What Does A Tech-Mahindra Phone Call Say About Indian IT Industry

Last week, voice recording of an HR executive firing an employee at Tech Mahindra, a big Indian IT company, went viral (as above). The employee was told that he is being fired not because of any performance issues, but because of 'cost optimisation'. He was told to resign by the end of the day, failing which he would be terminated the next day, and lose all his exit benefits and wouldn't even get a reference. When the employee pleaded it was too short a notice, he was told that the company can fire him summarily. When he sought an option to appeal, he told there was none.

After this went viral, many weighed in, converging on the consensus that while the company might have the rights to fire the employee, it was all too harsh. As for me, I thought it was coercive, and therefore, illegal: I can't see how a company can fire an employee on disciplinary grounds because he failed to resign as told. In America, this, aggregating the claims of all employees fired in this manner, would have made a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit.

Anand Mahindra, the Chairman of the company and a business leader who maintains an enlightened image, was quick to issue an apology on Twitter. His other Senior colleagues followed, in a damage control exercise. It is not known whether anyone has actually been disciplined or fired for this stupidity.

The essence of these apologies was that the manner of this firing was harsh, which undeniably it was. However, the commentary that followed accepted these firings as inevitable. The narrative coming out of Indian IT companies is that they have been caught out by 'convergence' of several factors - automation, productization, protectionism - and their business models are changing. They hope to become more nimble, move up the value chain and come up with innovative solutions. These firings, harsh as they may be, are steps towards that better, brighter future.

This narrative is of course going nowhere, as the call shows. Legalities aside, anyone listening into that call can't miss the contempt with which the employee was treated. At one point, he was told that he can't obviously appeal to the CEO (the question is, why not?). This is the layers of disdain that one sees on the Indian streets - the guys in the big cars treat the guys in small cars with contempt, who in turn treats the scooterwallah with contempt, who then treats the pedestrians with contempt, so on and so forth. Of course, Tech Mahindra can't become a magnet of world class talent tomorrow just by firing a few unfortunate employees at the bottom of the food chain. If spreadsheet savvy created great companies, world would have been a different place today. Clearly the company treats its employees like cattle and it is going nowhere with that culture.

Besides, the would-be super-innovator also seemed to have no idea of social media. Otherwise, why would it let lose an obviously untrained and emotionally-deficient HR Exec in a bullying match with its employees? Before they unleashed the best practices in firing that they may have learned from some American company they love to ape, why did they not realise that there is an entire cottage industry of 'how to fire people' in America? Well, the obvious answer is that they did not think about it. That should tell their customers how much they really understand about the world of social technologies.

The PR exercise that the Senior Execs are doing wouldn't save the company, as these will only obscure the broader issues of commitment and culture. Nothing changes in a big company unless the share prices plummet or the customers vote with their feet. The former will not happen because the spreadsheet boys will speak to spreadsheet boys and buy their theory of 'convergence', and miss the signs of decay. The latter will also not happen because the American customers were treating those Indian IT workers with funny accent as cattle in any case, and wouldn't care if a few thousands were fired. Until indeed, the whole edifice comes crushing down again.


Anonymous said…
Anand mahindra was not quick to apologize. Anand turned Nelsons eye on the unethical practices going on at Tech mahindra for almost 8-9years (since Satyam take over in 2009)
Initially Tech m used move people to bench and force them to age on bench for 45 days to create a paper trail and then used lock their Log in credentials and make them sign on blank white papers and ask them to leave campus and collect experience papers after two months and only basic pay was paid. Once LAN ID and email are locked, company used generate false paper trail of absconding employee/ or any other issue of choice (employee will be unaware of all the dirt heaped on him/her)

Now new idea has popped up in many Oune based companies, threaten people of career ruin thro nasscom skill registry or back ground reference check and force them to resign and seek immediate release and save the notice period money too.
The third and worst being used by bosses to get rid of non locals and potential competitors with in team is used in the present case, if the potential target is not fitting into the lay off criteria promote him and give hike so that he fits the criteria and then fire him.

The hiring practices of all Indian firms are aligned to keep out those aspirants who have been fired and not currently working and aged above forty, or having gaps in careers.

All this appears to big CON job . How come the top management who have no tech background drive the firm into digital age and employee with core tech background cant adopt to technology change. Whom they are trying to fool, the government, the Indian society which is bearing the burden of tax breaks to these unscrupulous companies in the name of employment creation . Time prime minister took hard look are corporate corruption.

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