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Snapshot: P. Ganesan, vice president – HR, Aegis BPO Malaysia

In an interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, P. Ganesan, vice president – human resources, Aegis BPO Malaysia, talks about the comprehensive employee onboarding programme that attracts expats to Malaysia, as well as the HR path taken for a successful merger.

- With inputs from Nicole Chew

Q Starting out your studies in Physics, you quickly moved into HR with an MBA degree before you started your career in 1993. What attracted you to HR?

Physics was a subject I was really interested in, as I always wanted to study life sciences. However, in pursuing a career, I was most keen on the people business, as human behaviour had always intrigued me. My first interest was to get into a line of training and development, which I eventually did. From a very young age that was what attracted me, and that’s primarily what drove me to move towards HR.

Q After getting into training, you continued with recruitment and overall HR roles across India and Malaysia. What did you find unique about HR practices having lived and worked in both countries?

There’s not much difference in terms of the framework of how we do HR. For example, doing HR in India or in Malaysia involves the basic people-related functions such as recruitment, talent engagement, talent development, and managing the complete employee lifecycle. The only difference is that in India it is about managing cultures of multiple states within the same country, whereas in Malaysia it is about managing the culture of multiple countries within one country.

I’ve been here for four years now, and to the best of my knowledge, there is no other country where so many cultures can peacefully coexist.

Q What has been the most memorable HR initiative across your career?

One of the most memorable was when we acquired Symphony BPO in 2014, which was then about 800 people, and today combined, we have over 3,000. We didn’t want to go through a typical integration process, as in simply driving our company policies and practices there. We wanted to adopt progressive policies and methodologies, and localise things.

Beyond procedural integration, we focused very much on cultural integration, wherein people needed to understand the expectations from a global organisation. As Symphony was a local organisation, in the first 12-18 months, getting people to assimilate to the culture was very challenging, but at the same time very rewarding.

We didn’t want to impose our policies; instead, it was about getting their views and see to what extent the policies could be localised.
In addition, one of the biggest challenges that the outsourcing industry faces is attrition. To retain people, we did townhalls to understand what people were expecting from the new company. We didn’t want to impose our policies; instead, it was about getting their views and see to what extent the policies could be localised.

When we did the townhalls, we came to understand that people did not just want to join this company as a call centre agent, they wanted to know what we could offer in terms of a career. We created a well thought-out career growth plan, and in the last four years we have given opportunities and careers of choice to almost 1600 people, and that has been really rewarding and memorable.

Q What are your HR priorities and what do you wish to accomplish in 2018?

The number one HR priority in any outsourcing industry company is identifying and maintaining a strong talent pool. We have a huge diversity platform, with people from 33 countries. Since we hire from so many different nationalities, we have been working on initiatives to find the right channels and cost-effective methods for recruitment and retention as a priority for 2018.

When we took over the company, the attrition rate was approximately 100% annualised. Today, it is about 48% annualised.

Q In the recent Budget announcement, PM Najib highlighted IR 4.0 as a rising national priority. What steps are you taking towards IR 4.0?

We started this conversation almost 18 months ago, wherein we have been providing multiple digitisation processes that can add value to our clients' business, such customer relationship management, manpower forecasting, and more.

Internally, after the acquisition, we went in for a lot of automation. We launched the employee self-service portal, in partnership with SAP SuccessFactors, where we went live in a record time of three months.

Q Can you describe one HR campaign at Aegis BPO Malaysia that we can learn from?

One of our best practices is the employee onboarding experience. We worked a lot on this, since we have so many expatriates coming from different countries. We have an experience management team for complete employee onboarding - from day one when I am interviewing a candidate from Japan, Korea or China, to rolling out an offer, to sharing all the necessary information, getting them mentally prepared for Malaysia, being constantly in touch with them, completing the paperwork, the work permit, getting them into the country, the appropriate accommodation, getting them into the office, helping them settle down and open a bank account. Also, to acclimatise them to Malaysia, we send them on a KL city tour, sponsored by the company.

Starting with about 80-90 expats, we now have about 700 plus, owing to such practices.
I know it can be difficult moving from one country to another, as I have experienced that myself. Especially for someone coming Japan, for example, which is far more organised than most countries. Once they’re onboarded, there’s a team that manages all the engagement activities, for example celebrating Japanese and Korean festivals, because it's very important to make them feel at home.

Starting with about 80-90 expats, we now have about 700 plus, owing to such practices.

Q Is there somebody you consider a mentor or an inspiration in your career?

I have a very close friend of mine, twenty years senior to me. I’ve worked with him in different capacities, and took to him easily because he is the kind of person that says, “That’s how life is, face it.” He is frank and open, and it is very rare to find people who think absolutely objectively.

One of the best things he told me is that when you wake up in the morning, you should do something that is going to excite you for the whole day. When you come home, you should look forward to going back to the same thing tomorrow morning. If you don’t get that feeling, you should not do it, even if it means monetary suffering.

Q What is the one myth you would like to debunk about working in HR?

People think that HR is all about processes and policies. To the best of my knowledge, and out of experience, I would say processes and policies are a part of HR, only to some extent, and I would attribute 75% to 80% of HR to people management instead. If you’re only quoting processes and policies and not being with your people, that’s when you’re failing in HR.

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