By guest author Tony Scott
Tony: Through the course of this process, how have you as the president of HCL America gone about making sure you infuse that culture in your organization and find this kind of talent for your leaders?
Shami: You have to do it step by step. If I look at the profile of our company a few years ago, even in the United States, a large faction of our employees were from India, and many of them were here on a short-term basis. Our global population is now much higher; it has gone up substantially, which is the first thing you should do. If you can’t do that, you are in trouble. In that way I would say that U.S. companies have done pretty well in going to India and assimilating with the population.
One of the biggest problems I’ve faced within HCL America as we have grown is that you hire people, but they don’t know anything about the company’s processes. How do you get that into them? You have to get that from people who have worked in the organization for a while. Now, if those people were mostly located in India, for example, I found that it was very difficult for them to spend even a few months in Brazil and be productive and be able to transfer that information. We have language problems, cultural integration problems, even the problem of people driving their kids to school. The people we transferred were concerned about how could they manage those aspects – and certainly some parts of Brazil are not really set up for international transferees. I did find that more employees from the United States were able to manage these problems much better.
Tony: Because they had already made one transition, right? They made a transition from the U.S. culture into a multinational company operating here, and it was easier for them to go to a new country. It is that same process.
Shami: They sent their children to a Canadian international school about 20 miles away. There is a problem in making that drive, and the people from India were saying, “It’s too far, how do I do it?” and so on. It was the simple things that were some of the most difficult. But I do think that was a clear indication that as a company, we have to make sure that our people are trained and challenged, and we have to be able to provide that kind of leadership if we are going to become totally international in our interactions. The awareness is there, the realization is there, we have lot of internal training and orientation, and we are going to use that to make people much more international in their thinking.
Tony: Are you going to start by moving people, by doing more cross-border transformation within your organization? Is it a new part of the process at the executive level?
Shami: Taking the U.S. team, let me just tell you about couple of other things so that you get the right perspective. One thing is that over the past few years we have done a lot of what we call the total outsourcing team. You actually rebadge employees, and when you do, you automatically get a workforce that is more localized. The second thing is that we made some acquisitions. This was our mode of getting the skills needed, making acquisitions.
Tony: Fully integrating employees and cultures is one of the most difficult parts of any acquisition.
Shami: It is, so you have to be proactive and very communicative. We made one of the largest acquisitions ever made by an Indian company. It was a $700 million acquisition, two and a half years ago, and integration has gone off quite well. We started a program, and the idea was more or less “employees first.” I don’t know if you have heard anything about it, but it started here six years ago and was the brainchild of my boss. His idea was that in our services, what is the most important thing? It is the employee. It is not like manufacturing a product. Here, your assets walk out the door every day, and these employees have to be very focused, in alignment with the goals of the company, and feel that their skills are being used. We started the program of “employees first, customers second.” It was radical in the sense that everyone said, “What do you mean? What about the customer side?” But the intent was that if our employees are more charged up, whether they are dealing with internal or external customers, they will be happy and will do a very professional job. The idea was, Let’s be transparent There has to be lots of communication, training, and so on. I decided to have 360-degree feedback and senior managers had to make feedback available on the Internet. As you can see, the intent was to be open and transparent. We said, let’s be transparent with ourselves and figure out exactly where the issue is. If there is no issue, fine. If there is an issue, let’s take care of it.
By marching out that kind of a program when you make an acquisition, people see how employees are treated and that transparency is a big thing. That makes an acquisition easier to integrate. I think that kind of transparency makes it a lot easier for you to integrate a global workforce, because they know exactly what are the parameters under which they are working. They don’t have a feeling that somehow they are left out and are different from the rest of the company. I also think these acquisitions have been helpful in making people feel comfortable with their place in the global workforce.