In Rendezvous with Saurabh Govil, President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Wipro Ltd.
Saurabh is also a member of the Group Executive Council, a forum for the core group of Wipro leaders to deliberate and strategize the long-term vision of the corporation. He is also a trustee of the Wipro Foundation, a not-for-profit trust that contributes to education, community service projects and social development
As the CHRO, Saurabh is responsible for the entire spectrum of the global Human Resources function, including talent planning, enhancing operational efficiencies and driving people transformation initiatives across the organization. He is leading several pioneering programs to redesign the HR function for the digital age.
Saurabh is a strong votary of inclusion and diversity, and Wipro has been widely recognized for its robust and successful programs aimed at driving and sustaining diversity initiatives, policies, and processes.
Saurabh is a seasoned Human Resources professional, with wide-ranging experience of over two decades. Prior to joining Wipro in 2009, Saurabh held leadership positions in organizations like ITC and GE.
Saurabh is an alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur where he completed his Masters in Human Resources. He is on the Advisory Board of the India Chapter of Society for Human Resources Management, the world’s largest HR professional society. He is a regular speaker at various human resources global platforms and contributes to the Journal of National HRD Network (NHRDN).
Q- You are an inspirational HR veteran having vast experience with various fortune 500 companies across the world. How do you look at your career journey today? And what have been the key milestones in your life?
It’s very kind of you to say that however I still consider myself as a newbie. One cannot think of self as a veteran if one must maintain a curious attitude. I have been fortunate to have worked across industries with some of the most prestigious companies in India and the globe. Every stint has been a learning experience hence calling out a few will not be appropriate.
When I look back what really stood out for me was that I had, and continue having, extremely talented managers, teams, and colleagues from who I imbibed a set of values that stood in good stead. I gave adequate time to each role and station of my career which enabled me to draw up a meaningful and fulfilling journey.
Q- What are the biggest challenges facing HR today and how can it prove its relevance within its organization and bring strategic value?
I think the HR function has moved well past proving its relevance. It is established that a well-managed HR function adds value to the business. For HR to keep adding value we need to change with times. Today it is expected that HR offers inputs on defining the future of work. HR is expected to help move organizations from legacy, rigid systems to agile organization structures, enable organizations to become more inclusive and diverse, help employees adapt new ways of working, design world-class employee experiences, provide support for inorganic growth, usher and manage change in the organization. So, the mandate today goes much beyond the traditional realms. The role today is not restricted only to the functional specialization. Innovation in HR is happening at the edges where the field meets other disciplines.
If the function supports business on the outlined agenda it will automatically add value.
Q- What are the Talent challenges with IT Companies currently?
IT industry is undergoing transition and the speed of change is unprecedented. If we look at the demand side one of the biggest challenges is fresh talent acquisition and constantly reskilling people to ensure their employability. The pace of technology change renders skills obsolete very fast necessitating a radical approach towards developing talent competence. On the same side on the supply side, there is a challenge of managing employee aspirations. Today most services companies are running two models which we call Run and Change. Talent requirements in both these models are different however talent aspirations are the same. This is a unique challenge for this industry. A common challenge across industries and IT is no different is building mid manager capability and a sustainable leadership pipeline.
Q- According to media reports, thousands of IT jobs are at stake, Companies hiring fresh graduates and laying-off mid and senior-level employees to clean out Pyramid. How do you see this?
From a Wipro perspective as of now, there are no layoffs and we continue to hire in large numbers.
Q- Attrition rate is a big challenge for Industries. You have successfully reduced attrition in the quarter to September to 17%, lower than previous quarters. What is the current attrition rate at Wipro and what are your HR initiatives to curb employee attrition?
Attrition has been a constant in this industry. Our voluntary attrition for Q3 is much below the 17% you have mentioned above. Retaining people and managing attrition is a concerted effort by business and HR. We are conscientiously deploying HR strategy which is yielding the intended outcomes. Our HR teams are playing the role of advocating employee concerns while at the same time guiding business on aligning rewards and careers in line with performance. At the org level, we have made significant changes in some people processes like promotion to accommodate growing aspirations.
Q- Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace and culture transformation. Where does Wipro stand today and how do you manage these changes?
For us, it is imperative that we are able to predict market changes and adapt to them proactively and nimbly. This has resulted in Wipro constantly morphing itself through re-engineering, restructuring and cultural reorientation to stay relevant. Our values as encapsulated in the Spirit of Wipro have been the guiding light through all the changes.
We are faced with some interesting developments in terms of changing business models, changing workforce expectations, newer employment models and so on. At Wipro, we have launched initiatives at multiple levels to manage these changes. Some of these are mentioned below:
- Rearticulating our brand: In light of the changes we have undergone and the prospect of end-to-end transformation, we felt strongly that change must not be limited to inside out, but also from the outside in. We adopted a new logo as a testament to the way we are evolving our values and our brand promise.
- Culture: Earlier this year, we launched a global initiative to help better define, prioritize and enhance culture and ways of working at Wipro. It focuses on driving new levels of agility, productivity and team-centric thinking across Wipro. This initiative is working to enhance the ways that Wiproites work with one another through the use of new tools, technology, and behaviors.
- TopGear, internal crowdsourcing platform: Technology disruptions have created a huge demand for the workforce that is agile, has hands-on experience and can evolve with changing technologies. To bridge the technology skills gap and create a project deployable workforce, we launched TopGear – a social learning and crowdsourcing platform.
- Internal Social Network (Yammer): Apart from being a networking tool, Yammer is used to solicit ideas from employees on any change initiative. Before embarking on any change- we usually ask employees for their candid opinions. Since Yammer as a platform is used globally by all our employees, it has a wide reach, where employees can participate anytime and anywhere, not constrained by geographical spread or work time.
Last year we have also undertaken an enterprise-wide change initiative aimed at enhancing employee experience through system changes. These are some of the ways in which we are managing changes.
Q- How do you see the job market for IT professionals and what is your hiring plan for the coming year.
IT services industry is going through a massive transition; multiple factors are impacting the job market today. The emergence of new skills, automation leading to lesser demands for some of the traditional skills and so on. For people working in this industry, it is important to understand the impact of these changes and take advantage of learning opportunities to remain relevant. For those aspiring to enter the industry, they need to ensure that they have the right mix of skills.
Our focus remains on hiring the optimal talent required for sustaining and growing the business. We will continue to follow a differentiated reward philosophy based on the skills that we hire for. The focus will remain on hiring people across the globe in line with our commitment to localization. Diversity in hiring especially at senior levels will be practiced. We are proud to say that today 100% of our job listings are gender-neutralized in line with our strong philosophy of equality & inclusivity.
Q- Tell us about Wipro’s work culture, what are the values and behavior of your company culture? And why is it a great place to work?
The best way to understand our culture is to experience it! Wipro has been built by an unflinching commitment to values. The Spirit of Wipro comprises four values:
- Be passionate about clients’ success
- Trust each person with respect – We treat everyone with respect and nurture an open environment where people are encouraged to learn, share and grow. We embrace the diversity of thought, cultures and of people.
- Be global and responsible – We will be global in our thinking and our actions and responsible citizens of the world
- Unyielding integrity in everything we do – Integrity is our core and the basis for everything. Doing the right thing always, showing integrity in our actions, and being genuine and straightforward in our actions.
Our behaviors take inspiration from the Spirit of Wipro. Our values and behaviours create an open, performance-driven, nurturing environment that makes Wipro a wonderful place to work and build a career. A testimony to this is that we were certified by Great Place to Work Institute as a great place to work in Oct 2019.
Q- According to the India Inc study, Wipro reported the highest increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints in FY19. How you have been able to manage the awareness?
At Wipro, we believe that every employee has the right to work in an environment that is free from intimidation, harassment & abuse; whether physical, verbal or psychological. Our Global Policy on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PSH) at the workplace provides a strong framework of confidentiality, assurance, and protection to all employees. In FY 19 we disposed 156 cases.
A comprehensive orientation and education campaign is key to raise awareness levels. We do at 4 levels:
- All new joiners go through an awareness session during induction.
- Global communication mailers regularly sent to the entire organization to educate employees. Depicted through an innovative storytelling method, these mailers have helped employees grasp the message easily.
- In-person PSH orientation sessions conducted by HR on a regular basis ensure that existing employees are kept abreast with the policy.
- We also have a mandatory online e-learning for employees to have an understating on PSH.
Q- The employee experience is the future of work? How are you designing and shaping compelling experiences for your employees?
As consumers, we live in a world that focuses on personalization and on-demand access. However, as employees, we still work with processes designed to work efficiently for the process administrator. This contradiction cannot exist for long. Providing employees consumer-grade experience whether it be on-demand training, personalised benefits or some other aspect will be of critical importance. Hence, I firmly believe employee experience will underpin all aspects of work.
At Wipro, we embarked on the employee experience journey a few years back and it will remain as the focal point of the 2020 HR strategy. We have digitized many of our people processes and shall continue in the coming year as well. The key to designing any compelling people experience lies in the realization that it is a cross-disciplinary effort; while HR is the champion for these initiatives we rely heavily on our employees, Digital teams, IS teams and others to shape experiences.
We are in the midst of implementing an enterprise-wide change project targeted at elevating employee experience through changes in the IT landscape and HR has a key role to play in it. So, the focus is clearly on employee experience.
Q- What are the Top 5 HR trends in 2020?
My vote goes for the following 5:
- Employee experience will be the overriding factor in people process decisions. In 2020 I see more and more organizations realizing its importance and making it mainstay of their HR strategy.
- With so many transitions Change Management will be prime. Today we see shortened change cycles and an unprecedented pace of change. This is an opportunity for HR to redesign change models and anchor the change agenda.
- An aspect I see emerging is the human and technology interaction. AI and bots are augmenting roles. HR fraternity will have to manage this transition. At one level it will be about retraining people (which most companies are already doing) however at another level it will be about clarifying attitudes.
- Evidence-based decision making will be another key trend. Talent analytics will be leveraged by HR professionals to guide business decisions. My view is that even smaller organizations will adopt leading practices. Data accessibility for all and investments in HR analytics will increase.
- Finally, I also visualize changes in the HR agenda and structure. I sense that in most industries HR operations will be heavily influenced by RPA/AI etc. HR functions will become leaner, more agile. HR professionals will be expected to be experts in areas rather than generalists. 2020 is likely to see organizations move to newer HR structures.
Q- What is your advice to HR professionals who aspires to be in your shoes one day?
Times have changed and today HR professionals are dealing with far more complexity than before. From what I have learnt that has brought me here and what I see today I will leave young professionals with the following thoughts:
- Keep learning: be curious, keep learning. Be open to experimentation and new experiences because that is what will make you a richer person.
- Understand the business: If there is one thing that you must do for your business, it should be understanding it. Our ability to drive good HR practices is directly proportional to our understanding of the business.
- Perspective: Have a point of view and don’t shy away from sharing it.
- Understand technology: Irrespective of the business you operate in, understand how the technology works and impacts your business. Technology is all pervasive and a successful leader will be one who knows how to use technology to his/her advantage.
- Collaborate and Ask for help: Don’t let ego come in your way. I have learnt the most by humbly asking for help and working with others to deliver outcomes.
- Have Fun: Enjoy what you do. Your ability to learn is directly related to whether you enjoy what you do.
Thank you, Saurabh!
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