India: If you were me what would you want to know? (-6 Days and Counting)

India. 1.2 billion people. 600,000 are “unorganized”! Ok, I’ll start there. What does “unorganized” mean? Can that many people actually be off the grid? How do you get “organized” when you start off “unorganized”?

Preparing for my ten-day adventure in India (beginning next Sunday) means collecting information from lots of sources. Too much, too early and my learning will color my senses when I’m on the ground. I’ll have too much baggage to be an effective observer. I want as few filters as possible.

Too little, too late though and I’ll miss opportunities to follow my passion for how and why people are hired. I want to ask questions that dig deeper into our cultural similarities and differences (not to mention a few other problems I could encounter…but more on that later).

I’m in the midst of reading some 30 articles (thanks in part to our SHRM delegation’s organizers) and finishing up with half a dozen phone calls to colleagues, friends, relatives and others with differing perspectives about India. The time there is understandably short-no more than a single frame in a real-time movie of indeterminate length. I imagine I'm walking in right in the middle.

My wife, Diane, is not coming with me. She is happily remaining home, preparing for the holidays and looking forward to another trip I’ve promised for another time- in return for my "kitchen pass" and a Skype call every night.

Most of my sources have limited or sketchy details about the employment scene in India- how professionals, trades people and other workers are found, wooed, screened, selected, on-boarded and retained. How it was only a few years ago and how it might evolve in the next few years.

I’m looking for unique stories that we seldom encounter here in the US. One colleague for example, a staffing leader just returning from his first visit to his India technology facility, is still stunned by his experience. One of his firm’s top developers was about to get married when her work suddenly became an issue. Apparently the fact that she was not a full time employee and, instead, was hired and working as a contract employee was socially unacceptable to the groom’s family, and the wedding was cancelled. True or did he misinterpret what he was told?

I’m excited to be going with a delegation of HR peers. This SHRM led group of 20 plus will spend most of our trip in New Delhi and Mombai. One advantage of a group (there are many) is the shared conversation as we meet with government, educational and business leaders as well as tour companies and host meetings with peers who have spent years working in India. Another is I have a habit of wondering around and finding trouble when I’m traveling alone (just ask Todd Raphael [ERE] about Moscow)

Today, I'm just trying to digest a few facts:

- In India there are 397million workers. 124 million are women (but 106 million of those women are in rural areas). The percentage of women in management is approximately 2%. In the US by contrast, nearly 75 of 121 million women over the age of 16 are working full-time (75%) or part time “and women account for 51% of all workers in high paying management, professional and related occupations.” (SHRM whitepaper October, 2009- Perspectives on Women in Management in India )

On the other hand, only 15 CEOs of Fortune 500 firms are woman including Indra K. Nooyi of PepsiCo, Inc. (there are 9 more among Fortune 501-1000 companies)

Does this mean untapped pools of talent already exist or are cultural factors still raising educational, social and professional barriers? How quickly are market forces driving change? How are recruiters who work in global firms educated to their firm’s value propositions around diversity, gender, innovation, performance, community, society, sustainability, etc.?

- Historically, diversity in the US begins with a discussion about race and broadens to focus on issues around how our diversity of thought increases our ability as a business to compete. In India, the subject of diversity evokes an image of caste consciousness that is, superficially at least, connected. While India's government has long employed an affirmative-action program that reserves 23% of all national government jobs to those from underprivileged classes, 86% of technology workers at multinationals or sizeable Indian tech companies come from "from upper castes”. (Caste Away; India's high-tech revolution. Wall Street Journal. 23 June, 2007).

Many companies are leading a change to create a market driven economy that values skills, knowledge and experience wherever it is found. One multi-national CEO was quoted as saying "It's a global industry. In America, the only caste that matters is talent" (Maybe a bit presumptuous even for the US).

So just how do cultural traditions in India and elsewhere impact selection assessment and access to skills knowledge and experience? What can we learn from how our peers in India tackle their challenges?

Once started, the questions keep rolling out:

- What skills do they seek that we don’t?
- What issues about the workplace are essential to a jobseeker choosing an employer versus what people might imagine they are?
- What role do families, friends and colleagues play in a jobseeker’s decision?
- What data about the workforce is available?
- How important is location?
- What are the limits infrastructure and local transportation impose.
- What sources of hire are most effective and are they different for small versus large firms; multi-national versus national firms.
- Do third party staffing firms operate differently than the firms with the most competitive recruiters?
- What worker protections are afforded by law and custom?
- What assessments, tests, interview screens and other selection methods predominate in the recruiting process?
- How critical is technology to the staffing process?

- What wouldn’t a US employer even think to ask when considering how to construct and design a job that can be done by the available talent?

Is there anything you want to know? I’ll ask.

A special thanks to the organizations who have helped underwrite my trip:, FutureStep and Alliance Q.

Views: 242

Comment by Vipul Agarwal on November 30, 2009 at 12:00pm
Welcome to India Gerry ! We are waiting for you .... and no I don't mean it in a sinister way. I am sure you will find many surprising answers to your questions. But the two most surprising things that you will find here will be a marked similarity in the way you would think about talent in the US and the way we do here in India. The other surprising thing may be the marked contrast in which you approach the HR / Recruitment transactions. There is a lot of stuff that we have borrowed from the west in our approach to HR. There are several indigenous stuff that we have. There are several management thoughts that we are trying to learn and adapt from our ancient past to modern problems. I am sure you will get an exposure to all this and much more.

Vipul Agarwal
Comment by chandra bodapati on November 30, 2009 at 12:41pm
Hi Gerry

I will be working out of India (Chennai) now and returning to SF Bay areas (CA) around Mid December. Feel free to contact me . I have been involved in managing some of my operations out of India for the past 10+ years.

Wishing you all the best in India.
I am sure you will learn a lot more than you think you will.

Comment by The Recruiting Guy on November 30, 2009 at 2:00pm

Have fun, learn a lot and please share those details we either do not utilize or perhaps even go against US based hiring policies (i.e. hiring in India past the age of 56). My group does recruiting for that part of the world and it is very intriguing to learn about not just the cultural differences (less women in the workforce) but also the hiring package, notice one must give for a new job, wage variance, etc.

Comment by Brian Meeks on November 30, 2009 at 2:17pm
Great post. I have a friend who is traveling to her brother's wedding in India as we speak. It is a wondeful country, and I have learned much about their customs from my friend. I have not learned anything about their HR practices however and I look forward to future blog posts from you. Well done. I am giving you 5 stars now.
Comment by Gautam Ghosh on November 30, 2009 at 11:16pm

What is your itinerary for India. It would be a pleasure to meet you at Delhi if you would be here

There are various aspects of work in India. The majority of workers (mroe than 90%) being out of "the organized sector" and without any real safety net

Comment by Ken Forrester on December 1, 2009 at 9:10am
Great post from a great mission.
After reading your post yesterday, I had a great conversation with a Dell customer service technical support person located in India. I conveyed some of your comments to get his feedback and you are correct on a number of points. He added that lower level jobs in the US are done by highly skilled individuals in India, at lower wages. There is certainly a lack of opportunities for talent in India.
Comment by Anna Brekka on December 1, 2009 at 9:46am
This is grand, I look forward to reading all your blog-posts before, during and after your trip. Like you I believe we still have a lot to learn from each other be it between US, India or ROW. And to travel within a nation with such an incredible history and people like India WOW what can I say.
Safe travels, enjoy - Anna
Comment by Michael VanDervort on December 1, 2009 at 1:26pm
I visited 5 cities in India in 7 days back in 2007. I was in business meetings, touring and generally watching the world fly by almost as if I couldn't recognize it. Prepare yourself to deal with unparalleled beauty, culture and poverty. Don't drink water except out of bottles (really!) and try to find somewhere to get 20 rupee ibills. You will need many of them for tipping the multitudes of people who make their living in the service economy.

I saw Delhi, Agra (the Taj - that is a day long tour of craft makers and buying opportunities that normally are offered only to Donald Trump, also saw Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

It is grand, startling and frankly overhwleming. Enjoy!
Comment by Gerry Crispin on December 1, 2009 at 2:09pm
Thank you Vipul, Karen, Chandra, Chris, Brian, Gautam, Ken, Anna and Micheal for your comments. I'll try to write a bit more before leaving but plan to keep a daily journal and assume I'll have time between the SHRM delegation's busy agenda to post it here.

I've got a call in now to our Delegation's leader to see if we are planning to host any peer (HR and staffing professional) meetings - perhaps a tea at one of the hotels (as we did in China) where those of you who either are in India or have partners there can come and continue our conversation.

While stepping into another country for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, I'm also of the opinion that we should approach our understanding of how a peer recruits in a firm with which we are not familiar with the same sense of wonder and curiosity. Examining how recruiting is a different another a different level...for truly unusual or scarce skills etc. etc. requires some of the same attitudes that bubble up naturally when you truly step outside your comfort zone. Sort of like being in the moment. If you stop to analyze it, you aren't there.
Comment by Master Burnett on December 1, 2009 at 3:02pm

One of the first things I would do when I got off the plane is find a good Hyderabadi restaurant that doesn't cater to business travelers. If students can afford to go there, it is probably closer to being where you would find me! Expect to eat with your fingers!

No amount of preparation will prepare you for the level of poverty you will encounter, particularly in the tent cities located just a few feet from the walls of stunning corporate compounds.

As for the recruiting/HR scene in India, I echo Vipul Agarwal's comments. I first visited India as a recruiter in 1996. Back then outsourcing was just starting to ramp and high tech companies were invading in mass. Recruiting then was a lot different than it is now. We used advertising, job fairs, and recruiting consultants to poach talent because the professional population was smaller, and finding quality was an issue.

Since then, the professional population in India has exploded (thanks a lot to government/private sector coordination) and early stage efforts have become massive enterprises. A lot of the practices in India have been borrowed from the west in large part because a lot of the inflowing capital came from the west and foreign managers like replicating the familiar.

What differs significantly is the consistency in execution. HR leaders and practitioners are well educated and their functions operate much more scientifically than their US counterparts. Some would argue paying attention to all of the details is easier when labor costs are constrained making it easy to resource labor intensive practices.

The other thing that is easily apparent is that organizations understand the VALUE of top talent and go after it relentlessly. Poaching is very common and employee referrals are often used as a means to accomplish it.

I've made several trips to India since my first foray back in '96 and every time I have learned something new.

Have fun!


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