Prashant Bhatnagar is Director- Hiring at SapientNitro in India. Founded in 1990, Sapient is a global services company that helps clients transform in the areas of business, marketing, and technology. The company operates three divisions that enable clients gain a competitive advantage and succeed in an increasingly digital world. SapientNitro, Sapient Global Markets and Sapient Government Services fuse creativity, technology and insights to drive innovation and help clients navigate complex business problems. Prashant has more than 14 years of experience in development and execution of talent strategy that includes modeling laterals, campus recruitment, talent acquisition, development and international rotation. As a member of Sapient's India Leadership Team, he focuses on talent development and fostering a culture of innovation. Prashant has strong domain experience in managing large and distributed staffing teams across the globe.
In an interview with SHRM India’s Sanjay Joshi, Prashant talks about talent engagement and development, recruitment challenges, and stimulating a culture of innovation in the workplace.
SHRM India: HR budgets are growing because people engagement and retention are being seen as key drivers of business growth and success. How are you driving engagement with employees at Sapient?
Prashant Bhatnagar:We believe that engagement is not an isolated event. It is an ongoing process and at Sapient, we take a holistic approach towards engaging employees through seasonal as well as topical interventions. Town halls and business update sessions are run quarterly, where Sapient leaders share business updates and upcoming trends and challenges. During these highly interactive forums, we help people connect to our values and mission and show how employees contribute towards their realization.
Using the collaborative internal social platform called Vox (Voice of People), we help create communities that share a common interest or goal. For example, there is a community on Vox for Architects to share best practices and lessons learnt from some of our recent assignments. Likewise, I run a blog named Recruiter Speak that is focused on elevating our recruiting skills. In addition to these communities, we encourage our people to participate in external and internal knowledge sharing forums to share and learn from the experiences of thought leaders.
We also regularly organize various fun@work events for engagement. These events act as stress busters and help create a fun environment at work. Our people plan, run and manage several of these events, which include an annual cricketing calendar, the card game Teen Patti around Diwali, Rangoli decorations, celebrating festivals like Onam and participating in marathons.
In line with Sapient's larger goals of corporate social responsibility, employees are motivated to join cause-related actions. From sponsoring education of the wards of Sapient's support staff, organizing blood donation camps, book donation drives to running awareness sessions around hygiene for underprivileged children, Sapient people take pride in giving back to society. Being volunteer led and managed such events lead to higher employee involvement. One remarkable event we run every two years is the Silent Auction. This auction encourages people and teams to bid for various products and services, proceeds of which go to charities supported by Sapient. In a recently concluded event, one of the most popular services on bid was “Breakfast Cooked and Served by the India Leadership Team.” It netted close to INR two lakhs.
Annual parties, offsite meetings and special focus groups for long-term talent development are other engagement activities we pursue. Formal and informal mentoring and coaching sessions are organized for people in collaboration with key professional organizations and educational institutions. These programs serve the twin purpose of increasing engagement within targeted audiences and creating a leadership pipeline.
SHRM India: What is your key focus while designing any HR initiative?
Prashant Bhatnagar:At Sapient, HR initiatives are designed to serve two broad objectives. Firstly, the idea is to develop and sharpen the skills of our people and help them build pride in the art and science of our craft. HR, therefore, provides an enabling environment for people to ideate, collaborate and constructively debate their collective future. Examples of these include recognition programs that reward individuals or entire teams, celebrating great work, learning interventions that are targeted for first time managers or development centers to accelerate learning of our senior talent.
The other equally important objective is to simplify processes and deliver great experiences that eliminate waste, for which we leverage tools and technology. For example, new hires now complete all the paperwork online using an automated tool. This streamlines new hire processes allowing them to complete their paperwork in advance and spend more focused time on training. Similarly, we have rolled out toolkits for people to access prior to their first day, to provide more information about our people, culture, benefits, and policies.
SHRM India: What recruiting challenges do you face at SapientNitro? In general, what basic knowledge or skill gaps do job applicants have in your industry?
Prashant Bhatnagar:At SapientNitro, we spark and nurture the relationship between consumers and brands, ensuring that they are both long lasting and mutually beneficial. This requires bringing together multi-disciplinary teams –project management, technology, creative and marketing strategy. Very often, we come across talent that is good at one aspect but is unable to appreciate the power of connected thinking, which is critical to delivering integrated marketing solutions for business.
Additionally, we require talent that has in-depth knowledge in their chosen areas but can quickly flex across adjacent areas. For example, someone who has expertise in designing a commerce solution around a particular suite is expected to think beyond technology to cover functional areas like order-fulfillment or catalogue management. Many such solutions are specific to industries and/or client geographies, which are difficult to replicate elsewhere. In implementing a commerce solution online, the product design is completed in our European centers as they are tuned into the latest developments in this space. By the time the design based on recent technological advances hits us, the challenge is to find talent in scale that understands these latest developments in technology.
Finding industry-ready talent on the creative side is also challenging. Talent is dispersed and fragmented. Most of the time, we get people who are versed in typical outdoor marketing activities and have little to offer in the digital space. The question that looms large before us is how to source talented people who can apply relevant learnings from outbound marketing to the digital environment and get up to speed with trends in digital marketing. Therefore, we end up acquiring available talent and then broadening their outlook through various orientation programs.
SHRM India: The SapientNitro’s Idea Engineer video drew mixed reactions on Social Media. Tell us something about the ‘Idea Engineer’ message and its significance for career aspirants in India.
Prashant Bhatnagar:The Idea Engineer video was the handiwork of a group of employees in Sapient India who wanted to express their feelings about what it means to work here. The message they wanted to share with career aspirants was that this is a cool place for anyone to work if you bring in lots of ideas and take pride in what you do. My own reaction to it was that it was pretty cool and a very different approach of people working here to convey what drives them to work at Sapient. However, when the video was aired outside India, it generated some heat and reactions. Though an entirely voluntary effort, I see it as perfectly acceptable in a country where Bollywood has a cult following and song-and-dance-routine both inspire and entertain people. Yes, given the cultural diversities and changing sensitivities, what may go well within a particular culture may not find ready acceptance in a global setting.
Today, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where one watches an advertisement on television, researches on a website, asks friends for their opinions on social networks and makes a purchase on a mobile device. Our idea engineers blend transactional, communications and brand expertise to create innovative, multichannel customer experiences for tangible business results. They are people who have never met a challenge they could not resolve.
SHRM India: Simply allocating 20 percent of employee time per week may not open the floodgates of innovation. What steps have you taken to promote a culture of innovation, be it in product, process or system in your company?
Prashant Bhatnagar:It is no less significant to foster a culture that celebrates innovation and be able to maintain it after growing large in size as an organization. Innovation can have external validation in terms of others endorsing your work and internal validation where you act as a facilitator, helping bring in new ideas and perspectives to leverage talent. We aim for both. We create an enabling environment in terms of infrastructure, open collaboration, reward and leadership practices. It actually starts from promoting an exchange of ideas and openness in accepting new ideas without letting your employees get bogged down by functional expectations and traditional perceptions. I always like to joke that ideas are not the prerogative of senior leaders and can appear in anybody’s head. A culture of constructive feedback, nonetheless, is also an integral part of our vocabulary.
A diverse workforce in terms of gender, culture, race, and geography brings immense variation in life experiences, as do employee skill sets. This creates the platform on which innovation can take shape. The general management style is participative and supportive, which encourages ideation at all levels of the organization. The accent is on autonomy in job roles with a mindset that encourages employees to own their growth.
We recently launched our own Dragon’s Den platform where employees are asked to pitch in their innovative and business-ready ideas to management. The top three ideas are shortlisted based on business potential and social impact and their owners are invited to pitch them to senior leaders in Boston for requisite funding and guidance. Not only does it help jumpstart new ideas but also works to engage talent effectively.
In addition to providing innovation support, we also organize thought leadership forums periodically to measure the potential of some of these creative ideas. Cross-functional teams and initiatives are organized to bring people together and learn from their collective experiences.The concept of Idea Engineers is one step in facilitating, managing and sustaining company-wide innovations. In our thought leadership forums, we invite not just our leaders but also other players in the domain including experts, partners, and even our competitors to share and learn from industry best and next practices. These conversations often happen around a unifying theme. For instance, how would you design a solution for future experience? As a tangible measure of our smart practice innovations, Forrester Research Inc.’s latest report, The Forrester Wave™: Global Commerce Service Providers, Q1 2012 report recognized Sapient Nitro as a leader in global ecommerce and marketing space in terms of strategy, market presence and current offering.
Sanjay Joshi is an Editor at SHRM. Republished with permission. Copyright ©2012 SHRM India All rights reserved.