Three years ago, Sanjay Mehta, the suave Managing Director of Teleperformance India, decided to do something fairly radical for the company of over 5,000 employees. He closed down the Human Resource (HR) department.
HR practices have always come in for a fair bit of scrutiny. Take the way Accenture recently belled the assessment cat. It dumped the statistics-driven bell curve performance appraisal system terming it unfair. But it's rare that a company actually bumps off the whole HR department itself. More so when it is a people-centric BPO business.
Well, to be fair, Teleperformance did not kill the important tasks that the HR function does - it just totally rewired the HR structure.
The fabric of HR needs to change, believes Mehta. When there is an overdrive of process, it kills experience, he says. This is why the Indian arm of the $3.7 billion global outsourcing firm decided to take a hard look at its people practices. Mehta describes how there was a yawning gap between the demands and expectations from the HR function. For instance, talent retention was a big challenge in an industry marked by high attrition levels, led primarily by a young team with average age of 18 to 25 years. " There was a gap between the expectations and delivery to nurture talent in the organisation. In our industry, retention of the talent is just as crucial as acquiring the right kind of talent from the available pool," he says.
The company began introspecting on how it could rewire its HR. "What does HR do? Manage talent and also take care of administrative processes like payroll and so on," says Mehta.
So much like the suggestion of management guru Ram Charan, who, in a compelling Harvard Business Review (HBR) article written in 2014, had advocated that the HR function should be split into two. Teleperformance ruthlessly engineered the divide.
It handed over the payroll function to finance. And the role of the HR function was redefined as talent excellence guardians. This included acquisition, engagement, care and retention of employees.
"We rewired HR to talent excellence in 2012 prior to this article. There was no personal advice or external advice. Just seemed the right thing to do basis employee centricity to advance employee experience," says Sanjay Mehta.
Now came the task of finding a team of people to handle the task of talent management. Only somebody who had been through the operations of Teleperformance, and had been an agent himself could understand the needs and issues of the employees, it was felt. So, a Teleperformer who was in the thick of operations - Amandeep Singh Arora - was handpicked and brought in as Vice President-Talent Excellence in 2012.
Arora describes how he had been with TP India for almost 13 years, starting out as an agent, and then working across functions, including in the training department. He was senior manager for operations when he was chosen to front-end talent - both retention and acquisition. "I had experience of doing 90 per cent of the tasks that our organisation does," says Arora.
Amandeep Singh Arora (standing) with employees. Arora was handpicked and brought in as Vice President-Talent Excellence in 2012
His brief was simple: as somebody who had lived, practised and felt what the agents did in the organisation, he had to map out their needs and aspirations. "Essentially, I was putting all the journey I had in the organisation on a new canvas," says Arora.
So how did he and his team of seven (five handpicked from operations) re-engineer it? "There was nothing special really that we did," says Arora. "What we did was proper listening to understand what our agents wanted, what are their concerns, what do they look forward to."
Today, as all scores show that both employee engagement and productivity have risen multifold, Arora feels the biggest contributing factor was the way they set about providing avenues for people to listen to each other.
Town halls - that much feted and talked about engagement tool - were junked. As Mehta points out, like everybody else Teleperformance too had earlier held town halls but soon found out that nobody really shared serious grievances during such assemblies.
So in its place personalised CEO chat sessions were arranged. Mehta would meet employees in small batches of 15 to 20 people. Forty sessions were held last year (2014) and about 900 of the 5,000-odd employees got to chat and share their wants and aspirations.
But even this was not deemed enough. So in a clever twist, Teleperformance used its core strength - call centre operations - to create a standalone channel for its employees. You could call it a call centre for its own employees.
With the employee care (e-care) ticket channel, the lines were opened for all its 5,000 employees across three sites and four offices to log in and voice whatever they felt. "It was a real-time pulse check of what people wanted," says Arora.
Six thousand tickets came in last year and ranged from complaints, suggestions, fresh ideas on issues ranging from integrity, salary, food, travel, facilities and so on. "From ideas on training needs to basic hygiene issues, we started getting a lot of feedback," says Arora.
Managed like a mini call centre for employees, the e-care ticketing system was connected to the intranet of the organisation, where employees could log-in to 'My zone' and post an e-care request. A round-the-clock system, e-ticketing is managed by a team of eight whose responsibility was to provide first resolution within 24 hours of a ticket being raised, and case closure in 72 hours.
A daily report (Voice of Internal Customer Report) is prepared and shared with the MD (Mehta), CFO and heads of various departments, so everybody is in the loop and listening in directly to employees.
So what have been the learnings from rewiring the HR at Teleperformance? Arora says while listening was key, the other big learning was not to create unnecessary processes for the sake of processes. Instead, understand what the business is all about and work to optimise it.
As Mehta sums up, HR systems should be the icing on the cake, but if the cake is not there, then where is the fun.