By Upinder Zutshi, Jan 30, 2015
Sporting events and a golf course created for employees at this IT company help them develop better interpersonal skills
Sixteen years at the helm of affairs has taught Upinder Zutshi one thing — a happy employee equals a productive employee, equals a successful company. At Infinite Computer Solutions Ltd, therefore, he endeavours to keep employee morale and engagement high. And what better way to do that than with a full cultural and sports calendar, with something happening every other month. And it's not just a token badminton tournament we're talking about. The six-month fiesta begins with the Olympiad in August, in which employees, belonging to one of six houses, compete with each other in disciplines across cricket, football, volleyball, golf, tennis and even dumb charades and antakshari.
Interestingly, this 10-year-old event is entirely managed and operated by iVerve, the employee club. "Every month employees contribute an amount to the fund, and an equal amount is contributed by the company. It's this money that is utilised for the various employee engagement activities," Zutshi says. The democratic nature is a direct offshoot of his belief that a services company's biggest asset is its employees. "We have tried to create an environment where employees have a sense of ownership about their job. Given that people spend most of their day at work, this is one way of making life interesting." The best part? The Olympiad winner gets an award of Rs 5 lakh "to party" as Zutshi says, which comes from the fund. For the people, by the people.
Little wonder then, that employees take their participation in Olympiad seriously. Zutshi recalls how for the Infinite Premier League for cricket and football (just like the IPL, anyone can bid and be a team owner) about four years ago, he bid Rs 51,000, which he thought would make him "the highest bidder, only fitting for the CEO". Only to find that he was outbid by four others, who had bid over a lakh! "So people take these events very seriously," he says, with a laugh. In fact, another time, a woman on leave for her wedding actually came back to participate in an Olympiad event.
Zutshi's belief in building a brand that employees can relate to and actually live has also led to the creation of Umang, their yearend event where that year's top achiever, or Eagle, is selected and announced. "An eagle is aggressive has a strong vision and focus, and flies high above. When I thought about differentiating our organisation in the marketplace, it seemed like a perfect symbol," he explains. The Eagle Awards, instituted seven years ago, are an attempt to foster that attitude and continually reinforce that brand recall in employees, by shortlisting one such person from rounds of 36, 24 and finally, 12. Once again, Eagles are voted in by peer reviews.
"As in any other industry, attrition is a problem. So it's important to keep reinforcing that message continuously. Eagles have gone on to be future leaders in the company and done well in life. Otherwise, the message keeps getting diluted as people go and come out of the organisation," Zutshi believes. It also helps him create and promote one brand philosophy in their branches across seven different countries. "As long as a person is happy and looking inwards, he's with you. The day an employee looks out and starts exploring, he's gone. There's always some other company that will give more money, and you can't compete with that. But as long as he/she is happy with the work, the manager and also having a good time, you have a chance."
Such events also give Zutshi the opportunity to get to know his people, something he cherishes. That's why he personally interviews and talks to the shortlisted Eagles. "It helps me in understanding people better, what drives and motivates them. By being involved very closely in such activities, barriers are broken down. Otherwise, it's tough to get people to communicate openly and freely across levels without any worry," he says.
The two-hole golf course at Infinite's Whitefield campus, built three years ago, is also an attempt at employee engagement, peppered with a bit of "selfishness", Zutshi sheepishly acknowledges. "I'm nuts about golf!" he says with a laugh. But that's not the only reason this welcoming patch of green -- a sight for sore eyes in concrete Whitefield — was created. From personal experience, Zutshi finds that interacting with clients in the US — where a lot of his employees have to travel often — hits a roadblock when topics of conversation don't include American football. "Networking and building business relationships with customers becomes a problem, because life is all about American football to them. It's difficult to sit in India and learn enough about it to make conversation," he says. The second best conversation topic, therefore, is golf. "When you play golf, you immediately have something in common with our customers. It becomes a tool to build a relationship. So, I thought it was a good idea for our employees to get initiated and exposed to the game."
The sport is unique, he believes, for giving one four-five good hours with a customer. And while business deals may not be cracked on the golf course, it opens a door. "Golf is a game that gets you obsessed. You can talk about it for hours. So if you've played a few rounds, the next time you call/meet the person, you have an experience that you share. And the level of confidence with which you'll now approach the person is high," he explains.
Personally too, Zutshi believes golf has taught him life lessons. He cites a golf fundamental — keep your head down. "There's a saying in golf that nobody has seen a great drive. That's how you hit a great shot, not by looking up at the ball," he explains. There's a life lesson right there, he believes. "In life if you have to succeed, you have to keep your head down. Be modest, stay focused, keep working and don't keep looking up for the results." Just like he hopes his employees will.
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