In an exclusive conversation with All Things Talent, Richard Lobo, Executive Vice President & Head Human Resources, Infosys talks at length about the company’s talent branding & EVP initiatives, managing attrition, and talent growth in smaller cities.
At the outset, we would like to understand what employer branding initiatives/strategies does Infosys have?
With respect to employer branding, Infosys needs to take a consistent view of what we do for talent, irrespective of the market situation. The belief we hold is that you can deliver outstanding work only if you have the best talent, especially in this industry. Other than people, you do not have much. Hence, talent branding is very important for us.
Having said that, the last year or a couple of years have been difficult in terms of attracting and keeping talent because it has been probably one of the hottest talent markets that we have seen.
But that doesn’t mean the fundamentals have changed as employees always look at working in companies that have a long-term perspective on talent, especially in terms of what are you doing with respect to their learning, how are you engaging with them, how are you rewarding them and how are you creating a connection. The last point is essentially more important now that most people don’t come to the office every day.
We have also learned that we need to have a clear purpose, which we have articulated recently. Our purpose is to amplify human potential and create the next opportunity for people, businesses, and communities. We have done a lot of work over the last six months to a year on aligning many of the things we do for employees with how it fits in with our purpose. So, when it comes to employer branding, we want the employee experience at Infosys to show for itself. It’s not that we have put out a slogan or something out there, it is more like our action should speak for itself in terms of what we do for branding and then employees amplify it through their own channels – social media channels and what they tell their friends.
Have there been any changes made in the employee value proposition of the organization in the last year or two?
Yes, there have been two major changes. Firstly, the overall thinking on the employee value proposition – we should do the right things in terms of engaging with people, giving them learning opportunities, rewarding them financially, and connecting emotionally has not changed, but I think more importantly, what has added complexity over the last couple of years is that everybody’s gone virtual. Therefore, what you did in the physical space needs to change and evolve. We have increased the usage of technology to give people a better experience. I think one of the big things which have worked in our favour using technology is that no matter where you are, whether you are in an office, your house, collaborating remotely, or collaborating in an office, you get a seamless experience.
We have spent a lot of time and effort in redesigning many of our workspaces. The office space is used for so many new and better things now. We have created environments where you can work as an individual; we’ve created spaces where you can collaborate, where you can have big screens, and where you can interact with people who are not there. We have built a lot of our employee services, learning platforms as well as applications to a mobile-first platform. You can have access anytime and everywhere, so it’s innovation in investments in technology coming together to give a better experience.
Secondly, we have spent a lot of effort and time training people, especially our managers, on how to handle remote and hybrid teams. We use data and analytics to see which teams are doing well. We see where we need to spend time and improve, hence we put a lot of effort into using analytics, deploying micro-interventions, training, etc. And then checking if interventions work. For example, we have an intervention called ‘Manager Quotient’ that helps us intervene and build better managerial talent which then enhances employee experience.
Thirdly, we have assumed that for a fairly long period of time, the model of remote plus physical will continue and we have been very flexible in terms of our approach to people choosing how and where to work. I think that has been widely appreciated by our employees in the sense that we’ve had better success at our return-to-work initiatives than many other places. We have built-in flexibility in our approach and the fact that employees appreciate it is that we have adjusted to feedback.
Lastly, we have spent considerable effort on mental and physical wellness because one of the things we learned during the pandemic is that this kind of working style has a different impact on different people.
“We have spent a lot of time and effort redesigning many of our workspaces. The office space is used for so many new and better things now. We have created environments where you can work as an individual; we’ve created spaces where you can collaborate, where you can have big screens, and where you can interact with people who are not there. We have built a lot of our employee services, learning platforms as well as applications to a mobile-first platform.”
You got feedback regarding the remote plus physical work model that you have currently at Infosys. So was it done internally?
A very important thing is you need to constantly listen, take feedback, and then use it to build better systems, policies, and processes. We have our employee pulse survey which is open all the time and is a formal mechanism. So, there is a constant ability for me to give feedback to the company. It gives us a wealth of data and insights.
We have also gone and asked people through specific surveys and group discussions to envision our future way of working. These focus group discussions have given us a lot of learning and ideas for innovation.
So different people at different life stages, at different levels of responsibility, need different approaches and I think that has been our biggest learning that by bringing in flexibility we can accommodate almost everyone without compromising on deliverables or client satisfaction.
You mentioned that you observed employee involvement has been different pre and post-opening of schools after Covid-induced lockdowns. Please share some more such learnings with us.
On average, we have around 45,000 people in the office on an average day across India. When the schools were operating remotely, this number was 15,000 or so. There has been steady growth here.
The other thing is that around 50% of our employees were not in the office location. We took a sample size and analyzed the office locations and cities they are in. We found that there are clear clusters emerging, so we are now actually looking at opening offices in more cities to accommodate the people whom we do not necessarily need to bring back to their original location. Infosys already has smaller centers in Indore, Nagpur, and Hubli, and now we are setting up offices in Coimbatore, Vizag, Kolkata, and Noida.
The third thing we discovered was that senior employees returned after we resumed office, whereas others were hesitant. As we opened it to more middle-level managers, more teams started to report to the office. Also, we see a lot of interest in new hires to see what the office looks like. So, we have had this kind of learning which helped us define how we want our approach to be.
Remote working or a hybrid work model is also seen as one of the ways to attract GenZ talent. What has been your experience on this front?
The new generation actually prefers to come to the office because they want to build relationships and connect. They want to spend time in the office, especially the people who are just out of college. The people who need flexibility are at the next stage and already have given three or four years into the organization because they have other responsibilities. They either have family or parental responsibilities and want to use the benefits of a hybrid model. Hence that group prefers a larger variety of flexible options. The folks who are a level above them need to be in the office because of their job demands. It is not a uniform experience.
Therefore, it’s not like a generational issue as to whether you want to work remotely or otherwise. It’s more to do with your life stage and situation.
As per Q2FY23 reports, Infosys saw a decline in attrition rate. What do you think contributed to this dip?
It is a combination of both external trends and internal actions. We’ve done a lot of work in improving our talent strategies, but last year was an unprecedented year in terms of demand for talent. So many companies did not invest in growing talent and found it easier to hire from outside. Infosys happened to be one such source of talent. As a company, we had invested a lot in growing, upskilling, and reskilling talent from within because that has been our model over the years. We hire people from colleges, put them through four months of intensive training, and then deploy them.
We were one of the companies where a lot of people could hire from because we had a ready pool of talent. Now there’s nothing good or bad about it. It’s a matter of the economy and the pressure. So, I think that is what we saw last year. This year has been more stable, and we have been able to replenish our talent pool for the future.
Across countries, there is not as much hiring growth as there was last year. I don’t want to term it as a slowdown because it’s too early to say that. But there is a reduction in the kind of demand for talent which was there the previous year.
Wherever we were not competitive, we made changes – for example, we did a couple of compensation reviews as well as corrections based on skills. We promoted a lot of people, nearly 30-40 thousand people were promoted over a period of time. We paid incentives, we increased our focus on rewards, and so on.
We took into account skills; we discovered when there were skills in demand, we could reward people differently based on what skills they had, and people appreciated that. So, if an employee acquires some special skills, we give them an incentive that goes on to encourage more learning.
We also increased our learning opportunities tremendously, for example, our learning platform today has almost 13,700 courses. This is available anytime for learning and we are seeing very good traction in the sense that people on average spend 30 to 40 minutes every day on it.
We increased engagement tremendously in the sense that our managers and our leaders engaged a lot with people. We created something called a 5C framework.
Adapting to the changes in work patterns, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we renewed our Employee Engagement Framework – ‘5C’ for employees, managers, and leaders. The ‘5C’ engagement framework elevates employee experience and well-being and keeps their spirits up during testing times. The 5 Cs are CONNECT, COLLABORATE, CELEBRATE, CARE, and CULTURE.
As for the attrition level, we would like it to be a little lower than what it is right now because we would like it to go back to the earlier steady state. But it is far better than what we saw last year. We are seeing a lot of interest from people who left us wanting to come back, which is a good thing. It shows that the culture and values, on which we built our employer brand, have resonated with people.
“We were one of the companies where a lot of people could hire from because we had a ready pool of talent. Now there’s nothing good or bad about it. It’s a matter of the economy and the pressure. So, I think that is what we saw last year. This year has been more stable, and we have been able to replenish our talent pool for the future.”
So these people who are interested to come back, is there a policy drafted to get them back into the workforce?
We are not running a program as of now specifically to address this. In the past, we did have some programs. Presently, we are actively encouraging people to return who moved out mainly for the purpose of childcare, etc. We have an active program to encourage them to come back. But other than that, we welcome people who want to come back and who apply for any reason. And as long as we have a position and you’re interested in it, we will figure out where you are working, discuss it with your previous managers and based on your performance and business needs, we are more than happy to take people back.
You also mentioned the Wellness programs that you have at Infosys and recently Infosys launched a Mental Health Handbook. What prompted you to come up with the handbook and how is it helping?
Our focus on health has been running for almost 20 years now. What we learned recently is whether you are in this company or anywhere else, everyone has gone through a lot of pressures across the world.
So, one of the big things, which we started to realize is that physical and mental well-being are connected. You have to be fit both mentally and physically to do well at work and to be productive. We were seeing the impact of the above stresses on people, and we thought that because we have so much expertise and access to resources, we can make a difference.
We spent a lot of time training other employees to provide support to colleagues, which is an interesting activity because you are so much more willing to approach a colleague rather than going to a professional for workplace things.
We are getting very encouraging feedback saying that all these interventions are helping. It’s not that everybody goes for every intervention. People are free to choose what they want to do. But the ability to use it has been widely appreciated. So, this is what we have done in this space over the last 3 years.
The earlier focus on health has been widely acknowledged. We know it has worked well. We have received consistently good feedback, but things have changed over the last year, and we need to adapt.
In terms of the manager quotient, what will be the long-term goal here? What kind of policy do you think could be developed in the future? What kind of help can it create for Infosys?
Our focus has been to improve the work ecosystem in a larger context. Not doing for short-term gains like evaluation or rewards process. The idea is to give everybody a chance to become a better manager through shared learning. So, we want to use the data we have and our learnings with which we have to improve the overall managerial quotient in the company.
Having said that, it’s not an approach where there are no checks. Over a period and after multiple chances, if people don’t improve, then we will find roles and responsibilities where they don’t need to manage people. So, you can continue to be an individual contributor. The first interaction and continued interface with the companies is with the manager and if you do not have people doing their managerial part of their job or their responsibility correctly, the whole team suffers. We don’t want that to happen.
Now coming to the long-term aspect of this initiative. There are several options, but we have not gone down that route at this point. We might decide later to use it, but hopefully, the message is that you just become a better manager and that is sufficient as an objective.
You spoke about taking the office to the place of work where you know people are staying in smaller hubs. How the employee strength is right now distributed and what do you think should be the scope for more talent coming from these kinds of smaller cities?
We see a lot of potential for talent growth in the mid and smaller cities. We need to think of this as a clustering issue. What happened over a period of time in India is that talent from across the country was drawn to clusters because growth happened that way. I don’t think the talent was concentrated in a particular part of the country to start with, but talent had to move to places where employment or opportunities were available.
Therefore, you had these hubs created and Bengaluru was one of the hubs. The NCR region was another and so on. However, the pandemic dispersed your talent back to where it came from. This is a great opportunity to design better. I fully agree with you that it helps the economy to grow in these places. Also, it gives people a better balance in the sense that they’re closer to their families. They operate out of a more familiar environment. They don’t have to commute as much as they would in a large city. So, people have seen the benefits.
What we have simply done is we have extended our clusters. We have just checked where our employees are located and have decided that instead of forcing them all to come back to the base locations, they can continue to operate and work out of the new offices we create where employees are located.
As a result of this approach, we will see many more cities develop as talent hubs and companies will expand because work technology is changing, and is improving.
Furthermore, I think the governments will also have a big role to play in the sense of how the state governments and various governments encourage the development of infrastructure in the smaller cities. You can’t only have talent in isolation, you will have to have secondary infrastructure like hospitals, schools, airports, and so on.
Finally, I think it will also depend on how many offices you can operate at a point in time and beyond the optimal number. I don’t think companies can operate too many offices. We will know probably two years down the line.
Also read: Millennials, Gen-Z and the Future of Work: Building Intellectual Job Roles in the ‘Virtual Age’
In terms of changed work models, what are the challenges that you still face despite things being seamless now?
It is seamless because people are working hard to make it work that way, but you need a formal process. It can’t be left to people’s own efforts. You got used to working in an office for so many years, so it’s a process of unlearning and learning for all of us. I wouldn’t think much of waking up in the morning and going to my office earlier, but now I have to make a decision every morning. So, innovations in technology like AI nudges, synchronizing schedules, helping map colleagues, etc. will help.
We have to use data and technology to make it efficient and give us all a better experience. Otherwise, we are depending on individual choices and chance. It requires all stakeholders to partner in workplace innovation – companies, employees, society, government, and so on so that we can create a better world of work for tomorrow.
About the author: Heading the people function at Infosys, Richard is instrumental in creating an environment that attracts and builds the talent Infosys needs for the future. He joined Infosys in 2000.
Year of Incorporation: 1981
Market Presence: As on March 31, 2022, the Company is spread across 247 locations in more than 54 countries.
Employee Count: 3,45,218 (as of September 30, 2022)
Workforce Pie: 3,28,146 in software, 17,072 in sales & support
Business Operation: Infosys is a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting. We enable clients in more than 50 countries to navigate their digital transformation.
Key HR Metrics: 39.3% of women employees. Infosys aims to have a gender-diverse workforce with 45% women by 2030.