By Srinivas Kandula, EVP and Global Head of Human Resources, iGATE
Hiring and training top talent can be a daunting and expensive task. The cardinal rule is that it costs 25 percent more to replace and train new employees, and costs are going up. The latest Trainingmagazine Industry Report saw training expenditures rise 11 percent last year.
With these cost figures in mind, increasing the number of external hires is not necessarily the answer to a talent deficiency. There’s always an opportunity to educate your current crop to become the next leaders your company needs. In addition to old-fashioned mentoring or leadership training, companies need to create social platforms for current employees to share collective knowledge, generating innovation organically among the employee base.
At iGATE, we created our own social platform to help managers share information, best practices, and feedback about a particular work challenge. But it didn’t come without its hurdles and lessons learned. We hope our experience and the challenges we overcame will help your organization model its own approach to social training and development.
For context, iGATE is an information technology (IT) outsourcer and service provider. Historically, the majority of outsourcing work is relatively low skill—the traditional imagine of a call center comes to the minds of many. But as the business has evolved to a more specialized, sophisticated model, the skill set of our employees has needed to grow to meet the needs. Hiring a new crop of educated employees would be too costly for any organization. As a result, we have moved to organically train our thousands of employees to function at a higher skill level, creatively address client needs, and become the next generation of our company’s leadership.
As a result, iGATE introduced “Research Update,” an online knowledge-sharing portal to help its employees proactively identify business opportunities and collaborate to address their team’s challenges. The goal was for teams to share similar challenges and solutions, learning and sharing through the collective knowledge relevant to their area of expertise.
After a few months, the portal team conducted an analysis to understand the patterns and ways employees were sharing through the portal. They found the portal’s static and one-way communication allowed for limited adoption and participation among the workforce. Out of the target group of 1,500 mid- to-high level managers, only 90 were participating, which was stunting broader growth across the larger employee base. By the end of the project, it had 1,500 active users, and the backlog of material increased from 0 to 25 posts.
So what did we learn to gain participation? Here are a few things that can help your organization develop talent through social media:
Start at the top. As the first move, the portal’s administrators encouraged key high-profile leaders of each service line to enrich the system with more content. While the larger group was still encouraged to participate, the smaller group of content generators received special attention and recruitment to continuously update the portal with relevant content.
What happened was that the larger leaders used their influence both in their posts and their correspondence with subordinates. Because thought leadership is a top-down way to disseminate advice, it was important for the highest members to lead, with participation flowing down from mid- to low-level management.
Organize by skill, not level. One key problem with social portals is that the content is not organized. If employees cannot find the area of their business that interests or affects them, they quickly will become disinterested and never visit the portal again.
In response, we organized the content by services lines, with several key contributors adding to each line’s content consistently. The created a compelling reason for each service line to check the portal for relevant information.
We also consciously decided not to separate the content by the level of management within the company. We found that what relatively junior employees lacked in experiences to share, they made up for in motivation and ideas. This created a dynamic that was especially beneficial to all levels within the service management team.
Keep the medium open and two-way. To some within our organization, allowing an open portal was a scary proposition, as employees were free to discuss their challenges in a negative manner toward the company. Outsourcing historically has been a business with a high level of attrition, so establishing a portal was thought to be a potentially dangerous way to spread negative perception.
However, the essence of the portal is compromised if the material is censored. We found the majority of participants were looking to better their development, so the two-way feedback and response tool generated longer discussions and more knowledge gleaned from the portal. As we enriched the tools on the portal, we added surveys and suggestion areas for current and future content. This increased the value the portal had to its readership.
The Portal Today
As the portal stands today, the group participation has created many new innovations for the company, including assisting the development of new businesses in cloud computing, smart grids, open source, and mobile technology. In the IT industry, these are hot technologies where we could not stay competitive without the strength of our community. Furthermore, the knowledge shared among employees has made them greater managers and leaders. As a result, we have one of the lowest attrition rates in our industry.
If you’re an organization looking to foster talent through your existing employee base, we recommend sharing your organization’s IP—it’s your best asset and it needs to be shared, not sheltered. With a growing community of empowered employees, your business can maximize the benefits of the social phenomenon and save you training costs in the process.
Srinivas Kandula is EVP and Global Head of Human Resources at iGATE, an information technology (IT) outsourcer and service provider.