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Tata Technologies used continuous learning, higher increments to stem attrition: HR chief

In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, Bhageria talks about the company's 'Chief Listening Officer', hiring plans and moonlighting among other things.

January 03, 2023 / 11:03 AM IST
Pawan Bhageria, President – Global HR, IT, Admin and Education at Tata Technologies

Pawan Bhageria, President – Global HR, IT, Admin and Education at Tata Technologies

Engineering and design firm Tata Technologies (TTL) got a chatbot ‘Amber’ and named it Chief Listening Officer in November 2021. It reaches out to all the employees from time to time at different milestones and has a set of questions. Based on the inputs, it carried out focused group discussions and worked on its employee value proposition (EVP) which helped in reducing attrition.

“There is an interesting trend that attrition came down significantly in the IT side of the company. Now, the engineering side has also stabilised,” Pawan Bhageria, president – global HR, IT, admin and education at TTL, told Moneycontrol in an interview.

On the issue of moonlighting, Bhageria takes it as an ethical and contractual question. “At this point, we definitely see this should not be done by employees.”

Edited excerpts:

A lot has happened in the talent market in the last two years. How do you project the future?

It's a great time for the HR industry and I will keep my comment more limited to the services industry because the maximum manpower is there and a large portion of employee cost is in the services industry.

Despite the speculations around an economic slowdown or news about Covid from China, there are a couple of positive drivers. There have been several technology pieces such as IoT (Internet of Things) which are disrupting almost every industry and there are big advantages of adopting these technologies.

Also read | ‘The Great Attrition’ is ebbing, there’s stability in people movement now: KPMG India

Take the example of the automotive industry. We keep hearing that what the industry has not seen in the last 50 years, they will see in the next 10 years. So those things can happen only when the industry is moving forward and adopting these changes.

For companies like ours, which are very focused on automotive, aerospace and industrial and heavy machinery, these technologies have a big impact and we are well-placed to leverage the opportunities in the market.

How do you see the issue of moonlighting? What is Tata Technologies’ stand?

In the employment contract, there is clarity that a person cannot have a second employment. When it comes to moonlighting, we feel that is an ethical as well as a contractual question.

At this point, we definitely see this should not be done by employees. Going forward, the talent landscape is changing and we will have to examine how things go over time. But for permanent employees, I don't see much change happening.

What interesting developments Tata Technologies has seen recently?

When it comes to HR, there is a shift in the mindset of talent. People are making a lot of decisions where they can be close to their families and remote work has become a popular choice – this has gone into their DNA.

Secondly, the people who are working in new technology have realised that talent is scarce. Attracting them and keeping them both need a different approach and we have recognised it.

Also read | When it comes to talent, versatility is the name of the game: TVS HR chief

Though we suffered from the resignations in 2021 – our LTM (Last Twelve Months) was 25 percent – we took a call to put down the attrition and also grow in terms of manpower. I'm happy to say that we crossed 10,000 for the first time in August and we are looking to end the year closer to 12,500 people.

Despite whatever attrition has been there, there is an interesting trend that attrition came down significantly on the IT side of the company. Now, the engineering side has also stabilised.

How did you bring down the attrition? 

In November 2021, we got a chatbot ‘Amber’ and named it Chief Listening Officer. It reaches out to all the employees from time to time at different milestones and has a set of questions. Of course, compensation continues to be always an area where employees want more but more importantly, they talked about opportunities for growth and learning.

Based on the inputs, we carried out focused group discussions. Besides, we also worked on our employee value proposition (EVP) and the inputs from Amber were very valuable.

For instance, yesterday we talked to 300 people and out of those five were at risk. The HR team, sometimes myself, will now try to reach out to those employees and understand what is bothering them and come up with generic solutions. Because one person is speaking, there may be 100 who are not speaking but have the same concern.

Concerning growth and learning, we have an in-house institution called TechVarsity. In 2021, 725 people were trained under a three-month programme. This year we are targeting about 1,200-1,400 people.

Also read | India is a strategic location for global talent search: Citigroup hiring chief

For building leadership pipeline for the future, we have a ‘LeaderBridge’ programme. We picked people with more than 20 years of experience and they went through the assessment of their leadership capability and found out the areas where they need to improve. They were then provided mentoring and different projects.

Attrition in IT roles has seen a spike. How did you keep that in check?

We classified our employee skills into legacy and digital skills. We then segmented digital further into Digital A and Digital B, which are niche and super niche. Based on this segmentation, we did a market survey/benchmarking and made adjustments to the compensation of the segmented talent pool.

Secondly, we recently got multiple projects which are very interesting. Now coupled with a good and engaging environment, these three things started working for us as far as the IT side is concerned.

Now, we got to know that the engineering side is lagging. Everybody is looking for people who have 2-6 years of experience. When people join as graduates, they move slowly in the hierarchy and witness much attrition. There was a process that 10 percent of people will be promoted in a yearly cycle in the range of 8-15 percent increments. For the competition, it is a great opportunity to look for very well-trained people.

We looked at these things and I'm happy to say that in 2021, we promoted over 27 percent of people and for overall increments – we did much better than the industry-recommended increments. We are now seeing stability on the engineering side as well.

How has the progress on diversity and inclusion (D&I) been so far at the company?

We never talked about it from a compliance perspective. The idea was that if we want to get into it, we will get into it with full energy more as a strategic tool, which would ensure that we have a diverse team because diverse teams bring ideas.

Also read | How Ericsson is gearing up to attract and retain talent in the 5G world

A year-and-a-half, the gender ratio was around 14 percent of female employees though there are several policies which are there. We felt that we needed to move up and take it to at least 25 percent, to begin with. Now, we have appointed a senior HR leader as the D&I leader and the person has 70-80 percent of the time to be focused on this only. We have also got a person from the executive leadership team who is the executive sponsor for diversity, and we are now working on our whole strategy for diversity and inclusion.

Honestly, we have a policy available but its real execution will happen from now on as we have put in the right level of structure. You can say this is something where we have started seriously and we can talk about the results in 6-8 months.

What is the hiring plan for the next year? 

In 2021, we recruited 4,500 people, and though we lost 3,000, there was a net addition of 1,500. Way ahead, we are expecting 1,800-2,500 year-on-year net addition of employees. I'm fairly confident that we will be able to meet our business requirements from a talent acquisition prospect.

What do you look for in candidates when hiring?

Earlier what used to happen is that when a candidate came, there were some very direct questions and if the person was not able to answer, he/she was rejected. But now there are instructions to hiring managers that see if the candidate can do programming, then there is an adjacency which we are going to need. We advise them to at least look at the person and put him/her through the training programme and all that.

For managers, we look at soft skills in a big way – team management, gelling with organisational culture, etc. because the core values which drive our company are three: one team with customers, a can-do attitude, global mindset.

Also read| From hiring to retaining: HR chief explains how IBM went through a ‘Great Revaluation’

Apart from asking prospective managers about their relationship with previous teammates, we also ask about their biggest failure, how they cope with it and what did they learn from that.

It's important because earlier it used to be IQ (Intelligence Quotient), then EQ (Emotional Quotient), then SQ (Social Quotient) and nowadays we talk about AQ (Adversity Quotient) – your ability to deal with challenges and adverse circumstances. We tried to examine people on all four.

How has the work model at Tata Technologies evolved? What changes are expected in light of news around Covid?

We have taken a clear call that we will keep the hybrid environment going. We provided guidelines to all employees that try to be in the office 2-3 days a week but in consultation with their manager. For people with special needs like mothers with small children, there can be a slightly different arrangement. In SEZs, we have seen 60 percent of employees coming to the offices without much noise. On average, we are having footfall up about 35 percent.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

Abhishek Sahu
Abhishek Sahu covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.