Monday, January 7, 2013

Excuse, Apology and Job-Market Symptoms


Over the weekend, I had a fair bit of writing and editing to do. When done, I thought of surfing the channels on television. I heard recruitment specialists speak in near unison on a business television channel. Their views however fell between an apology and an excuse. The apology was for the job-seeker, and the excuse on behalf of their corporate customers. The excuse rationalised on behalf of their customers was that they could not find high quality skills anymore in India, where they once sourced hundreds of thousands of people with low-end skills! Media can become a mask for shadow play of the real actors, especially when the lights shine on sensational content.

Bangalore was bashed as the most unfriendly job-market location in India. IT and IT enabled services began to appear a desolate and forlorn sector. Even the financial sector in India seemed like a convenient adjacency to this trend. Retail and FMCG were accorded ‘sunrise’ status. While my words may seem like exaggeration, let us look at some possible explanations.
1.       Risk Classification : India’s IT sector was founded on services after a troubled history with vending home-grown products. Risk reduced, and risk- averse, scale in repeatable services became king to the cash piles. Services were premised on the availability of low-cost human resources. Scale became the enemy of relevant scope. In creeping  stealth, depth and expertise were systematically discouraged. IT and IT enabled services customers now see diminishing returns from such a service provider location."...(Amex), which outsources projects worth nearly $1 billion (around Rs.5,500 crore) a year to India, has stopped giving fresh work to its software vendors in the country, depriving them of millions of dollars in revenue in the December quarter"
2.       Intangible Assets : Awards, mementos and certifications were routine forms of congratulations. Despite professing to be in the knowledge economy, and claiming to be assessed on maturity of business processes, no disclosure of skills or competency based assets are in the public domain!  Specifications of skills and its visibility on ‘bio-data’ were signs of recruitment. And how facile the pattern was, as long as the predictability of demand for mere skills lasted. Capability is an intangible asset and tells on the experience clients have. Paper and screen may be tangible, but like the proverbial book cover, the story beneath could betray the cultivated image. 
3.       Measure is not Purpose : Leaders reigned if they had investment capital. The leaders reduced their purpose to operating margin comparisons in some firms. In other firms, they modified purpose to customer retention, even if it meant keeping below industry norms of profits and margins. Leadership in firms never culminated. Leadership is a capability that requires a distributed capacity to share aspirations and execute to a purpose bigger than themselves. “Often short-term solutions become part of a strategy of consistently avoiding deeper problems” said Peter Senge recently.

4.       Humans as Living Systems : Employees who had depth in skills and capability left home-grown enterprise for firms that valued their intellect. This often meant they opted for offshore units of foreign firms that had business operations in India. They value the ecosystem of their first-world employers more than the salary package."In the West, which is facing the task of reinventing its societies, we can anticipate that a more ecological approach will be needed. Firms and institutions will be increasingly viewed as ecologies, as sustainable complex systems" says David Hurst in his award winning article of 2012. 
5.       Experience, not transaction : Services are competed based on an experiential differentiation. Engagement with customers requires that bids are won not merely on capability. Deciding on how to engage with the client would be strategy. However, annual operating plans are often devoid of strategy, because they are reduced to a shade of the past – operating margins at the cost of capability that targets a market.
Job market trends are symptoms of an economic system, although the job seeker is a system in himself or herself. We need more loops of thinking than the immediate linear ones. Open organisations can integrate economic, ecological and employee goals. The need for the virtuous cycle is not complete if we discourage feedback in loops that affect outcomes. The medium is a vehicle, not the purpose. The television remote is for the viewer, not the producer, the featured or the feature! Which button can rescue you from this loop?