Prasanna Pokhrel: Retaining an employee for 20 years has now become irrelevantEstablished in 1999, Vianet currently serves more than 75,000 customers with over 150 customer service operation contact centres.
With a history of nearly 20 years, Vianet is one Internet Service Provider (ISP) that’s been serving the Nepali public ever since the internet was brought to Nepal. Established in 1999, Vianet currently serves more than 75,000 customers with over 150 customer service operation contact centres. Behind this ISP is Prasanna Pokhrel, Vianet CEO, who started his career in the audit and accountancy field. After working with international companies like EXL and IBM, where he was exposed to high standards in quality and process, Pokhrel gravitated towards the world of operations. In his two years as CEO, Pokhrel has focussed on improving processes, streamlining areas which were performing below optimal levels, and making significant improvements to the organisation to enhance customer experience. In an interview with Krishana Prasain, Pokhrel spoke about the human resource situation in the information and technology sector and Vianet’s people management processes. Excerpts:
What do you think is behind the great demand for human resource in information and communication field?
We are in a state of convergence where human interaction is enmeshed with information technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchains and clouds. Given how significant this entanglement of technology with human lives has become for communication in every sector, we’ve been observing an extremely high demand for technology-centred resources.
Is this demand in the IT sector being met? What is the supply like?
The supply side is somehow limited, due to a high turnover and gaps between industry demand and academic qualifications. Most students are pursuing their studies and careers outside of Nepal, as there is high demand for IT professionals abroad, which in turn is resulting in a lack of skilled manpower here. But there is also a gap between the requirements of the industry and the human resource we are receiving from educational institutions. We are not getting quality IT resources. Though graduates are technically sound, they are not really aggressive with operational demand.
How many people currently work for Vianet? What is Vianet’s human resource situation like?
Vianet is one big family of 11,050 people. We have got a fully functional human resource department, which is looking after corporate HR, learning and development, which includes training, career progression as well as employee engagement, and employee retention. There are separate units that look after the employee’s life cycle, from sourcing to exit and transition. As we are a service-oriented industry, there is no way we can overlook the development of human resource, because that forms the core of our delivery mechanism—whether it’s people in the field or engineers, resources at the front desk, or customer service contact care. We aim to strengthen how our human resources come across to the customer.
If young IT graduates want to join Vianet, how can they go about it?
Apart from educational criteria, we look for a willingness to learn because IT, like any other sector, is in a state of convergence. New technologies are coming in and old technologies are becoming redundant. So how fast you can learn, unlearn and relearn new concepts forms the core of how quickly the organisation is going to transition or make progress. So an important trait is a willingness to learn and take on new responsibility. Likewise, a cross-boundary approach is the next key factor that we look for. Keeping an employee straight-jacketed to one functional area has become irrelevant; now, we want employees who are able to transcend and look beyond silos or functional areas, and look at the overall picture. Rather than the history of the employee, I would look at the potential of the employee—is this employee aligned with the way Vianet will be thinking five years from now? Does the candidate have the right core values, ethics, and vision? Does the potential employee project positive energy?
IT is a very human resource-intensive field. What are Vianet’s strategies for managing and retaining human resources?
I think that traditional retention has become somewhat irrelevant. The youth of today move to seven or eight companies in their entire employment lifecycle. Trying to retain employees for 20 years is irrelevant. We should focus on mutual value addition from the company’s standpoint and the resource standpoint. Even if the resource is there for a short-term period, both sides need to look at the value the employee is going to bring to the table, and the value that the organisation is going to add to the employee. I consider it a bad sign to lose good quality resources at a suboptimal return, because the employee has invested time in the organisation and the organisation has invested training in the employee.
In your experience, what makes a good employee?
The employee’s alignment with the company’s values and ethics. If the employee does not share the company’s values, no matter how good the employee is, they are not going to carry on beyond a certain point in time. A willingness to learn and explore new ventures, functions and technologies, along with the ability to absorb setbacks where things don’t go right and bounce back from those situations are other factors that make good employees.
What advice do you have for young people who want to join a company like Vianet?
I would advise them to come with an open mind and with a spirit to explore, experiment and learn tonnes of things—which can range from customer experience and deep data analytics to top of the line technology. If you have that in your veins, and if that excites you, the sky’s the limit if you join Vianet.