Of the Melt Down & IT Jobs


The greatest favor you can do to yourself is not sit there to get the bad news: accept the reality that this job, this company, this career is not for you. Get out and do something else - it may mean a salary cut, a social ignominy for a while, but I can tell you that it may be the greatest move in your life to brace reality and rebuild your career.

The first time ever the Indian IT industry tasted a downturn was in 2001. That is when 9/11 sealed the doubt over whether the dot.com and telecom busts as well as a recession were all real. At that time, at MindTree, we were a less than 500 people. We did two things immediately: the internal board took a 25% salary cut and everyone else took a 10% cut. Those steps were not enough. So, we seriously considered asking the “bottom 5%”, formally assessed as “non-performers”, to be let go. That was when we had a lesson in people caring. The middle-management team walked in to Chairman Ashok Soota’s room and said they were willing to volunteer an additional 2.5% reduction in salary so that the bottom 5% could be retained until the market rebounded. Their logic was simple: do not let go of poor performers at a time when jobs are difficult to come by in any case. We listened to them and we all survived.

There are many messages in this story. One, tough times are about shared pain. Two, when the pain is shared, the bond that ensues is the greatest return on investment – we retain that middle management even nine years after! Finally, there is the inevitability of non-performance and there is an economic consequence of carrying it. Non-performers must be let go. The issue is timing. It is a known fact that in every single company, across industries, there are at least 5% people who do not pull their weight or cannot. Sometimes, this is because of attitudinal issues, sometimes the problem is lack of competence and yet sometimes, companies have hired wrongly. There is no way a customer or an investor can pay for them. In good times, they are invisible, in bad times – they appear like mangrove bushes in low tide.The best thing about being in the bottom 5% is that you really know that fact.

The greatest favor you can do to yourself is not sit there to get the bad news: accept the reality that this job, this company, this career is not for you. Get out and do something else – it may mean a salary cut, a social ignominy for a while, but I can tell you that it may be the greatest move in your life to brace reality and rebuild your career. When 9/11 happened, I personally know a head of Human Resource who actually re-started life as a “handy man” – he was good with tools – over time, he added a realtor and a placement business. He started off slowly but with patience and self-confidence, even after the tide returned, he did not go back to be a mangrove bush. So, rather than lament, ask very hard-hitting, fundamental questions: who are you? What are you really good at? What is your passion? What is that one thing you could really excel in? It is not going to be easy, you rather have your old job – but know what? If it was not this downturn, the sheer fact that your bosses at work think that you are not a performer is a disgrace that would kill your self-respect. So, why seek kindness?

Now to the trigger-happy organizations that use a hire-and-fire mindset that and pull the plug than build shared pain: know that this winter is not going to be your last. People will remember what you did to them and if you did things without sensitivity, care and concern – remember that getting rid of people always leaves behind residual toxicity and it damages the hand and the heart and the head of the organization. Make sure, you have exhausted all means before you take up the easiest option. Communicate transparently, involve everybody, explore other cost cuts, ask people to do alternate things, consult your customers and suppliers, and retrain people. Finally, if you have to let go of some people, for Heaven’s sake, don’t ask the HR folks to show them the door. Line managers must know that this one is their job. Only when line managers get involved, fairness returns.

Comments
Hrithik Says
Tuesday November 18th 2008

This article is an eye opener for all the companies, reminding them to be considerate in crisis. Whilst Citi is on its way on cutting 52k jobs, this article sends the right message.

Thank you

Lubna Says
Tuesday November 18th 2008

Dear Subroto,
I guess, if one does ask these fundamental questions and answers them honestly, then even if the scenario is not that of being given a pink slip or being labelled as a poor performer, one should move on, inspite of resistance (others telling you that you have gone potty!)
It is scary, but I guess honest answers must be faced squarely at all times. In fact, fundamental questions must be periodically asked.
Best
Lubna

Regu Says
Tuesday November 18th 2008

Dear Subroto,

Your blog reminds me of an article that a colleague forwarded today about how Toyota hasn’t laid off people in spite of the downtrend in the auto industry. No wonder they are the most respected and profitable auto maker in the world. I guess now they will also be the most liked – by their employees that is.

Regards

Tuesday November 18th 2008

Beautifully written as usual….

Yes, I really think this hard time is a time when we need to look inwardly as individuals also…..probably this time will tell us something about ourselves that our cushy jobs cannot and have not told us – that we are at the wrong place or simply not enjoying our work…..

Time to think anew….and if you can make it in a hard time as this, you can make it wherever and whenever…..

V.Venkatesan Says
Tuesday November 18th 2008

Excellent Gesture.
All PSU’S in India follow this method .Nearly 15% can be safely taken as non performer.Half of them are generated by the company and the other half due to disability. This is the reason the salaries are low in PSU’s.Regards.
V.V.

Punit K Garghya Says
Tuesday November 18th 2008

Dear Subroto,
A delicate topic but wonderfully written. Sensitivity and empathy is extremely important. If not handled properly it could mean disaster for the individual and the family.
As rightly put by you, identifying your area of passion or what some one would really like to do is a very difficult process and besides needs lots and lots of courage and self awareness. It would be nice if you could elaborate on this process in one of your future articles.
Regards,
Punit

Bharath S Says
Tuesday November 18th 2008

Excellent message at the right time ! I am very much delighted to learn that at Mindtree; you show so much concern towards people and help them to evolve progressively. I am sure, others have a lot to learn from you guys on people management.

Wednesday November 19th 2008

Timely post!

Empathy plays a great role in shaping up the organizations, specially in tough times like these.

Someone told me that slowdown is like a pit stop in a car race. Cars need to stop briefly, get the tires changed, re-fuel, re-charge and move on. This is very relevant to organizations and individuals when they race for growth and development.

One has to go back to basics, actualize with self and identify one’s key strengths – to take things up accordingly.

We as an industry slowed down in 2001 and then grew unprecendentedly. This is a right time for organizations to re-charge, hold on to their basics and be as good as they could to their people. People reciprocate the acts.

Thanks.

Wednesday November 19th 2008

[…] that can come out which can either avoid layoffs or at least cut them to size. As Mr Bagchi rightly points “Communicate transparently, involve everybody, explore other cost cuts, ask people to do […]

Sunday November 23rd 2008

Folks,

Recessions and meldowns are divine creations that happen for a reason. So one should learn to accept it periodically, whether we like it or not.

Tej

Subroto Roy Says
Tuesday November 25th 2008

Dear Mr. Bagchi,

I read with interest your thoughts on the meltdown process. I could not agree more with you on what you said about sharing pain during tough times.

In continuation to this ,I wish to touch upon a very specific issue. As a race or as civil society we Indians are not accustomed to this “Live now shall see later” approach to life. We are an accommodating society or call it the follower of the “Hindu Philosophy”(Don’t read religion in it please) of tolerance & certainly do not subscribe to extreme actions of hatred, disrespect & separation.

Such a society when faced with a situation of “detachment” or separation of being informed that you are not wanted immediately slide into total despair .It is against our culture & the way we are brought up. Just look around how in every corner of this country people huddle together in extreme situations of poverty, hunger or even while facing natural calamities. In other words all that we as average Indians have been trying to communicate or ask is “Can we not face this situation facing us together?”

Another aspect is -social security. An average Indian is financially far more insecure than an average American . This compounds the problem for him besides the other aspect of being able to adapt to a changing need.

I feel Organisations must try multiple options as referred by you but most of all it must communicate to its employees the difficulties the organisation is facing or likely to face in future

I am however impressed by the fact that there is so much concern & responsibility being displayed by captains of the Industry . This gives hope that we are likely to face the situation befallen without fear.

I wish you well.

Subroto Roy

PB Mishra Says
Thursday November 27th 2008

Thats very truely said. At such a point of time there is more feeling of insecurity with every personnel working downtheline to a line manager. I very much agree with your views that in case of the worst option i.e. the line manager must have the courage to face the guy rather than concerned HR dept. of the company.

Really a good one and time relevant.

Thanks
PBM

Manoj Singh Says
Thursday November 27th 2008

Hi Subrto,

I am new to your blog. I just finished the book “Go kiss The world”. Like the book this article is thoughtfully written. I also went through a through a phase in my life when I was asking the same questions like what value am I adding to me and people around and how this is going to help me to achieve what I want to do in my life? So I finally decided to follow up my dreams.

When I was in the job, my analysis about the current market trend is almost similar but I found the problem is not only with employees but with way middle level management is handling the communication from top to bottom. Employees at lower level were not clear about the future plan of action. So at this critical bottom of V of global economic slowdown, it’s the responsibility of organization to exude confidence in employees by asking them to explore new areas, develop new skills, most importantly show them the future path.

One more important thing that really bothers me, the actions taken by the captains at top. When future looks rosy, organizations are spending without giving a single thought to productivity and value that expenditure will add to company. And when they start facing the slowdown, suddenly they start taking the measures which further adds to debilitating confidence of employees.
So I believe in this economic adversity there is an opportunity for organizations to look back the process which they have been following and make some fundamental rules which must be followed under any circumstances.

Thanks for this great article and hope to see more encouraging lessons in future.

Manoj

Uday Says
Sunday November 30th 2008

sir,

i read your two books they are really good lessons for any young professional. i have a small request i am starting with a HR magazine can please write an article or help with an interview in my magazine . please sir

illiyaz Says
Thursday December 4th 2008

As i read through this article, i really have a lot of regret at not being able to make it through Mindtree when i was a fresher in 2002.Great article, inspiring.I work in one of the medium sized companies that has laid off 10% from its Chennai office and wish the management gets to read this article…esp the last line abt HR folks….

Tuesday December 9th 2008

What Worst Can Happen?
======================

It is now old news that the whole world economy is in turmoil. Almost every day we hear news of companies getting shutdown, people loosing their jobs, senior people taking salary cuts etc. India, which is more connected to the world than ever, is also taking a hit – just like any other connected nation in the global economy. Of course, like many people, this was very scaring for me and I had time and again thought about it. I’ll share what gives me strength in the current bad times.

When I graduated from college, it was an iron clad decision to not take a single penny from my parents and I wanted to abide by it. I did not have a job (an entirely another story, though I was a University Topper – some other day may be I’ll share) when I left the comforts of hostel life, but I had faith. I was at New Delhi then. I did not know when my next meal will come or where it will come from. I could not sleep for nights and had gone hungry for days and sometimes weeks. I did land up in a job within a month and I remember going to the interview in empty stomach and with the reimbursement they gave, I had a good meal in days.

I quit the jobs within months as I felt it was not my passion and above all we were working on sixties technology and the place was almost into stone-age. The place was at Morena, a small town around 28 kilometers from Gwalior, India: a case in point – you will get today’s newspaper tomorrow evening!

When I searched for my next job in the high tech sector, the recession was in full swing and almost every company was laying off. To beat it all, I did not even know a single programming language as I was a hardcore Electronics Engineer. I still got a job from a product company, which is highly reputed now-a-days and I believe it was one of the best companies I have worked with. I remember going to the interview on a bi-cycle in the scorching heat with my resume holder folded behind the career. When I reached the venue I was literally wet as the distance was around 7/8 kilometers.

I do not know what will happen this time. But then what could be the worst? For a human being, the worst case will be (from my point of view of course) to die unnaturally: say a 30 year young man died of accident or heart problem or some other disease. I do not think it will be that worst for me. Next worst can be: I’ll be without jobs for months, may be years. But then, unlike last time, I will not go hungry for days and I will have a place to sleep at night. And I know I can survive with minimal dresses, food and shelter.

I know it may sound melodramatic, but is it not the truth? I guess, we get very comfortable working in an air-conditioned environment earning some decent amount money and dread to do what we have done before. But then, thinking about those harsh days and without having any idea on what to do, I survived and moved on, gives me immense strength to go on this time also. Whenever I feel bad, I think of those days and I am sure it could not be worse than that. Or could it more worse? Definitely a BIG NO, then why not keep moving?

    Raushan Says
    Tuesday October 1st 2013

    Hi Satya,

    Thanks for enlightining the truthful story of a common indian poor man becoming a IT professional.
    Actually most of us have never seen so much of money in our previous generations, so money has become the motive nowadays and so people think they are underpaid but i beleivve this is due to a cultural fusion side effect i.e if a normal sattu (flour of roasted chana) guy gets pizzas and becomes a fan of it then definately there is some problem man, you enjoy the good times but forget to save your bad days ………….. so i just believe until and unless we all get consious about the quality of work not
    the quality of money associated with work we will definately be self dependent both economically and morally.

Ramanan Says
Monday December 22nd 2008

The idea is touchy. Learn to love recessions is a nice thought that needs to be seeded with all top management. I have seen some seniors leave their jobs so that the juniors dont get hit. Exactly what mindtree professionals did during the 9/11 dotcom burst. This is quite invigorating and being the gardner I believe you could see this thought into the minds of all those who get hefty packages. Its not about being worthy enough for the remuneration that one receives, but like you mentioned its about shared pain which can instill confidence in performers and would provide them a springboard to learn and move further and father in tough times.

Kudos to you

best regards

Ramanan

Lakshmi Narayana Says
Wednesday December 24th 2008

Hi,

A great insight of Human ResourcesManagement and a firm example of leadership. All you said is inspiring, but can the companies sustain in this way by cost cutting the employee who can deliver more to the one who needs to better his performance.

Does this spoil the talent retention in long run?
I believe it is etical but it is more like the socialist view at business.

In this recession what you did and preach is agrreable as a unexpected situation prevailed. But this cannot be the tune the firms need to follow.

Please correct me if I am wrong, Your experience is more valuable than my simple comment.

Great thought to motivate the victims of recession.

Mohit Says
Tuesday January 13th 2009

Great gesture from the biggie. I feel this is what all companies should have thier lookout.I just hate the phrase “bottom 5 %” – it is quiet obvious that you will always have a bottom 5.Are they something which can be removed and then living with the rest thereafter?. NO. There will again be a bottom 5 which will be nxt target of assault.So why making them a scapegoat in tough times.Sharing success is joyous and widespread but sharing pain is still a novelty.Employees are the greatest assest for any organization.Win hearts and see the magic.
Plant seeds of sense of belongingness in employees,cultivate the very nature of sharing in all times and reep the benefits of hapiness and success as in a family of four.

Mahesh Says
Wednesday January 14th 2009

Go and check ebodies rent bills,70% are fake ,I am sure about it,In that case no employee will be there ,Gie your feedback on this.

Spandan S Says
Thursday February 12th 2009

Dear Mr. Bagchi,

Your article really uplifted my spirits.It was emotional yet highly motivational.Through out my life till date I was academically outstanding.I was among State Toppers during my X ,XII.The saga continues till my Engineering.After that I joined a pioneer company of India.Here again I got an very good score in my training.But after that I was put in a module which has hardly any technical work.Day by day my frustration level increases.I always want a release from this project.But somehow or the other I could not change.My manager did not take my attitude very sportively and his feelings are reflected in my appraisal.I never know that I will get a bad appraisal than those people who seek my help sometimes..So whom should I blame my company,my manager or myself.It is not the time to blame.I will go ahead with my self respect.May be I may not have the luxury of the job but I will have my soul rested peacefully.

saswat priyadarshi Says
Tuesday April 21st 2009

Dear Mr Bagchi,
I had got a job in Mindtree(2008 batch). I wanted to work with Mindtree because I loved its policies and frequent GPTW rankings. I always dreamt of sharing a meal at the ISKCON temple on the success of my company. i wanted to share my heart with old people as is the custom at Mindtree; lessons on life and relating with others. I wanted to pour my heart over Mindtree. I was really blissful. But then came the news that as i have very low score i would have to wait for 11 months before joining. my wings were clipped …i came crashing on the ground. I understand your point of view. but then i see you with great love and respect as the GARDNER of Mindtree. I felt you would allow as a gardner the less fruit bearing trees to die rather than wasting space in your garden. this came to me as a real shock from my dream company and my secret love. What do you think about STANDING TOGETHER vs LET GO. i would like to quote ROCKEFELLER-” I would rather hire a man with enthusiasm, than a man who knows everything.” I guess Mindtree took its stand at the cross road and i kept dreaming about my love “mindtree’. I guess it is really tough to decide who has enthusiasm & dedication in him but very easy to see the marks on result card.
Hope to listen some words of wisdom from your experience…
May Mindtree see new heights in the days to come…
My love & best wishes
Saswat
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