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A request for help occasioned Ankur Mithal’s latest book, Some Method, Some Madness: Managing BPO in India. The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad graduate had worked in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector for seven years before giving it up to launch FAB Advisors and Mentors Pvt. Ltd, a Gurgaon-headquartered venture dedicated to skilling young professionals. When a senior colleague from his BPO days sought his opinion on running a voice business for the outsourcing firm, the attempt to answer the query in earnest resulted in his writing the book. He has previously authored What Happens in Office, Stays in Office. Edited excerpts from an interview:

In what way has the BPO sector changed the employment scene in India in the last 15 years?

According to the “Strategic Review 2012" report of Nasscom, direct BPO employment in India at the end of 2012 is estimated to be in excess of one million. It is expected to grow at 7% for export BPO and 17% for
domestic BPO for the next few years, thus adding close to 100,000 jobs every year. In addition, it generates indirect employment to a level in excess of three times of direct employment. This means almost four million people are employed, directly or indirectly, because of the BPO industry today. That is a huge number by most standards.

What are some of the hiring and training challenges specific to this industry?

Some Method, Some Madness—Managing BPO in India: Tata McGraw-Hill, 300 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>550.
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Some Method, Some Madness—Managing BPO in India: Tata McGraw-Hill, 300 pages, 550.

So what is the solution?

Perhaps one answer is to lead with a non-interaction business and then progress to an interaction-based business, opposite to the development of the export BPO business of the last 15 years where interaction-based voice business took the lead.

Some Method, Some Madness—Managing BPO in India: Tata McGraw-Hill, 300 pages, 550.

Leadership training is another challenge. What the industry as a whole has not done well enough is to brand itself as a desirable career. By making it easy for anyone to join, we may have sacrificed the commitment that comes with having to strive. The industry would do well to create its own education standards for knowledge and skills, beyond the language and process skills that are today equated with BPO education, for aspiring leaders. The model for all levels needs to change from an expectation that “my employer will train me when I need to be trained" to “I will enhance my skills and wow my employer".

How is setting up a BPO different from launching any other business?

There are some similarities between all businesses and there are some peculiarities of every business. The peculiarities of BPO that need to be catered to are:

u It is dependent upon an abundant supply of people equipped to working in a BPO.

u It requires an ecosystem that supports working at odd hours.

u Some services are perishable, like a customer call, hence service needs to be made available at all times, for which necessary infrastructural arrangements, like uninterrupted power supply,
reliable telecom network, need to exist.

Any suggestions on how a BPO firm can address attrition and absenteeism?

I don’t think there is a magic solution. An employee needs to be cognizant of the requirements of the job and whether it suits him before taking it up. And an employer needs to curb the urge to meet a short-term numbers shortfall through indiscriminate hiring. The expectation setting has to be realistic so that employees do not get disenchanted upon joining. And the work environment has to be conducive for work.

There are a few tactical things that have worked for me: Invest in training and development, treat employees as mature human beings and show them the “big picture", recognize and reward in a manner that encourages the “good" employees to stay, and shorten the “hire-to-go live" cycle. Some of these may not reduce attrition but will reduce the cost impact of attrition.

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Updated: 07 Apr 2013, 04:08 PM IST
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