HR Functions in a BPO – Drawing Parallels

Here is a discussion on CiteHR. Managing HR in a BPO. This is an effort made to accentuate one’s learning curve.  The HR Functions would differ due to the diverse business models and talent base. Here we identify the integral difference and the similarities. Such as Compensation package in a Knowledge Industry would be more focussed towards a higher take home and flexible work set-up whereas the HR System in a manufacturing would focus fundamentally on benefits with long term equity such as PF, Gratuity and better mediclaim packages. The employee base in service industry would have a completely different approach, hence higher employability would be preferred.

The HR Processes will undergo a similar impact. The billability needs to match the business model. Hence in Service and Knowledge sector, they may require a talent to spend 10-12 weeks in training depending on the role before going live at work. This may not be possible with the manufacturing sector. Public sector such as Steel Authority of India Limited have one year training program for the management of trainees.

Talent as a whole

Talent in the BPO sector is categorized under several heads. It begins with Agent level which is the entry level in every company, thereafter it’s the Subject Matter Experts. This level has Process Trainers, Quality Analysts and Team Leader, who are entry level leaders. This level does not have any decision making requirement, but primarily deals with the production-delivery management. The Assistant manager and supervisors are the leaders who have the beginning level decision making such as work allocation, granting leaves etc. The managers handle escalations and client communication with greater business responsibilities. This finally graduates to the skip level leaders i.e., AVP and VP, who are the business owners.  The verticals are fundamentally segregated as Operation, Support Services which would include Business analytics, Quality, CRM etc

Talent Acquisition

The HR Functions in a BPO starts with recruitment. There are two different kinds of hiring in this vertical, which includes freshers and laterals. Any talent joining this sector for the first time are usually treated as a fresher. Laterals are talents who have worked in other companies in similar roles. It is done for the new positions and the back-fills. Here the volume hiring is done through walk-in where a large number of talents attend the interview as announced in the newspaper. Recruitment drives are arranged to hire in large numbers.  This is promoted through print media and recruitment consultants. There are off-location and outstation drives. The off-location drive is in a place other than office premises and out-station drive is in a different city. The recruitment cycle ideally depends on the role and kind of talent required but is shortest of all. It can span from three to maximum 6 weeks. Business requirement may weave ‘Every Monday – Induction’. This implies that a batch of employees would be inducted every Monday.  Background verification and medical check-up is completed before the Induction begins.

Talent Management

The Employee Life cycle management which includes all activities strategises to optimize the talent’s capability as part of the Talent Management. The Entry-to-Exit HR Processes, leadership development, succession planning, Compensation and benefit would all be clubbed under this area. This can be divided into the transactional and transformational HR Systems. The transformational process would include organization development and change management. Legal and statutory process to be managed by HR would include the ‘open-door’ system, which allows the employees to voice their concerns irrespective of the reporting structures. This is similar to the ‘Whistle-Blowing’ system as practiced by other domains.

  • Orientation and Induction : The talent management processes begins with Induction. Here the induction is a combination of the orientation program and administrative activities such as filling up of forms, submitting documents, opening bank account and etc. The HR processes during the induction day would require the employee to submit photocopies of all the documents. These documents are verified against the originals. This is done within a day’s time as the training starts right after it. Leadership address is a must as it brings in the vision to the new hires. The prime purpose of the First Day orientation is to make the talent ready for trainings to start right from the following day. Culture orientation is done briefly on Day one. It is reinforced during the following training programs to accentuate a talent’s behavior .
  • Training and development : The training and development is a perpetual process. It runs parallel to the hiring strategies and expansion plans. There are Operation-based training for re-skilling and upgrading the talent. Behavioral training focuses primarily on problem-solving, team bonding and leadership development. Training for new hires can be divided into two phases, i.e. Pre-process and Process training. The Pre-process training starts with Voice and Accents followed by vertical based training and other initial certifications required to deliver the job. Suppose an Insurance BPO would require the agents to be certified with Insurance based institutes as defined by the clients. A Banking BPO will have Data Security based certification. An ITO will have IT-Skill based certification to be completed. The process training generally is based on the particular job to be delivered. These trainings have assessments in the end which measures and predicts the performance of a talent. The class room training gives a way to the live training, which is ‘on-the-job’ training. This duration is called Pilot phase. It requires the talents to work in the client environment with the same monitoring parameters which would be valid, once the process goes live. This phase allows the productivity and efficiency be measured before the quality assurance team starts calibrating the output. In case a talent fails to perform as per the given standards, a Performance Improvement Program would be initiated and the talent would be rescheduled for extra training.  The training programs are drawn from the business budget. Ideally a calendar is drawn at the beginning of every year. Though changes to it would be made due to the business reasons. The scorecard for training is drawn from the incremental increase in the productivity of the employees.
  • Performance Management : The Goal sheet is filled by the employee right during the first quarter of the employment. The productivity would be measured monthly. Yet the overall performance feedback is given bi-annually. The midyear review is a preliminary to the final review at the year end. This is not very different to what is followed in other sectors. The R&R and the spot awards are designed with a dynamic. This remains primary to increase the productivity.
  • Payroll and MIS : This is similar to the processes that are being run at any sector. The difference might lie in the way incentives are drawn. Most of the BPO have different structures for monthly and quarterly payments compared to other knowledge sectors where reimbursement would be higher and the incentives are rolled at the end of the year with bonus and hikes.  The MIS system is required to be robust as the data provided would be upgraded at a very short interval.
  • Managing attrition : The attrition remains the greatest concern. The employee turnover ratio remains highest in this sector. The employee life-cycle runs shorter as the talent either fails to see a career path within the company or fails to adjust with the organization culture. Often the job opportunities are marketed so well that a new job is preferred over an existing job. The stupendous options available prompt a talent to try out different jobs with different companies, which in return makes them impatient with low tolerance. A minor discrepancy in the behavior with the leaders or the change in alignment of the career path drawn with respect to the individual’s ambition can prompt a talent to change their jobs.  Monetary gains and quick career progressions are valued over stability. Creating better career path within the company, offering a compensation package relevant to the job-profiles, more importantly hiring talents who are better inclined to the job and aligned with the organizational goals are the chief way to manage attrition. Identifying the early-warning signs and keeping a realistic view to the employee life cycle would help HR to pre-wire attrition.
  • Other HR Initiatives : Mostly the HR Initiatives are centred on increasing employability and employee engagement. The events are planned, they are tactic and strategic. A monthly event is planned with fun activities. These initiatives are on the transactional level. Whereas preparing the employee for career progression through cross vertical roles and horizontal shifts are on the transformation level. This increases the employability and builds a longer career path within the company. Few initiatives remain perpetual such as building trust through open communication including intranet, monthly magazines, focus group meetings, brown-bags and town halls. The employees are encouraged to use open-door policy to get their questions answered. It further offers them visibility to the top management in the firm.

By and large, the HR Functions remain talent extensive. Few organizations may have implemented the scorecard system to make HR System cost effective and draw a profit centre approach. Whereas, this vertical would remain a cost centre, to most of the organizations. The difference between the HR in a BPO and in any other sector will remain in its alignment towards the robust talent base and dynamic business models. Managing ramp-up and ramp-down at a shorter notice with minimum deviations to the balance within the company, makes HR unique. The employee turnover management and handling sensitive issues with relation to the Information security and ethics will remain the corner stone. As this sector matures, the HR System will graduate to levels where it would be attenuated towards the sector as a whole and remain unaffected by the volatility in the business environment.

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