Big Fish. Small Fish.

Two species growing in a competitive environment usually results in the dominating specie pushing its traits down on the peripheral one. This is as true in nature as it is in mixed employment markets with labor mobility. Take the Bangalore IT/Software market for example

In this milieu, it is a no-brainer that the red bubble will dominate the blue when the two are fishing from the same end of the talent pool. This creates a conflict straight off the bat for the blue guys. Blue bubble guys want to run lean teams where the focus is on depth and not so much breadth. Their business success comes from having the best developers, best designers, best data-center optimizer, best customer service reps. The blue companies promote greater autonomy, greater flexibility and more horizontal career options. Jason Fried of 37Signals wrote a great piece in Inc on why he runs a flat company (impressed by his writing, I purchased and started reading his book “Rework”. Good work, Jason). In a strange sort of way the business success of the red bubble is quite the reverse of the blue. A services company creates fungibility in their resources so they can be deployed across projects and they want predictability over mavericks (imagine someone like Jason working for say CapGemeni). They also want to “make” their resources as senior as they can (within limits of reason, of course) because their billing to client is title driven in many cases. And it is imperative for these human resources to have people management skills – skills that do not focus on their domain as much as it does on managing people. The latter also leads the HR policies of the red bubble promote vertical career options aggressively.

This inherent business model conflict spills over to talent acquisition – and cultural fits – when these models co-exist in the same geographical area. And if that area happens to be in India, which is a rather hierarchical society, then the blue guys have the disadvantage of having to start with a poorly dealt hand. Companies in the product space in India face the challenge of employees looking at services companies and demanding an identical HR model – a square peg in a round hole essentially. Unfortunate as it is, the blue guys sometimes bring over senior management and HR specialists from these services companies, muddling even further the already muddy waters and worst, creating internal conflicts

It’s not all doom and gloom though. NASSCOM, the industry body in India, has been helping Product centric companies lately in making themselves, their differentiators and positioning more visible to the general audience. Niche consulting firms have been burning the midnight oil to ready the pitch and educate the industry in general. It may be early days to pass judgment whether things are reflecting the sought after change, but the effort surely is in place. Like all pioneers, the product centric companies that have braved the first – and inclement – winds have done exceptionally well in hanging on there – you have our respect.

PS: My colleague Mahesh Ramakrishnan, faced with this same challenge, had written this guest piece for the blog. Mahesh and I continue with our crusade.

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