|HSBC's Booker (fourth from left) with his
crack team: A family that eats together stays together,
but not for life now
tempting to draw a parallel between the new-look English cricket
line-up skippered by Michael Vaughan and the Niall S.K. Booker-led
team at the Indian operations of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking
Corporation (HSBC). Unlike many English squads of the past, the
current bunch just can't stand the thought of losing (which enabled
England to beat the Aussies in the recent Ashes series). HSBC
India too till recently wasn't exactly renowned for the fire burning
in its employees' bellies. "A job at HSBC meant you had a
job for life," recalls Anurag Adlakha, Area Financial Controller.
However, things changed once Booker took over as Group General
Manager & CEO, India, in November 2002. "The uniqueness
about HSBC is that it cares for its customers, has a long-term
vision and is a fair employer," he points out. Now for the
punchline. "All this is merged into a will to win. I try
to create a picture of winning. That to me is the New Age HSBC,"
REVENUES: Rs 2,287.9
PROFITS: Rs 336.9 cr
| Total employees: 3,948
(as on July 31, '05)
Attrition (per cent): 21.8
Average career tenure:
Junior Management: 9.22 years
Middle Management: 5.77 years
Senior Management: 9.31 years
Training budget (budgeted/ actual): Rs
10/ 9.4 crore
Training man-hours (budgeted/ actual): 20,000/
The bank's impressive headquarters in uptown
Mumbai houses some 800 employees, and if the atmosphere here has
to be described in a couple of words, it would have to be "quiet
efficiency". But don't let the hush delude you into believing
it is all humdrum at HSBC. The first sign of pent-up ambitions
coming to the fore was when the Hong Kong-headquartered bank acquired
a stake in UTI Bank. The acquisitive intent didn't come as a bolt
from the blue just to the world outside-internally too employees
were surprised, pleasantly. "It resulted in our organisation
being seen as one with an aggressive intent and possessing the
capability of execution," explains Adlakha.
hardnosed corporate strategy and stress on performance juxtaposes
starkly against the gentility and benevolence employees are treated
with. For instance, employees are actually encouraged to leave
early to be a part of a family occasion. All the tough talk at
office notwithstanding, life for HSBC employees is not just about
work. Incredible as it may sound, the workforce is virtually cajoled
into taking leave. That's why employees are allowed to carry forward
into the new year only five out of 30 days of privilege leave.
In fact, come January 2006, the system of carrying forward leave
will be stamped out. "The objective is to have a good balance
between work and life," explains Shishir Agarwal, Vice President
To be sure, the word "compassion"
comes up rather often when one interacts with HSBC employees.
For instance, a voluntary retirement scheme that was implemented
after Booker took over wasn't without the human touch, and employees
had little room to feel that they'd been hard done by the management.
Booker admits it was the toughest of times, alleviated to some
extent with dignity and attractive severance packages. "People
can accept hard decisions as long as they are fair," he says.
| A DAY
IN THE LIFE OF
SHISHIR AGARWAl, 35 VP (Employee
|The atmosphere at HSBC's Mumbai headquarters
that houses some 800 employees, is one of quiet efficiency.
But don't let the hush fool you
Agarwal has arguably the toughest job in HSBC. As Vice President
(Employee Relations), he's got to not only ensure he fits
the right person into the right job, he also has to do his
bit to keep morale buoyant even as he reins in attrition.
As he begins his busy day, Agarwal tells me the work culture
at HSBC is one where the means and ends are equally important.
"It is a compliant and a process-driven organisation.
There are no short cuts here." Over a cuppa during
the morning tea break, Agarwal recalls one of his tougher
assignments-a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) that HSBC
completed in 2003. "At the end of the day, one needs
to have a humane approach and taking good care of the employees
is important. We did exactly that and the employees were
also happy," he states. They should have been-while
300 employees were what HSBC budgeted for in the VRS, the
actual number who opted for it was 519.
Lunch in the cafeteria is with colleagues.
Amidst plenty of banter and laughter Agarwal is preparing
himself for a meeting later in the day. I interrupt him
to ask where he recruits his workforce from. "We do
not pick up too many from the management schools at the
entry level, though there are a lot of summer trainees who
come in," he explains. At higher levels, there is a
fair number that comes in from rival banks.
I have heard a lot about HSBC's work
culture, and as if he's read my mind, Agarwal brandishes
a recent employee attitude survey that shows HSBC in good
light vis a vis other MNC banks, and even HSBC worldwide.
(The result of this has been a more energetic workforce.
As it is, the worldwide best HR policies that have been
successful are adopted in India)
If bidding goodbye to employees is tough,
bringing on board fresh, passionate talent, and then retaining
them, can't be much easier. Nothing works better than a bit of
tinkering with compensation, and that is exactly what HSBC has
done. The bank's introduced a variable element in the package,
which essentially leaves the employee with more cash-and the freedom
to decide what to do with it-rather than company-provided benefits
like a car and housing. "The change in the compensation structure
has helped us in getting better people. The objective has been
to have an active and an energetic workforce," says Agarwal.
He adds that initiatives like "Bright Ideas" (employees
come up with ideas on how to work better) and "Thanks Award"
(an instant recognition of good work) have resulted in employees
feeling more strongly for the organisation. Such rewards are an
imperative for, as Booker puts it: "If an employee has done
great work, you cannot add another room to his apartment or 100
seats to his car." The head of HSBC's formula for success
isn't too complex: Create an environment that encourages winners,
and then reward those winners handsomely. That's got to work,
"Never Go Public With Your Disappointment"
from an interview with HSBC CEO Niall S.K. Booker.
On the concept of leadership and teamwork.
It is important to put yourself in the shoes of those
being led. To me, teamwork comes down to selecting the best
people. While strategy is not rocket science, it is important
to have a sound bunch of people who can execute it.
On the culture at HSBC.
This is really all about leading from the front and communicating
with the employees all the time. While it may be hard to
be positive everyday, the trick is to never go public with
your disappointment. As I believe, between being optimistic
and realistic, I would want to be a realist (he makes a
reference to Jim Collins' book, Good to Great: Why Some
Companies Make The Leap... And Others Don't).
On what working together at HSBC means.
The HSBC work culture is about encouraging groups to be
together and celebrating success is one way of doing it.
For instance, those in the call centre get dressed up for
a bhangra. All this leads, in turn, to better performance
from the employees. We have been doing well and have been
lucky since the economy is also on the growth path. What
has really happened in the last few years has been a case
of turning a ship around without sinking it.
On the need for the employees to have a high-quality
Employees need to have a good life. We try to reduce workloads.
We keep asking for feedback from our employees. Based on
this, we have a better sense of direction and a good remuneration
package in place.