|Sapient's Banerjee (right): Sapient
India has not just transferred its American values to India
but built on them
Raise your Spirits,
Raise them High,
Search for Tars (errors in codes),
And say Bye, Bye.
(Claps all around)
nine in the morning at Sapient's Gurgaon office, and the OPODO
team (it works on a pan-European travel portal) is getting started
for the day's work. What's with the cheering and clapping bit?
"It's almost like readying yourself for a big, hairy, audacious
goal," explains Sanjay Menon, a 30-year-old senior project
manager in charge of the UK businesses in India. Apparently, every
such team (some 40 of them) across Sapient's two offices in India
(the other is in Bangalore) goes through a similar drill every
Sapient more than knows the importance of
morale. Set up in 1991 as a client/server application development
outfit, the Massachusetts-based company went on to become an Internet
consulting firm in the late 1990s and survived near death after
the Internet bubble burst. Even as some of its rivals such as
Scient and Viant keeled over, Sapient managed to reinvent itself
starting the mid-90s. It shifted focus to high-end application
development work with more predictable revenues and became one
of the first it companies to spot the advantage of offshoring
work to India. While Sapient, with $254 million (Rs 1,117.6 crore
then) in revenues last year, did go through painful layoffs in
the us as it shifted work to India, it made sure that it remained
an employer of choice and, more importantly, created the same
work culture that its young founders-Jerry Greenberg, 42, and
Stuart Moore, 45-had given it in the us. In fact, to this day,
it's part of Moore's job (both Greenberg and Moore are co-Chairmen
and CEOs) to ensure that the workplace at Sapient remains one
of the best in the industry.
The Sapient DNA
Ok, so you are a rocket scientist. But that
don't impress the folks at Sapient much. "If a person has
domain skills but lacks core values, (he is) not hired,"
declares Preneet Sinha, Manager, People Strategy (read: HR). Core
values, she says, are things such as client-focussed delivery,
creativity, leadership, openness, people growth and relationships.
Strategic context, on the other hand, is the raison d' etre of
Sapient and encompasses purpose, core values, vision, goals and
client value proposition. People management is considered so important
at Sapient that it is built into its corporate purpose of "being
a great company, enabling human potential". Says Soumya Banerjee,
co-Managing Director along with Changappa Kodendera: "It
creates a powerful environment of freedom, flexibility and trust."
(On BT's Best Companies to Work For in India, 2005 survey, Sapient
had the highest average score for employee satisfaction, and it
may have ranked higher than #7 had it been able to share India-specific
numbers relating to hr and training investments.)
| A DAY
IN THE LIFE OF
SANJAY MENON, 30 Senior Project
|A game of table tennis helps employees
|The smile is ever present, at work,
at play, even at informal interactions
As the man in charge of Sapient's
UK businesses in India, Menon oversees a team of 350. Most
of his time is spent on people and delivery but he also
plays career manager-and sometimes simply a sounding board-to
14 juniors. On a recent Friday, Menon's schedule is packed
with meetings-mostly with potential hires to meet a sudden
spike in workload. But post-lunch, he does have time to
meet with Anubhuti Srivastava, a managee who is headed to
London on an assignment but has two issues: role clarity
and compensation. "The clients are going by title and
not by role," complains Srivastava. Menon's advice
to her: The client will lose its paranoia when Srivastava
actually gets to London. And as for compensation, "focus
not on a salary increase but on a promotion in the near
future, which will take care of the compensation as well",
says Menon, whose wife also works for Sapient.
The meeting finishes and Menon talks about how this was
one of the easy interactions. "Sometimes it can be
very difficult, especially when people need a reality check,"
explains Menon. Who gives him a reality check? "Well,
Soumya (Banerjee) is my career manager," says Menon.
"To me, working at Sapient is about playing to your
strengths and also being pushed out of your comfort zone,"
says Menon, whose previous stints at PwC and IDBI have involved
managing corporate restructuring and risk. As Menon walks
me to the lift, he calls out to his colleagues for another
meeting. Apparently, there's another potential hire who
needs to be met before Menon calls it a day.
Respect for the individual starts right at
the first point of contact with Sapient: the hiring stage. There
are no mass interviews, instead a personalised welcome note shows
up on a whiteboard when you walk into the interview room. Each
applicant, irrespective of the level of hire, goes through five
hours of interview with at least five people before joining the
company. And once you sign up, a bouquet of your favourite flowers
finds its way to your home a week before you join. Take the case
of Rajat Beri, a 32-year-old consultant from PricewaterhouseCoopers'
Washington, D.C., office. Initially, he was apprehensive of moving
to India, but the interviewers put him at ease. "They even
took the trouble of providing a book to me while I was waiting
(for the interview) and there was a person from the us on the
interview panel," recalls Beri, now a senior project manager
|Sapient's Kodendera (centre): Respect
for the individual, every individual, is evident in everything
the company does
Roles and not titles is the motto that drives
growth in Sapient. Vertical growth happens through a quarterly
promotion cycle wherein 18-22 per cent of people in each title
get promoted. A performance management system means a 360-degree
appraisal by peers, supervisors, subordinates, self, career manager
and managees if any. An appraisal decides compensation and whether
a person is ready for promotion after playing a step-up role.
(People with potential in their current roles are chosen to play
step-up roles for the next level in the hierarchy.) No one is
promoted into a role without being groomed for at least six months.
Domain change is another facilitator to growth and employees can
change domains after an assessment. Consider Sandeep Mahal, a
27-year old Senior Associate, who felt that he would be more marketable
as a project manager rather than a creative designer and switched
domains. "I got the opportunity to lead a team a couple of
times and realised that my value addition was greater in project
management," explains Mahal.
is typically a sticky issue at organisations. At Sapient, employees
are paid market rates, but there's a strong reward-and-recognition
policy. There are spot bonuses and spot rewards based on the client's
recommendation and there are gifts for a person's one-, three-,
five- and 10-year anniversaries at Sapient. One of the more special
awards is something called a Founders' award, where the winner
along with his family is invited to spend a weekend with Greenberg
and Moore in Bermuda. The person is chosen by a global Sapient
vote and for the last two years the winners have been from the
Coming to compensation, it is performance-
and consistency-based, but Sapient as an organisation looks at
creating long-term wealth for its employees globally. So, a senior
employee, based on her performance, will be allotted restricted
stock units (RSUS). This July, 160 managers (and above) were allotted
RSUS-they accounted for 95 per cent of the eligible management.
These shares have a four-year vesting period, but you can sell
a quarter of your shares every year. All employees are also allowed
to enrol in an employee stock purchase programme (ESPP) for which
they can set aside up to 10 per cent of their salary. Other benefits
include reimbursement of training and tuition up to Rs 40,000
and a computer purchase programme for people who have completed
one year at Sapient. "So that they can practice their coding
and do online courses at home," laughs Sinha.
PROFITS: $22.8 m
| Total employees: 1,627
Attrition (per cent): 15.4
Average career tenure: 2.92 years
Training budget (actual): $1.07
Training man-hours (actual): 81,000
Not surprisingly, Sapient boasts of one of
the lowest attrition rates in the industry. But the question is,
why do people leave Sapient at all? Higher studies, personal reasons,
better compensation, growth and change from a consulting firm
to a software product company are some of the reasons. But Sinha
says that the company is so connected to its employees that it
usually gets to know six months in advance of an employee putting
in his papers. The 'connection' is maintained on a daily basis
by hr managers, career managers and business unit leaders. "It's
about creating multiple roots," explains Binoo Wadhwa, Director,
The career manager is a skip level above
and acts like a guide and mentor. In short, the career manager
is the one who fights your career-and, once in a while, your personal-battles
for you. Indeed, the career managers are accountable for their
managee's growth and are evaluated by them in a 360-degree appraisal.
Says Kodendera: "People growth is a part of being at Sapient;
you are measured by how your people grow." There are a variety
of ways in which Sapient allows its consultants to grow professionally
and personally. Those who've done at least two years at Sapient
can avail of sabbaticals, personal leave of absence, flexi-timings
and even relocations. "We relocated people to Korea and Switzerland,
although we have no offices there," notes Sinha. That means
people in those countries work out of home.
Two other important retention tools used
by Sapient are morale surveys and focus groups. A morale survey
happens every six months for all employees, while the focus group
sessions are held quarterly and try to catch the pulse of a new
hire. In the last few morale surveys, Sapient has recorded 94-95
per cent participation. "Some of the responses are rude but
just the same they force us to change and become increasingly
transparent," says Wadhwa. It is this openess to criticism-and
thus the willingness to change-that enables Sapient to be a great
company to work for.
"Core values is what we look for in people"
with co-MD Changappa Kodendera, Banerjee fields
questions on the Sapient culture. Excerpts:
What would you say is the culture of Sapient?
Soumya Banerjee: Sapient is a purpose-, vision- and core
value-driven organisation, where every single person at
Sapient has the freedom to take decisions in line with our
strategic context. It creates a powerful environment of
freedom, flexibility and trust. The culture is about enabling
human potential, making our clients successful and making
our lives and careers successful beyond our dreams. When
ck joined Sapient nine years ago, he was an associate at
the entry level and today, he has set up the Bangalore centre
because he had the passion that Sapient then enabled.
How do you ensure that this culture percolates down
Changappa Kodendera: People are involved all the way from
the ideation standpoint. Once we have articulated the strategic
context, we actually do a global rollout in smaller groups
with a discussion around the strategic context and everybody
ends up feeling connected. At the end we also get feedback,
which is incorporated. The hiring process is actually where
it starts; we look for similar core values aside from just
the domain skills of coding.
Everybody talks about a 360-degree appraisal. How much
of a reality is it at Sapient?
CK: It's as fluid as people walking up to me and
giving their opinions on various decisions and as structured
as it can get in a performance management system.
SB: We all are rated whether it is Jerry, Stuart,
ck or I.
Who are your career managers?
SB: Stuart Moore, our co-CEO.
CK: Mine is Clayton Locke, who is the ex-MD of
Why have two MDs?
CK: We have had two CEOs since the day we started
the company. Even if you go down to a project level structure,
we actually have a technology manager and programme manager
on projects. I would say it's more in our DNA. I feel like
I definitely have a coach in Soumya, and can bounce ideas
off him. I can ask for help as well as for load balancing.