-enabled TA improve the overall ROI?
The era of AI and automation has accelerated the process of targeting the right talent with desired skill sets. From sourcing candidates to interviewing, to onboarding new employees, AI-powered hiring tools incorporate effective research and analysis on top of big data to provide personalised candidate experience and hire the right candidates for the job – not just based on hard skills, but also on soft skills.
Using technology-driven interviewing and evaluation further boosts hiring effectiveness. These tools help reduce the time and inefficiencies that arise from cold calls and interviews – providing flexibility and cutting through the challenges arising from human bias in the selection process.
6. What are the emerging trends in Talent Acquisition tech, its impact, and overall adoption?
The competitive labour market, high rate of resignation, and the shortage of skilled talent are some of the challenges facing businesses globally. Companies are working hard to make the new remote and on-site mix function well in the post-pandemic environment. In the midst of this wave of ‘great layoffs’, HR leaders require a winning talent acquisition (TA) strategy to capture talent and produce long-term business results. A well-planned TA strategy can boost recruitment efforts throughout the organisation. It can also help to strengthen talent pipelines, identify, attract, shortlist, and engage high-calibre talent. The best HR strategy for talent acquisition includes a proactive assessment of the most recent recruitment technologies, processes, and resources that drive transformation.
Technology companies must invest in having a rock-solid talent hiring, upskilling, and retaining strategy in the hybrid era of work. At Publicis Sapient, we use an array of full-stack, cloud, and data technologies, with the help of Salesforce and Martech tools to improve talent acquisition.
“Using technology-driven interviewing and evaluation further boosts the hiring effectiveness. These tools help reduce the time and inefficiencies that arise from cold calls and interviews – providing flexibility and cutting through the challenges arising from human bias in the selection process.”
7. Now that most companies are re-opening offices to all their employees, how is Publicis Sapient rolling out its back-to-office strategy?
As we reimagine the future with our clients, we have also taken the lead in defining the future of work with our policy around FlexWork. Few companies have implemented truly flexible ways of working, especially “primary remote working” at the same scale as Publicis Sapient has. In the last two years, our clients have also become comfortable with our FlexWork arrangement as they are able to see the impactful and meaningful work we have been able to drive for their businesses.
8. Tell us about the growth plans for Publicis Sapient in India and what are the hiring aspirations.
We are investing in hiring initiatives beyond our major office sites in Delhi NCR and Bangalore, beginning with Pune, Hyderabad, and Coimbatore to capitalise on India’s widespread engineering talent pool across the length and breadth of the country.
We will hire both campus and laterals (4-15 years of experience) in capabilities across engineering, product, and experience and people with high-demand skills such as Java, experience in technology, data engineering, and automation testing.
Following our deep-rooted commitment to enabling diversity and inclusion at the core of our company’s culture, we have also doubled our efforts to hire people from marginalised communities, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ communities.
“Technology companies must invest in having a rock-solid talent hiring, upskilling, and retaining strategy in the hybrid era of work. At Publicis Sapient, we use an array of full-stack, cloud, and data technologies, with the help of Salesforce and Martech tools to improve talent acquisition.”
9. For several decades, recruiters, hiring managers, and organisational leaders have maintained a relatively consistent view of the labour market. But the talent market has changed so much. What can recruiters do in this scenario?
With the evolving landscape, organisations also need to move from traditional to non-traditional channels. At Publicis Sapient, we are building more networks and hiring actively from tech, and DE&I areas including the LGBTQI community and PwD. We are in collaboration with 10-15 women-centric institutes to coach and mentor women to be industry ready and then hire them for suitable roles. We also engage with crème de la crème institutes in India – IITs, NIITs, BITS, ISBs, IIMs, and SP Jain amongst others.
Also, one key thing we realised is how crucial it is to engage an individual. When I say engage, I mean opening up the lines of communication with the candidates. Be it an experienced candidate or an entry-level/fresher candidate, both are equally important to us. Therefore, what truly works well is that you can engage them and teach them more about the organisation, the projects, the clients, and how all of these things will benefit them in their professional careers.
10. What are some of the initiatives around L&D, rewards and recognition, and key HR metrics?
At Publicis Sapient, we consider Leadership Development a business agenda and our Leadership Academy has been an enabler in helping us thrive in the brave pursuit of Next. From a design standpoint, we look at the 4Es of Learning – Exposure, Environment, Experience & Education with emphasis on Exposure. Our Academy is based on 4 elements of leadership – Personal Leadership, People Leadership, Client Leadership & Business Leadership. The programs leverage our blended learning approach – Mini Intensives, Self-Awareness (Hogan Assessments), Focus on Individual Development Plan (IDP), Regular Coaching Connects with Coach & People Manager, Application through Action Learning Projects & Action Statements, Virtual Networking Sessions, Learning Nudges, Extended Learning System, and lots more.
The design ensures that participants learn from best-in-class faculty, and yet have enough time to reflect on learning – leveraging Spaced Learning, Peer Learning & Social Learning Principles. We even gamified the entire experience with challenges on the app, engagements on WhatsApp, and a weekly newsletter & leaderboard.
We also have some Premier Programs for our senior managers and above. These largely consist of:
- Expert Series Speak – a thought leadership program
- QUEST – exclusive 1-hour virtual sessions to broaden the perspective of leaders with book reviews
- Centres of Leadership – equipping leaders with behaviours and mindsets through consulting, innovating, influencing, and building resilience
Through our L&D programs, a total of 6000+ learning days, with 30+ learning days per participant, per year was achieved.
About the Author: Atul has more than 20 years of extensive Talent Acquisition experience and thrives on meeting challenging organisational hiring goals.
Nigel Vaz, CEO, Publicis Sapient
Sanjay Menon, Managing Director, Publicis Sapient India
Business Line: Publicis Sapient is a leader in digital business transformation and consulting. Through strategy, delivery of technology, engineering, platforming, experience design and more, it helps clients to digitally transform the way they work and serve their customers.
Key HR Factors: People Strategy, HR Technology, DE&I, People Success, Learning and Development, Leadership Development, Well-being, Tech Talent