East to the Future: Global Professional Services Firm

An India-based global professional services firm was known for relocating entire business functions—everything from Financial Services to IT—to lower-cost locations and passing on savings to its clients. But when clients of this 33,000-employee strong business process outsourcing (BPO) powerhouse started to do some of the legwork themselves, the company realized it needed a new competitive edge. At the same time, as the organization was planning its 2007 IPO, the firm was forced to deal with an increasingly saturated home market.

Even as the firm was rapidly expanding into Mexico, China and Eastern Europe, more and more Western companies were building their own operations in India rather than outsourcing. The industry’s old-line product offerings were becoming saturated, too, with close substitutes and similar technology. Meanwhile, they struggled against its reputation as “only” a BPO—a company presumed to be trapped in an endless round of offering repetitive, low-value services.

Acquisitions drove some growth and increased service offerings, and the firm also started experimenting with Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), downplaying lower-valued services in favor of writing software, doing primary and secondary research, statistical modeling, analytics, finance and accounting.

Some of the business challenges associated with this ascent were familiar: sustaining wage arbitrage; controlling inflation; attracting and keeping talent. But new challenges emerged too: internal capability gaps; shifts in sales and branding; and most importantly, the need to push the culture toward risk-taking and innovation. The workforce needed to deepen existing relationships, learn to partner rather than contract, and be more proactive with clients.

Senior management realized that education, not just training, was part of the answer.  the firm had already spent US$12 million on training in 2006, but the new KPO mindset demanded less technical, more leadership-oriented content.

The company expected and demanded superior performance and commitment to core values, and the firm needed educators who were global subject matter experts with relevant industry experience, and non-traditional program designs that would include high-engagement activities.  It was imperative that employees develop a global mindset, be well engaged, and understand the new business model.  And finally—given a war for talent stretching far beyond the Indian subcontinent—they needed to remain the employer of choice.

Duke CE envisioned the task as “helping to fill the leadership pipeline during a period of rapid growth, and increasing the probability that wherever the future takes them, they’ll succeed.”

Diagnostic interviews highlighted and clarified the requirements, resulting in a two-week course delivered to a target population segmented by capabilities and needs.

The first half examined strategy, customer focus, and financial acumen, and included a session in which participants put the firm senior management “on trial” to evaluate performance against strategic goals and preparedness for the changing environment.     The second half, focused on leadership, ended with a business simulation. Through role plays, case studies, and “learning by doing,” participants put the learning into practice in a safe setting.

“Before I used to think more about how we get additional business,” said the firm’s Service Delivery Manager. “Now I think more on how I can help a customer to build a better process.”

Follow up from leaders was impressive.  The President and CEO of the firm’s Latin America  observed, “People are latching onto delighting customers versus satisfying them, the importance of finance, understanding personal and team goals and the dynamics of teams and functions.”

The firms’s learning program has remained dynamic. Course attendees are not ushered toward some predefined final stage, but to their next stage—where they are crafting their own solutions.