Doubting Thomas

Author: 
Baljit Ahluwalia

Baljit Ahluwalia is a veteran trainer with over 25 years of experience with the Indian Air Force and the corporate world. Leadership and management were his transfer skills with the Air Force middle level and senior level officers. He continued to train the senior officers in similar skills in the corporate world as well. But the context was especially designed to the ‘felt' needs of the private sector. As a motivator Baljit honed the personality traits of the participants with the theoretical aspects woven into their application at work place.

Baljit is a pioneer of training in BPO/KPO industry, having published several papers and case studies which are used widely. He relates to his trainees easily and addresses his audience at their threshold level. Baljit is a popular speaker and a panelist in discussion forums.

Introduction

The last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of this century saw the mushrooming of BPOs in our country. The reason for the boom was the plethora of infrastructure, abundant young manpower and good training facilities. Young graduates with computer skills wanted a decent pay package and a great work ambience.

Vying for manpower were multinational companies like Dell, Accenture and Sutherland and outsourcing companies like TransWorks and Zenta. Youngsters would quit one company for another to make a quick raise.

At one point of time, attrition rate hit 100%. This churn was a huge burden on the recruitment and training functions of the company. It also negatvely impacted revenues and growth.

From 1997 to 2011, I hopped on to the BPO bandwagon and served in four such companies in the capacity of Head, Training & Development. In all four companies, I spearheaded the initiative to address attrition.

In one particular organization, where I worked in the early 2000s, we put in place a mix of initiatives in close co-ordination with HR & Operations which helped address this bogey of 100% attrition. As a result, we had more motivated employees content with their growth plans. After achieving positive results, I had the opportunity to showcase the efforts through a case study.

The parent company of the BPO where I worked announced a competition for best case study across its various groups. My case study, titled 'Doubting Thomas' was amongst the top three and I personally received an award in the year-ending annual function.

What follows below is a condensed version of that case study. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and organizations involved.

Background

It was September 2002. Thomas D’Silva had just completed his graduation from St. Xavier’s College Mumbai. His performance in the three-year degree course could be best described as mediocre. But like many of his kind, he had excelled in extra curricular activities and possessed good communication skills. He certainly was not keen to pursue further studies — not for the present at least. He had stars in his eyes and dreamt of taking up a job with a good pay package. Like any unguided missile he always thought of making it big. However, he was not sure how was he going to achieve his goal.

One evening he bumped into his old college buddy in a discotheque. They got talking for old times' sake. Shekhar had been working with BpoWorld, a call centre, for the past three months and he was totally enamoured by the place. He was a member of a pilot batch for a prestigious client that BpoWorld had joined hands with. He had gone through a gruelling recruitment process. After a nerve racking training curriculum that ran close to a month, he finally hit the shop floor. Since then, he was maintaining a hectic work schedule that kept him awake the whole night. He had a couple of challenges to start with, but he had finally settled down.

Shekhar had not met Thomas all this while. So when they bumped into each other after a long time, they had a lot of catching up to do.

Shekhar completely overwhelmed Thomas with the working environment of his new assignment and what really triggered Thomas’s thought process was the fat paycheck his friend was drawing at the end of the month. For the past few months, this was exactly what he had been thinking about. This was like a dream come true.

In no time, Shekhar had updated Thomas with all the necessary information. Thomas was brimming with confidence and felt that he had the necessary prerequisites for making it to BpoWorld. He promptly reported to BpoWorld during the next recruitment drive. Lo and behold, he found himself sailing through the various tests and by the end of the day, he had an offer letter in hand asking him to report for training in a week’s time. He never thought it would go so smoothly.

Thomas reported on the due date and meticulously went through the induction training for a fortnight. He acquitted himself fairly well and diligently moved to the next phase of training – campaign-specific training. Having successfully completed all the modules, he was raring to go on the shop floor. As he was earmarked for an outbound campaign, he was introduced to the concept of making calls to the customers in the U.S. and convince the customer to buy the product / service.

The first few days were spent in soaking in the atmosphere. He was getting used to coming for work in the night and packing up at eight in the morning. Initially it took a toll on his body. The change in his biological clock was playing havoc in his system. It took him some time to reconcile to the fact that he needed to get his peaceful seven to eight hours of sleep during the day to be prepared to face the rigors of the night job. He was gradually getting the hang of it and was enjoying his work at nights.

Three months into the campaign, he was facing the harsh realities of life. He had gone through signing the KRA (Key Result Areas) document with his Team Leader. He was told in no uncertain terms that he would be evaluated on some well-defined parameters. He was made conscious of the fact that he needed to maintain high performance levels; that would not only help him to garner better incentives at the end of the month but also boost team performance.

A healthy competition was brewing up and everyone around him was putting in their best efforts to hike their performance. Thomas was certainly finding the going tough and more often than not, ended up his shift in an irritable mood. Dissatisfaction was creeping in and he was finding it seemingly difficult to withstand the pressures of the Team Leader. Everything around him was falling apart and suddenly all the lofty aspirations appeared to be crumbling.

It was April 2003. Thomas was going through a harrowing time – the irony was he had no idea what the reasons could be. He did a fair amount of soul searching to identify the problem areas. He was at his wits end and no one around was willing to extend a helping hand. To his dismay, he found his colleagues leaving for various reasons. Some of them were leaving to join other call centers; some wanted to pursue higher studies; for others the daily night grind was getting to them and there were a few who were buckling under the pressures of maintaining a steady sales per hour metric in the outbound campaigns.

The scenario was no different outside. The phenomenal growth of the ITES industry (Information Technology Enabled Services) had suddenly created a boom in the market. Awareness levels and expectations of the lay person had been heightened by the hyped media coverage. Everyone thought that this was the time to make a fast buck. There were instances of people leaving one call center for the other for an increase of a few thousand rupees.

The attrition rate was assuming alarming proportions. The ‘Doubting Thomas clan’ was on the increase.

The call centre's management team needed to take proactive measures, and quickly at that — the rot had set in.

Plan of Action

I was among those charged with solving the problem. The attrition rate was assuming alarming proportions. We needed to take proactive measures - and quickly at that.

We did not want to initiate an approach that would get us short-term results. It
had to be a holistic approach that encompassed the big picture. We wanted to initiate a
process that would stand the test of time.

We put on our thinking cap on and embarked on a course fraught with challenge and commitment. We quickly came to the conclusion that this problem could not be tackled by one single department and an external organization would not be able to get to the depth of the problem. It had to be an in-house initiative.

A brainstorming session led to the formation of a Core Working Group (CWG) that would have representation from all departments: Training, Human Resources, Operations, and Infrastructure and Administration.

The purpose of the CWG was two-fold:
(a) To make the experience a “WOW!” for everyone who works at BpoWorld by enhancing their motivation levels and imbibing the pride of being an employee at BpoWorld.
(b) To conduct regular activities, plan initiatives and draft policies in order to retain individuals working at BpoWorld.

However, before initiating anything substantial, the CWG took stock of the situation on the ground. A quick study was carried out to get a hang of the attrition figures for the previous year. The reasons for employees leaving were captured during their exit Interview:
(a) Pursue higher education.
(b) Change in industry – for want of growth.
(c) Unexplained absence.
(d) Non-performance.
(e) Moved to other call centers.
(f) Better pay opportunities.
(g) Shift / Timings.
(h) Health issues.

Identifying areas of concern was the first rung of the ladder. Having initiated the due diligence process, the CWG came up with some initiatives that could form the basis of a solution:
(a) Have an external organization study the problems and give us solutions.
(b) Increase in pay packets.
(c) Create a flurry of activities to alleviate monotony.
(d) Create a conducive work environment.
(e) Provide better support facilities including transport, accommodation and cafeteria services.
(f) Provide a forum for higher education.

This and much more was the need of the hour. How did we go about tackling the issues? What steps were initiated? How were we able to surmount the problems?

A Multiple Attack Solution

Since the problem was multifaceted, a multiple attack solution was needed. The following ideas were initiated to counterattack the problem:

Higher Education – Learn while you earn

1. Reimbursement policy for higher education.
A reimbursement option of upto Rs. 75,000/- was made available to all employees who wished to pursue higher education. All they were required to do was submit an application along with a recommendation letter from their General Manager. The course fee was reimbursed in instalments upon completion of the program.

2. Loan Policy for higher education
A 0% interest loan facility was provided to all employees wanting to pursue higher education. Upto one month's CTC (Cost To Company) was given as the loan amount, which was collected back in 12 monthly instalments.

3. Diploma Courses made available.
1 year Diploma courses in HR, Finance, Marketing, etc. from a prestigious management institute located nearby were made available to all employees.

4. Transport made available for Diploma Courses
Transport from the management institute to BpoWorld was made available for employees in the night shifts.

5. Distance Learning Courses made available.
Distance Learning Courses in a variety of Degree courses, including MBA, from ICFAI, a not-for-profit educational society were made available to all employees.

6. Interactive, long-distance learning courses made available.
Interactive, long-distance learning courses from IIM Khozikode, XLRI Jamshedpur, NMIMS and MAHE were made available via Hughes Escorts Communication's Direcway two-way broadband-over-satellite internet service.

7. CWG members on the shop floor
Since the new intiatives generated a lot of questions, CWG members spent time on the shop floor, answering questions, clarifying issues and getting a first hand feel of the pulse of the employees on the shop floor.

Better Communication

8. Town Hall Meetings conducted.
Issues involving company plans and general employee grievances were discussed in huge gatherings in which employees openly interacted with senior management in a formal forum.

9. ideas@BpoWorld.com
Any employee with an idea or a suggestion could email the same to ideas@BpoWorld.com, the official email id for the CWG. All emails were answered immediately; and the idea and suggestion pool was revisited frequently.

10. ceomessage@BpoWorld.com
Any employee could directly write an email to the CEO! This was an expression of our non-hierarchical working atmosphere and our effort to ensure free and open channels of communication.

11. Notice boards to reflect names of employees who had been promoted.
This ensured recognition of top performers and also served as a motivational tool to others.

12. CWG notice boards created.
Beautiful and colorful notice boards served as a permanent announcement platform for all CWG activities.

Fun, Recreation, Stress Busters

13. BpoWorldQuiz
Quiz shows in which quizzards from various programs and departments competed to win big prizes were organized.

 
A quiz in progress.

A quiz in progress.

 
 
Winners of the quiz with their awards.

Winners of the quiz with their awards.

 

14. Punching bags on the shop floor and recreation room.
Punching bags, a great way of venting frustration, were frequently requested by employees and were well-received on the shop floor.

15. Bean Bags on the shop floor.
Bean bags were found to be very relaxing, especially after long hours of sitting on a chair, answering emails or making calls.

16. Campaign wise “team building picnics”
Picnics to Matheran, a hill station and a favored destination for the shop floor teams, allowed employees to relax, bond and enjoy. Coupled with motivational and team building training programs, these picnics were a big hit!

17. Support functions “team building picnics”
Other departments, like HR, Finance, IT and Infrastructure, benefited from these picnics as well.

 
MGMT U graduates on their way to Matheran for a picnic.

MGMT U graduates on their way to Matheran for a picnic.

 
 
MGMT U graduates play a game of tug-of-war at Matheran.

MGMT U graduates play a game of tug-of-war at Matheran.

 

18. Yoga classes for day and night shifts
Yoga, an excellent tool to control and prevent both physical and mental stress, was welcome on the shop floor.

 
A yoga session in progress.

A yoga session in progress.

 

19. Outdoor Stress Management and Relaxation Workshops
Giving employees a break from the day-to-day grind, these workshops were a stress busting and relaxing experience.

20. Independence Day celebrations conducted.
Magicians and caricature artists entertained employees on the shop floor. Tattoo artists used the tricolor theme on the faces and hands of employees. Free food was provided to all.

 
Face painting the tricolor on independence day.

Face painting the tricolor on independence day.

 

21. Pool Table in the Recreation Room
Employees enjoyed a game of snooker or pool in their breaks or before their shifts.

22. Adventure trips to Kanheri Caves and Rare Valley
Rock climbing, rappelling, monkey crawl and commando bridge were some of the activities conducted to thrill adventure seekers and employees who love extreme sports. Help from professionals was taken on these trips.

 
Rappelling during an adventure trip to Kanheri Caves.

Rappelling during an adventure trip to Kanheri Caves.

 
 
Doing the monkey crawl.

Doing the monkey crawl.

 

23. Cyber café in the Recreation Room
Employees could check their emails, chat or simply search the net using the Cyber café, for free!

Cafeteria

24. Complaint / Suggestion book in the Cafeteria
Employees could write their complaints and suggestions that were taken into immediate consideration by the CWG.

25. Non-vegetarian food in the Cafeteria made available.
Non-availability of non-vegetarian food was a constant complaint from many employees and therefore needed immediate attention.

26. Better variety of food
The menu was expanded to suit the taste buds of our diverse employee population.

27. Better quality of food
Due to incoming feedback and stringent checks, the quality of food, especially in the night shifts improved tremendously.

28. Formation of the Cafeteria committee
The committee checked the quality, quantity, pricing, hygiene, etc. of the cafeteria service.

29. Improved vending machines to serve tea, coffee, milk, cappuccino, lemon tea, soups, etc.
This increased the variety and quality of hot drinks for employees, especially those who need to care for their throats due to work in voice-based programs.

30. TV in the cafeteria
To serve as an entertainment tool in the cafeteria.

31. Food coupon amount increased from Rs. 440 to Rs. 550
To subsidize food items in the cafeteria.

32. Cafe Coffee Day outlets in the Cafeteria
Top quality snacks and shakes were made available day and night.

HR

33. Reducing waiting period during HR interviews
To give better first impressions about BpoWorld.

34. Housekeeping staff available to the interviewees
To guide and help interviewees who are not familiar with the environment.

35. Water / tea / coffee / reading material made available to the Interviewees
In order to take care of their basic needs and comfort.

36. HR Recruitment area created
To bring the entire recruitment process in one location.

 
Graduation day for new recruits with Baljit Ahluwalia seated in the center.

Graduation day for new recruits with Baljit Ahluwalia seated in the center.

 

Growth, Rewards & Recognition

37. Plaques to top performers in each program
To felicitate and recognize the top performers, plaques were awarded during an office party.

38. Birthday / Marriage gift to employees
Every employee received a Rs. 100 voucher for his / her birthday and a Rs. 500 voucher as a marriage gift. Just a little gesture to show appreciation.

39. MGMT U growth opportunity
MGMT U offered an opportunity to every employee who had completed 6 months at BpoWorld and showed a consistent performance during the same, to grow into the role of a Team Leader. A competition to enter MGMT U was conducted through Group discussions and Interviews.

40. Train the Trainer growth opportunity
Employees had the opportunity to grow as Trainers on the shop floor. They were nominated by the General Managers based on their performance, potential and interest in training.

41. Accent Coaches growth opportunity
Employees had the opportunity to grow as Accent Coaches on the shop floor. They were given specialized training in accents upon being nominated by the General Managers.

42. Training Calendar to meet training needs across programs.
Training was offered in Telephone Etiquette, Customer Care, Client Communication, Reading and Writing Skills for Web CSRs (Customer Service Respresentatives), Advanced Sales Clinic for Voice CSRs, Communication workshop for the IT Team, Customer Complaint Management and Giving Feedback for Team Leaders.

43. Visiting cards for all Team Leaders
A small but important gesture towards TLs.

44. A plaque recognizing the contributions of all employees who complete three years in the organization.
To show appreciation and gratitude.

The Fish! Philosophy

The Fish! Philosophy is "Play! Make their day! Be there! Choose your attitude!"

45. Creating awareness of the Fish! Philosophy
Employees were encouraged to be positive, to be playful, to be present, to find themselves refreshed by the presence of cheerful people, to make an honest effort to confer that pleasure on others, and to never allow themselves to say anything gloomy.

46. Conducing Fish! Training programs
The training introduced senior and middle management to the Fish! philosophy.

47. Fish! video screenings
Several 10-minute videos introduced the Fish! philosophy to all employees very effectively.

48. Music on the shop floor
To lighten the mood and pump the energy on both the voice and web shop floors.

49. Silent movies on the shop floor
Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy videos brought smiles and laughter on the shop floor.

50. Magic shows on the shop floor
Entertainment and amusement were provided to employees in their breaks, in the middle of the night!

51. Fish! décor on the shop floor
The décor added color to the workstations and improved the aesthetics of the shop floor.

52. Aquarium at the shop floor entry point
The Aquarium provided a soothing and relaxing view and also served as a reminder of the Fish! Philosophy.

53. Spot games on the shop floor
The games created a fun atmosphere and increased enthusiasm levels at work.

 
Santa on the shop floor at Christmas.

Santa on the shop floor at Christmas.

 

Epilogue

All of us in the CWG were committed to the cause and left no stone unturned to make the work environment at BpoWorld challenging and exciting. We did all that was possible to add the zing to our employees' lives and complement the fun element in the organization.

Employees were delighted by the various initiatives coming their way and looked forward to coming to work.

The journey to make BpoWorld ‘a great place to work’ had begun, transforming every ‘Doubting Thomas’ into a ‘Successful Thomas’.

 
Happy employees!

Happy employees!

 

Comments

Brilliant Initiative. To have taken all these initiatives for entertaining the employees almost two decades back is simply awesome !

A problem solved with a right mix of a great environment with rewards & recognitions as a super mix for achieving a thriving & a keen work force. A well coordinated effort worth an applause.

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