HR Retention in India: More Complex than First Glance

by Brandi Moore on July 16, 2010


photo credit: sanja gjenero

India Knowledge@Wharton interviewed Infosys leaders about the iRace program a new HR plan widely criticized in India and blamed for the departure of up to 4K empoyees.  The Infosys program is culturally appropriate for India, but does the new IT generation demand something different?

From India @ Wharton: Under iRace, there are three main criteria for role mapping: total years of relevant experience that an individual has, past performance and role maturity. Infosys defines “role maturity” as the duration of time spent by the individual in the current role. This is taken as an indicator of the competence of the role-holder since it would typically mean greater exposure, higher on-the-job skill and the necessary expertise required for playing the role successfully.

In short, this program relies on India’s preference for longevity in roles before promotion. It’s focus is on how long an employee has been working, education, and how long that employee has stayed in a particular role.  In inscription cultures, like India this is very common.  A career path is laid out before you hop from role to role while working up the ladder slowly.  From the American perspective, this creates no opportunity or perceived benefit for the employee to work harder so they can move faster.  Its hard for Americans to understand how the relationship with the employee and the organization in these types of cultures is greater than the employees own career.  These feelings are more prevalent in group oriented cultures like India.These preferences are at a crossroad inside the IT sector.  Typically Indians would work inside organizations that are more family oriented…with Infosys hitting over 100,000 employees pushing a family oriented structure is getting more and more complicated.

The real crossroads at Infosys is that it used a more American style environment when the economy was thriving with 50% growth…and now wants to return to a traditional Indian approach to management.

IT employees in India are a generation with a new set of business culture preferences.  They are the first group in their countries history to be in DEMAND, so much so that they have the power to command a salary undreamt of by their parents, by things normally saved for over a life time like a house or a car, and live alone instead of with their parents or in-laws.  Providing India HR services from the US to this group is complicated at best.

One take away from the Infosys problem is there may be the underlying complaint: Titling.  Most of the people commenting about this are not screaming about money, they are talking about titles.  They are talking about how they have a different title from peers — and shouldn’t –and they are talking about how new titles have been inserted between an existing one and the next one they hoped to get to slow down their process to get the title they strive for.  And this is the part that US HR managers should really look at because in the US, titles don’t matter as much as they do in India.

In the US titles such as Program Manager are extremely vague.  If you meet 10 Program Managers from 10 different companies the level of responsibility and pay will be different.  Program Mangers might be running budgets of millions of dollars while others may be expert negotiators managing foreign M&A activities while others may be running one project like a project manager.  This kind of job title ambiguity is accepted practice in American organizations.  This is NOT the case in India.

When you enter a business environment in India the first thing you do — exchange cards — results in a long look at your card to determine two things:

  1. standing in organization
  2. your education

While in America, a business card exchange is much less focused and may happen AFTER you spend a considerable amount of time talking with someone and DECIDE to ask for the business card.  It would be highly unusual in India to hear someone say “oh I don’t give out my business card” or “I don’t have cards” like you here in the US.

What can HR managers learn from this?  A few things.

  1. Indians may be OK with a time length maturity model on promotions but its unclear if this works for the IT industry in India which competes on a daily basis for talent.
  2. Titling is very important in India and may be more important than pay.  make sure you assign titles that are accurate and denote levels of authority.
  3. A separate structure for India is probably needed.  Trying to incentivize groups that live in a group based culture verses an individual culture is difficult at best.

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