Concerned about the damage that staff turnover could do to the company's knowledge base, Qimpro Innovation award 2008 winner Sona Koyo Steering Systems transformed its exit interviews into ''stay interviews''. Employee morale rose, says Arundhuti Dasgupta.
Hari Nair, assistant vice president (HR) of Sona Koyo Steering Systems, the company that was awarded the Qimpro Innovation award 2008 last week, does not flinch from hard talk. ''In my industry, the turnover rate is very high and we were losing trained staff to our competitors. But I was more worried about the large amount of knowledge that was being lost'', he says.
This was about six years ago at a time when the automobile ancillary industry turnover rates were close to 32 per cent and for Sona Koyo, about 13 per cent. Nair and his colleagues felt it was time to think differently or, to use a well-worn cliché, think out of the box.
Understanding the problem
Three members of the HR function, Hari Nair, Rahul Kumar and Priyanka Singh, approached the company's newly set up innovation team for assistance. The team, made up of six to eight members, was part of the company's efforts at institutionalising innovation. It has since overseen several new projects and product development efforts. People volunteer to be on the team and most of them, Hari Nair says, ''have the unique ability to think crazy''.
The innovation team and the HR representatives worked closely for months; soon it was evident to all that they would need to look for multiple solutions to the problem of attrition. The challenge would be to come up with a process that would allow a solution to evolve rather than set it down as a diktat from the top.
As a first step, it was decided to co-opt the HR function into the innovation practice. This meant that HR representatives would be a part of the innovation process of the organisation. This would ensure that the objectives of the innovation team and the projects they nurtured were closely aligned with that of the company.
The result was a unique solution that has allowed the company to bring its attrition rate down to 8 per cent from 13 per cent and as Nair proudly points out, to less than 2 per cent in the HR department.
Implementing the solution
After months of dialogue with executives from all functions, it was found that employees in the experience band of six months to three years were the most mobile. It was decided that the best way forward would be a completely new look at the attrition problem, keeping in mind the unique needs of the people who were leaving.
The old way was to conduct exit interviews where the person would be advised and counselled to do otherwise. These interviews also doubled up as grievance sessions where employees often spoke about their problems. This, it was felt, was a reactive approach. Instead, the solution that came up suggested, that the HR team introduce the concept of 'stay interviews'.
Stay interviews, apart from a change in nomenclature, meant a change in the way the company viewed its employees. The signal being sent out was that the company cared about the problems of its employees at all times and not just when they were leaving.
The stay interviews were then embedded into a macro practice (see chart). Under this, the HR representative would identify the executives with help from the unit or department heads and conduct a preliminary interview, typically telephonic. This would be followed up by a one-one interview where all the criticisms and problems would be documented. These would be shared with the senior members of his/her unit and appropriate action initiated thereafter.
The impact of the above solution has been tremendous, not just in terms of a decline in the number of people leaving but as an organisational morale booster. Employees have responded well to the initiative, says Hari Nair. More importantly, the organisation is able to protect and direct its intellectual property development so as to derive maximum benefit from its efforts.