New Manager

RCom rings in the changes

Updated on: Feb 05, 2012
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Alongside restructuring, the company is investing in HR automation and exploring synergies within the ADA Group.

Like several others in the telecom space, Reliance Communications too has been in the news on the HR front. A Reuters report in September 2011 on organisational restructuring merging three geographic units under its Wireless (GSM, CDMA, WebWorld) division, added that 700 jobs would be cut. Dismissing the claim of job cuts, RCom explained that the changes were to strengthen the front end — namely sales and customer service.

More recently, it emerged that Syed Safawi, President of the Wireless division, which contributes over half the revenues, will part ways with the company — with his contract ending ‘in normal course'.

The succession to that role and strategic changes at the division are among things that the 250-member strong HR team has had to plan out. The daily challenge is to manage and motivate a 42,000-strong regular workforce with an attrition rate of 21 per cent.

RCom's people — and critically, employer branding — challenges are compounded by being part of an industry that is striving to increase efficiencies.

It's a stage in the maturity of the business, notes Rajan Dutta, President – Corporate HR, Reliance Communications Ltd, in conversation with The New Manager .

Despite being part of the industry in HR roles at RPG Cellular (and Paging), Escotel (now Idea) and Bharti Airtel, the current stint at RCom presents Dutta a fresh set of challenges.

Stacking Up

While RCom is supposed to become ‘leaner' and ‘flatter' with the organisational restructuring, Dutta claims that the headcount has stayed around the 42k mark in 2011-'12, the same as the year before. At the current level of attrition, it means the company is still hiring — if only for replacements.

Admitting that the ramp-up of the previous year was not to be this year, he notes that the numbers could actually go up in 2012-'13 with strengthening of the field force.

“The industry is at a point where the focus has to be on maximising customer numbers and serving them better,” is how Dutta explains the restructuring.

In terms of hierarchy, the senior management cadre is around 1 per cent of the staff (400) and around 20 per cent make up the middle management (8,100). The remaining 33,500 form the junior charge.

Five hundred employees are based outside India, and 10,000 at the headquarters in Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City in Navi Mumbai. The rest are spread across the country.

The sales force, which constitutes 25 per cent of the employee base now, is expected to increase as a percentage of staff strength. Distribution and customer service numbers will also go up. RCom is guarded on the areas where numbers have dropped, but insists that some in ‘clerical and other back-end' roles were re-assigned — not eliminated.

The attrition numbers in sales and customer service, where headcount is expected to increase, is also higher. This accentuates the HR challenge.

“The maximum churn happens in the junior to mid-level comprising people with two to five years' experience,” says the HR head.

Forced attrition on the basis of performance would be just over five per cent, leaving a lot of scope for reducing voluntary attrition.

The other area of high attrition is the BPO part of the business, which handles customer care for ADAG companies, but primarily caters to RCom's telecom customers (around 80 per cent). This young 9,000-member team that forms the voice of RCom suffers from 40 per cent attrition.

“The BPO business requires a different kind of approach — but I would say the attrition we have is significantly lower than in other BPO companies. Yes, with a very young work force, it is a big challenge to retain them,” Dutta admits.

Another big team is the one handling the group's telecom network. Most of the 9,500 people on this team are engineers, and some are MBAs. The other MBAs who are inducted get into divisions such as sales, marketing, commercial and HR (see box).

Online PMS, employer branding

At RCom, recognising that employees are not satisfied with a year-end increment based on an annual appraisal, a year-long basket of rewards ensures instant gratification.

An inspiring variable pay and rewards structure is only as effective as the systems to ensure fair play in computing those rewards, and the acceptance of the system as fair — a fact recognised by the HR team. All its policies are online and systems have been automated over the last two years. Queries are escalated automatically if there is a lack of response in a stipulated time.

“The entire Performance Management System (PMS), including increments, promotions, and all HR policies, are completely online. There's a huge amount of investment that has happened on automation. So continuity, uniformity, transparency and speed of action are ensured,” explains Dutta.

As an employer brand, RCom prides itself on being an ‘entrepreneurial' company that empowers staff to make decisions — a quality that it looks for in talent too.

But with all kinds of press and word-of-mouth, are employees looking at RCom favourably? “We have been able to attract the best of talent, and retain them. Our senior management and leadership is by far the most stable among any of the other telcos I have worked with,” claims Dutta.

He underlines that while Syed Safawi's exit is the latest news on the company, he had spent 15 years at Bharti Airtel prior to joining RCom.

The person who will take up Safawi's responsibility, Shamik Das, was roped in from STel in November as Joint President and COO, and has also spent time at Bharti Airtel.

The other hands on board at the senior levels include Kaushik Pillalamarri, head of Data and Devices (from Verizon) and Terry Coutinho, head of the BPO business (from Vodafone Essar Spacetel). The list of people roped in at the top is long, and longer at levels of Senior VPs and VPs, claims Dutta.

While he brands the allegations of slashing headcount as baseless, he admits that sometimes, these stories stem from disgruntled employees — often a consequence of not being able to handle the high pressure born of ‘stretched' targets, he says.

Compensation did not go up significantly last year — another reason for possible disgruntlement among employees. It is not expected to this year either, but data will be analysed to arrive at the way forward. Dipsticks by individual businesses and an engagement survey will add to the feedback from Hewitt, which has been commissioned to do a compensation benchmarking exercise against industry.

Smoother exits

There are others who generate bad word-of-mouth — those leaving with a bitter taste. Point out that the word on the street on exits from RCom and settlements is not up there, and Dutta responds: “In an organisation of this scale, people could have had difficulty in getting their settlements. It's also about peoples' expectations. It's not just about the direct full and final settlements — there are things such as retirement benefits which do take time.”

There has been tangible action to better the exit experience. Tracking mechanisms are in place for induction and on-boarding — and also for exits and settlements. The duration, number of settlements handled and pending, are being tracked on a weekly basis.

“If you want operational excellence, the only way to measure accurately is with the data,” surmises Dutta.

> gokul.k@thehindu.co.in

Published on November 15, 2017

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