The young and the restless Indian

Malavika  R Harita is the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Focus in India and one of my colleagues in the MS&L Group Brand & Talent Practice that I head globally.  I asked Malavika to provide an insight into the Indian talent communication and employee engagement market – I hope that you find this guest blog on DTIM as interesting as I do!

The Young and the Restless Indian

Young. Restless. Ambitious. Probably less than focused. Trying to prove a point in an extremely competitive environment, there were 1.2 billion of us at last count. In a hurry. To get that car, that house, that foreign posting. All that Dad never had.

Born in New India. Not the India their parents grew up in, where simple living and high thinking were the order of the day. Where frugality, thrift, and saving for a rainy day thrived. The India we call “Bharath”. Very different from the globalized India we are today with increasing consumerism, Westernization (the jury is still out on whether that is a good or bad thing), and a completely different set of priorities.

The Challenges of Engagement

We therefore have a workforce, most of whom are first generation educated, from smaller cities and rural areas, suddenly thrust into large cities where they have to adapt. To a new culture. To new friends. To tough work environments.  And to living away from the family. A brutal severing of the umbilical cord, so to speak. And the freedom which most of them have never experienced before coming as they do from very sheltered, family oriented backgrounds.

From an employer perspective you therefore need to provide the ballast to anchor them to an organization and prevent them from drifting away. There are so many opportunities available, particularly if you are half smart. In boom time, 3 years ago, every engineering graduate had 7 to 8 job offers in hand before they even completed their course. Things have changed now and the current slow-down has come as a tremendous shock to a generation who has never suffered privation before. It has in some ways been a good thing because our traditional Indian way of thinking has re-asserted itself where we value security and loyalty above money alone. Or is that wishful thinking on my part?

2009: The year of HRM

This was one of the toughest years for HR professionals in India. For the first time since India globalized a decade ago, they were faced with downsizing, lay-offs, managing with lean workforces, counseling, retaining key people, training, retraining, and all this with no monetary incentives to leverage.  

The true test will be now. How do you continue to be frugal in terms of compensation but retain employees in spite of the job market opening up again? 

Old vs New

During the boom traditional sectors like manufacturing, hospitality, advertising, and other services lost out to the burgeoning IT, ITES, media telecom, and financial sectors who sucked in anyone with a basic degree and offered them humongous salaries. The premise being they needed arms and legs to just cope with the exponential growth. During the downturn traditional businesses, which are also globalizing, but at a slower pace, have become more attractive in terms of opportunities, remuneration and stability and the balance is tilting slightly away from the IT sector as a preferred destination.

The talent market is also maturing so employees are beginning to ask discerning questions and form perceptions and opinions about prospective employers. The blind rush of the early 2000’s is over. As in any mature market, employees now need to be convinced that they are making the right choices.

The role of communication

The traditional blue and white collar workers of yore who were contented with HR circulars, have been replaced with the more educated, smarter knowledge worker of today. Traditional organizations however still need to adjust to the concept of an open, transparent organization where the power of choice has shifted from the employer to the employee. The other bigger change is the power of the net, and in India, the mobile, for initiating and sustaining dialogs between people.

In my opinion, 2010-11 is the year for building strong Talent Brands in India. Organizations that have the vision and invest the time and resources to do this will emerge not just stronger in terms of existing employee loyalty but more importantly, is right up there in every potential employee’s consideration set.

State of the Union

India is not virgin territory with regard to talent branding. We have organizations that are way up the scale while others pay lip service to the concept of employee engagement. So while there is a lot of overall activity it does not seem to be part of a sustained, strategically directed plan, barring a few organizations who walk the talk. The result is that employee communication gets low priority in the scheme of things since the impact, if any, is not measurable.

Employee branding is the purview of the HR department. The traditional conflict between marcom, marketing, and HR exists with each protecting his/her turf. However with expanding, geographically dispersed workforces, the boundaries are blurring and the current trend is towards an integrated approach giving employee communication a marketing and PR spin. Tangible results are yet to be seen but the seeds of change have been sown.

The full power of digital media has also not been harnessed by most organizations in this space, barring a few. Probably because of the fear that with digital media it’s all out there and you have to learn to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly. A basic lack of understanding that P2P conversations will happen away irrespective of whether the organization is involved or not.

The way I see it, effective talent branding needs a long-term perspective, but most organizations in India are so busy meeting the quarter’s targets in terms of just recruitment that they do not look at the bigger picture of building interest, of building loyalty, of building Lovemarks.

Malavika Harita, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi Focus, India

Some Statistics

Current Indian population: 1.2 billion.

Estimated to reach 1.53 billion by 2030

500 million people in the workforce growing by about 20 million each year for the next 10 years.Median age: 24.4 years
More than 400,000 tech grads, 2.3 million graduates in other disciplines, over 300,000 post grads every year. (Are they all employable is a subject for another post!)
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One thought on “The young and the restless Indian

  1. Hi Kevin

    Yes – it is an insightful account. I personally think even the communication approach that organizations seek to impose on employees use either of the two frameworks (1) consumer framework (2) Western employer framework – whereas the values that drive the employee employer relationship in India is quite different from these two frameworks. I think that needs to be factored in too

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