At Pangea3, employees, most of whom are lawyers, get an exposure that goes beyond the purely technical.

When Pangea3 commenced operations in 2004, it was housed in Maker Chambers, Nariman Point, Mumbai. That corporate address in the heart of the business district saw the company nestled amidst the who's who of corporate India. And thereby, it did its bit to establish that Pangea3 was a professional services organisation, far removed physically and functionally from outsourced call centre offices branded collectively as ‘BPOs'.

At this legal process outsourcing firm (LPO), 700 of the 850 staffers are lawyers. As the New York- and Mumbai-headquartered firm grew into the world's largest LPO, it had to move beyond the business capital of India‘s financial capital. For the new, larger premises, the address near the international airport wasn't as important as the facility itself — though it is called the Leela Business Park.

The new office of Pangea3 that The New Manager visited could well have been an IT company or a media company — or any corporate for that matter. Whatever the domain of operations, it was obviously designed as an open work environment. What strikes a visitor instantly is that there are no corner cabins — all of them are in the middle of the floor. So are three cylindrical enclosures with one cabin each, up a few steps from ground level, around which 350 Pangea3 staffers are spread out. One of them doesn't belong to any one, and thus belongs to everyone — just in case the legal minds want a change of place.

Sanjay Kamlani, Co-CEO, is a lawyer himself. He explains the office design thus: “We wanted to retain a flat hierarchy structure. Almost everyone here is a lawyer, and there are many engineers, also MBAs. We have a system where even senior managers sit on the same desks as associates.”

That also explains why every cabin is made of glass. The segments that need to be demarcated to protect project privacy are segmented in different units, while each unit allows for transparency.

The management team, working with architects, wanted to ensure that it was an inspirational, fun place to work, sporting the blue and green colours when it was created in 2007. A year later, when the company wanted to infuse a spirit of excellence into its DNA, the office turned a shade of purple. From what we saw, it hasn't taken away from the aesthetics.

The LPO derives its names from the third Pangea, which relates to the world's continents getting electronically reconnected to create a virtual Pangea — the one super continent that existed before our continents were born.

Wooing the Legal Eagles

Pangea3 claims to hire from the top 20 law schools in the country, including the Government Law School, the National Law School, Symbiosis and Faculty Law College. This is in addition to lawyers from established law firms and corporates such as Vodafone, Reliance and ICICI. While it initially did have to tell people that it was not a ‘BPO', it claims that now, its stakeholders know Pangea3 as ‘an organisation that prides itself on excellence and customer service'.

The intake is in tune with the growth of the company, which was 100 per cent last year, says Kamlani. The staff strength was 600 at the end of 2010.

“A large number of people — around 60 to 70 per cent — would either be freshers or people with up to two years' experience. The good thing is that most senior people are those who have stayed with the company from the early days,” he adds.

An example would be Rachita Maker who has been with the company since its inception. With around two years of experience in law, Maker started off with Pangea3 and helped build the HR group, recalls the co-CEO. She is now Assistant Vice-President, Corporate Legal Solutions (India) at Pangea3, and is currently in the US, assisting the sales team there. The US accounts for a vast majority of the company's business, reveals a staffer who showed us around the facility.

 

Early Hiccups

Even as several professionals who have been with the organisation since its inception are today designated as Assistant Vice-Presidents and Directors, and run business groups, retention is still a priority area for the management.

An otherwise staid Kamlani proudly reveals that amongst employees who have been with the company for a year, the attrition rate is as low as six per cent. The maximum exits are in year one of employees' tenures.

“There are certainly people who feel that this is not for them, and move on. But the first year is also a time when we test people and weed out those that we think might not be best suited for the job,” reveals Kamlani.

The attrition may be above 30 per cent for the factors outlined, but for those who stay on, the incentives are many, when compared to employment with a local law firm, he adds.

“There's a big difference in working for Pangea3. Unlike typical law firms, our engagement with the client stays on forever. The only reason an international law firm comes to a law firm in India is that they need services in India. With Pangea3, our engagements are global,” he notes.

That implies that employees get to travel abroad and interact with the clientele that comprises over 100 of the Fortune 1000 corporations.

But how steep is the climb?

Keeping it Easy, Flexi

Upward mobility is a tricky climb. Organisations that rely on meritocracy are challenged at every step of the employees' ladder(s). Fair play is simply not possible when subjective inferences are left to interpretation. Pangea3 seems to have applied some thought to this process.

“The climb is purely on merit. It's all about the quality of work delivered,” explains Kamlani. “In terms of mobility upwards, there are different routes available — for some it might be managing people, for others it might be more projects.”

Like some warm-hearted organisations, there is leeway for those who choose the slower lane. And the good thing is it's clearly defined. While Pangea3 in India operates on a day model on IST (Indian Standard Time), there are client requirements that demand employees stay back late.

“If someone has family obligations and doesn't want additional responsibility, we try and pay attention to those people. Also, there would be others focused on developing their careers,” says the CEO. Flexible time schedules have been worked out for those who want a work-life time balance in life's favour.

Similarly, in the case of appraisals, there is a one year ‘anniversary' appraisal cycle. An employee who has completed one year comes up for appraisal at that point without having to wait for the organisation's annual evaluation period to end. The ‘employee of the year' has been given a holiday abroad for two.

Pangea3 has built its own appraisal system. From quantitative client contact metrics to the qualitative, to throughput (volume errors), everything finds a place. Most importantly, an employee is engaged with an engagement form every quarter. Just so that he or she knows where he or she is.

The usual fare (now) of cricket matches and fun events are held at Pangea3 too. What is encouraging is that the lawyer in Kamlani, along with his team, has mapped the motivation factors for his fraternity.

Kamlani surmises, “Lawyers take a lot of pride in technical growth as lawyers. The ideal growth path is a balance between technical growth and other learning.”

For those thinking beyond the law books and clients, there's a billiards table, among other things, coming up on the mezzanine floor that's getting redesigned.

(This article was published on September 11, 2011)
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