Are quality human resources really critical for the technology industry?

No less than the Chairman of State Bank of India and four Executive Directors grilled me for more than an hour when I entered the last lap of the selection process with SBI as a 22 year old greenhorn more than thirty years ago. This was almost six months after the all India written entrance test. The months in between may not have been nerve wracking but were agonizing alright. My next job with Citigroup happened almost in next to no time.

I was met by the now iconic Jerry Rao who had returned from Citi US in 1985 with the over arching passion of setting up Citi’s consumer banking franchise in India and transform the bank from a gold collared service provider to a trusted financial partner for the much wider base of white collared Indians. Alongside Jerry, sat the CFO, the CMO and my potential boss who was the Area Director for East. From start to finish, my entry into Citi took barely three months compared to the close to one year transition time that SBI consumed. To collect my appointment letter, I traveled to Mumbai to meet the Country Personnel Manager (H R had not made its mark yet) who, I was to realize, was a dyed in the wool banker who had chosen to straddle the personnel function in the home run of his career. This venerable gentleman spent almost the entire day with me and also hosted me to lunch at the Oberoi Towers which was adjacent to Citi’s India corporate office in the Air India Building. Not once was an interview deferred or cancelled even though I was meeting the upper most deck of executives at both SBI and Citibank. They did not have access to Blackberrys or internet to hyper organize their lives.

In the intervening years, management schools have churned out human resources specialists by the thousands. The key attribute of a human resources professional would have to be superior inter personal ability. But the experiences of many suggest that if there is indeed a skill deficit in today’s army of HR professionals it is their inability to manage relationships, both internally and externally. Almost every interview is deferred at the last hour; many are cancelled without articulating cogent reasons to the candidate, recruiters fail to evaluate the suitability of a candidate thereby burdening the line managers and the negotiation process almost always snowballs into a confrontationrather than a conversation. In sum, the job aspirant in the “mass” technology and BPO industry is dealt with rather dismissively and this applies even to senior candidates who have to invariably face off with junior recruiters who let their frustration arising from their incompetence show when interacting with candidates. Since the majority of recruiters are not industry specialists, they rely on the “Control F” mechanism to assess the skills of candidates and more often than not, end up selecting people who have the right buzz words in their resumes rather than appreciate their broader body of work. It has become the line manager’s onerous task to clean up after the recruiter has botched up. I am told that new age companies believe in conforming to “processes” whereby these junior recruiters enter the equation to streamline the selection but if a process culminates in selecting the wrong guy, the process be damned! The hard truth is that even line managers of technology and BPO companies are more obsessed with “putting bums on seats” instead of filtering the unwashed talent supply. New age factory managers have very little time for diligence and even less so for quality.

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