Infosys to launch own ‘Lister’ initiative

Initiative to identify top performers and link them to senior leaders similar to programme at HUL to groom CEOs


The apprenticeship programme is CEO Sikka’s most ambitious initiative to arrest attrition, identify and boost talent in Infosys. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
The apprenticeship programme is CEO Sikka’s most ambitious initiative to arrest attrition, identify and boost talent in Infosys. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Bengaluru: Infosys Ltd will unveil in the coming weeks a programme that aims to identify top performers among its employees, and put them under the direct supervision of chosen senior managers, as the software services firm strives to retain talent, find internal candidates for new roles, and provide a fast-track career path in a 193,000-employee organization.

The programme is chief executive Vishal Sikka’s most ambitious employee engagement measure in the 20 months since taking the company’s helm in August 2014.

Other information technology (IT) companies, including Wipro Ltd, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and even Infosys itself, have had such programmes, although most were aimed at attracting talent, not retaining it. Most programmes also lacked the mentorship aspect.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd has the famed Lister programme, which seeks to create future chief executives and which the company seems to have refined and perfected over the years, creating new evaluation metrics for so-called Lever Listers and also orchestrating their career moves within the company.

It isn’t clear whether Infosys’ programme will be as ambitious in scope, or as narrow in focus. (Only a few people are in Hindsutan Unilever’s Lister).

For now, Infosys is choosing to call its effort an apprenticeship programme. Mint learns this initiative will be overseen by Krish Shankar, Infosys’s newly appointed global head of human resources. Shankar himself has spent more than 16 years at the HR department at HUL.

Infosys did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As with any apprenticeship programme, there is a direct benefit on business, said Nishchae Suri, the head of People & Change advisory at KPMG. “The individuals in this programme are more suitable to be deployed across businesses and the management will have the flexibility to pick from a wider pool of talent,” he added.

Executives at Infosys concede that the success of this apprenticeship rests on how the management identifies its leaders who eventually will mentor the young employees.

“Is this going to be a game-changer in our efforts to transform our workforce? Obviously not. It is just one of the steps which, I believe, should have been started much earlier. But the success of this depends on how we identify our internal leaders because eventually the success of this rests on how the seniors mentor the young group,” said an executive who declined to be named.

Since taking over as the first non-founder chief executive of Infosys, Sikka has taken a clutch of steps to arrest attrition and also tried to position Infosys as “an employer of first choice” among millions of engineering graduates.

Last year, Sikka launched an initiative called Zero Distance, with the aim of making engineers think more imaginatively and go beyond the scope of a project, thereby giving renewed sense of purpose to over 100,000 engineers who write code and work on the delivery side of the business. At the start of the year, Sikka allowed employees to work nine days a month from home. All these measures have helped Infosys retain employees—attrition was the lowest at 13.4% at the end of October-December 2015 among the large technology firms.

Earlier this year, Infosys recruited about 40 engineers from top engineering schools, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs), to be a part of a team which the management believe will work on some of the projects that involve use of data analytics and artificial intelligence.

These engineers have been offered salaries starting at Rs.16 lakh a year, four times what a graduate joining Infosys, earns.

Under this “Expert Track” programme, which first started as a small exercise within the company in January last year, the team will grow to a size of 100 people this year. A few of these engineers will work on projects that use data analytics or the Internet of Things—such as Infosys’s engagement with General Electric Co. on its cloud computing platform, GE Predix.

“We launched the Expert Track program last year to make Infosys the best place to work for technologists who want to pursue a career in programming,” said Navin Budhiraja, senior vice -president and head, architecture and technology, at Infosys. “(We want to) use that skill to build platforms and solutions in the area of big data, cloud computing,artificial intelligence, user experience, industrial IoT, AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality), etc.”

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