With an estimated 20-million-plus non-resident Indians (NRIs) across the world, this talent pool is a rich hunting ground for Indian corporate firms and multinational companies (MNCs) with operations in India. At a senior executive level, this group is particularly attractive since it has an expanded world view developed by exposure to living and working in multiple geographies.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
However, Indian firms do face challenges when competing for talented senior executives from this pool. Often, their MNC peers have an advantage in terms of the brand—since they are more top of the mind owing to their global presence.
As a result, Indian firms will need to formulate strategies across various stages of the recruiting cycle, from access to identifying, attracting and assessing to hiring, retaining and motivating these individuals. Based on our experience and conversations with human resource (HR) heads of Indian companies and MNCs, the following are takeaways on what India-based employers could do at each stage of the recruiting life cycle.
For Indian firms that have yet to build a brand such as an Infosys Technologies Ltd or a Wipro Technologies, the most challenging step is to get into the consideration set of their target audience. Successful strategies include finding ways to quickly identify, assess and woo those they consider a potential match.
For this, companies rely on networks of investor groups and also have the founder or senior management team connect and communicate the value proposition to these individuals. For an MNC brand, concerns arise around job content and career growth. Companies very often need to ease concerns on whether the individual would be compromising on the career front because she is not at the corporate headquarters where decisions are made. There is a need to communicate the reasons why overseas talent is being chosen, along with clear responsibility areas and growth paths.
Evaluation and selection
The two questions that firms often look to answer at this stage are: a) Will this person be able to hit the ground running? and b) Can she fit into the team and the environment in a manner that is sustainable in the long term?
Firms typically probe motivations and will try to understand if this is a long-term motive or merely a stint to globalize and add to a resume. Fair or not, the bar is somewhat higher for returning Indians or foreign nationals of Indian origin, in terms of how quickly they are expected to get India, that is, assimilate and begin to function effectively.
At advanced stages of discussion, it is also common to get the individual to spend time on the ground with the senior team. In our experience, the most effective sell trips include spouses, as their buy-in is crucial in reducing the risk of the deal unravelling at a later stage and even after the individual joins.
Being at a sensitive stage in the recruiting process for both sides, a long drawn-out negotiation is likely to sour the relationship. At most MNCs, options largely depend on the time span of the assignment. For shorter stints of two-three years or less, an expatriate assignment policy comes into play.
For a person making a more permanent move, the savvy firms offer a set of plans that ease the transition to a local pay scale and benefits. For instance, a leading practice deploys a couple of options, including one where the individual starts with an expatriate-like package that tapers down over a period of one-two years and eventually meshes into the local pay and benefits grade.
Another is a so-called local-plus option that starts out higher but is subject to the same raise and advancement criteria as the local peer group, thus ensuring that the differences begin to blur over a period of time. These plans help provide a softer landing for the individual while not perpetuating any irrational expectations which could lead to unhappiness among the relevant peer group.
Motivation and retention
While many firms believe in providing for a soft landing on the home front, they are unanimous about the fact that there can rarely be a case for continuing to treat these individuals differently. Doing so would cause resentment and friction among the peer group, sometimes undermining the ability to be effective for the very individual that the firm is looking to support.
In today’s connected world, firms looking to compete effectively on the global stage can ill afford to ignore the compelling value that a returning Indian or expatriate could bring. And while the journey is not without its share of risks, the firms that carve a successful strategy around this will find themselves enriched by the skills, experiences and networks that these individuals bring with them.
This is the second in a two-part series on non-resident Indians returning to work in India.
Anjali Bansal is with the Mumbai office of Spencer Stuart and leads the India practice. Vikrant Vora is with the New Delhi office and leads the technology practice in India. He is also a recent returnee from the US.
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