Blog: IT services companies in India need a cultural overhaul

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IT services companies in India need a cultural overhaul

I am not talking about technological innovation; while that, too, is long overdue. What I am instead proposing is a significant improvement in the way IT services companies deal with their ‘human resources’.
IT services companies in India need a cultural overhaul

Nearly 50 percent of Indian employees cite bad work culture as the most worrisome workplace element at their organization. What’s more, 52 percent of employees rated their workplace as “bad,” and only 20 percent rated it as “good.” 

And if you dive deeper into the operations of majority IT services companies, you’ll see a clear reason for this dissatisfaction among employees. To begin with, stringent hierarchies present in most companies cause a major hindrance to internal communication - which is imperative to any employee’s growth. Further, there’s always a rat race to reach the top - without really focussing on what is at hand - leading to hyper-competition, which, despite popular belief, acts as a deterrent to anybody’s productivity.  According to a survey, over 2/5th of full-time employees have no perks or flexibility  when it comes to their job.

Now, these companies do market themselves as “people-friendly” - but is that the real picture? 

High attrition, outrageous Glassdoor reviews, and other negative anonymous feedback go a long way to show just how people-centric today’s organizations really are. 

We trust you, but not enough

Some of the leaders in innovation, including Jobs, have repeated time and again that there is no point in hiring incredibly smart, driven people and then telling them what to do, or constrict them with red tape. However, most IT services companies have policies, approval structures, heavy performance review cycles, convoluted feedback loops, and hierarchies - all of which is tied to an already complex compensation structure! The message this sends is that while we are “people-centric,” we don’t trust you enough - so please follow the due process. 

After all, if we need to “approve” our people’s actions at every step, and do not give them any flexibility, how can we expect them to execute complex, nuanced projects? Is this a reason that a large part of the IT revenue today comes from mundane, regular tasks like support services, with limited room for innovation?

An overdue overhaul

This entire process-driven workplace setting needs rethinking. It is time to learn from some companies who successfully changed their culture to empower their employees. A famous content company, for example, is a radical adopter of the Holacracy model. It is a method of decentralized management, in which authority and responsibility are distributed throughout the teams, rather than being vested in a management hierarchy. For this, the company primarily follows “No people managers. Maximum autonomy.” Some companies like Adecco, based out of Switzerland, also follow unique initiatives like the “CEO for One Month” program. By challenging all notions conventional of management, these companies foster trust and openness. 

Another great idea is to have open salary structures, which facilitates a cycle of free and candid communication between teams. You will see people reaching out, seeking feedback to get better at their work, and also getting paid better.  Such a structure will eliminate nepotism and will allow the leaders to be a lot more diligent while deciding salaries. The wall between the management and the employees will also break, as employees will not only be able to question their salary but seek a revision in salary, too, if they are performing well. 

An added advantage of an open salary system is that it forces a feedback conversation because now people know if they are paid less or more, as compared to their peers. In fact, why only have an open salary structure, and why not let the people decide the salaries of the management too? Following such a structure will help employees scrutinize what happens at each and every level. If people are given the opportunity to decide the salary of the management, it’ll ensure that management is on their toes at all times, and will eliminate any sense of ‘superiority’ which is often a negative catalyst for any office environment. It will also instil in employees a sense of authority and responsibility, and drive them towards really acting like CEOs.

Another thing some companies practice is a truly flat organization structure. No role, no grades. Pretty much everyone plays a role in a particular assignment and then goes back to the common pool. So in one project, one person might assume a leadership role, but in the next project, that person might end up playing a developer role. This leads to more of a time-boxed or event-boxed role and avoids entitlement. Things like this challenge the status quo and provide a secure and empowering environment for people.  

There’s a lot that the IT service industry has to change, and this might be just the right first steps to take. By breaking all barriers of hierarchy, the IT services industry can provide its employees with precisely what they need - a sense of inclusivity and respect. And, while it’s true that competition is necessary for growth, it should be noted that hyper-competition is not. There’s a thin line between the two, and having a salary structure that facilitates openness might just promote the right kind of competitive spirit among the people. It’ll make employees more responsible and accountable, and for many companies, it can end up being a competitive advantage, too!But before anything else, the IT services industry needs to acknowledge employees as humans, and treat them accordingly - only then will anything begin to change.

Topics: #GuestArticle, Culture

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