While the service industry has long lived by the mantra that customer service is the only thing that matters, a paradigm shift whereby employees come first and customers second is more important, according to J Kalyanaraman, Asia Pacific head of IT and software development firm HCL Technologies.
“This approach places employees on top of the organisational pyramid, with the belief that the real value gets created in the interface between employees and customers,” he said.
“So it is prudent that the organisational pyramid is inverted and the entire organisation be made accountable to the person who has the potential to create this value – the employee.”
At HCL Technologies, which employs more than 52,000 employees worldwide, Kalyanaraman said this seemingly counterintuitive strategy has provoked a sea-change at the company, “and, believe it or not, greater customer loyalty, better engagement and higher revenues.
“Employee engagement is critical, because, by treating employees as partners and participants in the company’s success, every individual within the company becomes responsible for transforming, thinking and providing value to customers,” he said.
“We took the decision to stand by the employees and move together with them, irrespective of the business environment.”
As a result, Kalyanaraman said employee/revenue ratio and employee utilisation has seen a considerable increase in the past few quarters. Attrition has declined for eight consecutive quarters to 13.4 per cent at the end of 2008, while in the same quarter, HCL Technologies recorded its best revenue ever, breaking the $1 billion mark.
At the core of the company’s employee first philosophy is the concept of talent transformation, or recognition and enablement of competencies, as opposed to roles in skilling employees in necessary technical, business and behavioral areas.
“Our enlightened approach to employee development focused on giving people whatever they need to succeed: be it a virtual assistant or talent transformation sabbaticals; expert guidance or fast track growth; inner peace or democratic empowerment,” he said.
“An empowered employee is the best position to deliver value to the organisation, and such an employee is in turn valued highly by the organisation”
When HCL introduced this concept in 2005, he said it was a bold statement to make in a fiercely competitive market, and some clients were so furious they walked out.
“Leadership didn’t flinch and remained focused on their biggest asset – their employees. Two years after employee first was put in place, most of the customers the firm had lost were back with HCL,” he said.