SAP - Keep your developers by giving them everything they want

The stereotypical image of software developers in developing countries like India is that they will do anything to get a job in a large western company like SAP, the truth however is far different.


The stereotypical image of software developers in developing countries like India is that they will do anything to get a job in a large western company like SAP, the truth however is far different.

With a growing technology savvy middle class, western companies in India struggle to keep hold of their software developers as wages and perks improve year on year.

As the country pumps out hundreds of thousands of technology specialists from its universities each year, companies like SAP, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are competing to capture the best and to keep them.

SAP has had software development labs in India since the 1990s and its busy Bangalore operation is now pulling out all the stops to make sure it keeps its 4,000 staff happy.

Although the headcount has not gone up substantially in recent years - indicating a shift in development work to other labs with lower costs in other parts of the world - Bangalore is seen as a key development hub by the company.

At an international press visit to the operation this week, VR Ferose, managing director of SAP Labs India, said: "We are still a low-cost, high-talent operation, but more importantly a high-value one. Half our staff are doing core product development work with the rest doing support functions."

As the operation has no profit and loss responsibility the value of the operation had to be evaluated in other ways, said Ferose, who added: "If the shit hits the fan my neck is on the block."

Employee satisfaction and engagement is a key performance indicator for SAP Labs India, said Ferose, with half the staff surveyed each year to measure their satisfaction levels through 100 questions. This year 85% said they were satisfied - the highest figure amongst SAP's 15 software development operations across the world.

Staff attrition rates have also been brought right down too. In 2009, the staff attrition rate was 15-20%, in 2010 it was 18-19%. The following year it came down to 11-12%, and this year it is now running at only 7%.

Ferose said: "The most successful companies are the most democratic. I don't mean the staff electing the managing director or CEO, but being involved in the development of company policies."

For instance, said Ferose, it was noted that 69% of pregnant women at the labs left the company in 2007. When women were asked what they wanted to enable them to stay, they put a company creche at the top of their list.

So a subsidised creche was duly provided that could hold up 150 children. This week that creche was being used by 142 children and the percentage of women leaving the labs when becoming pregnant now stood at just 2%.

Ferose explained that when the labs opened in 1998 the average age of staff was about 26 so a creche was not thought about by management. It became an issue however when the average age of staff rose to 30 and more women became pregnant, but it took women staff to demand it.

Likewise, flexible working has also been driven by the staff. They wanted more working from home and part-time working - in the face of management oppostion, with many managers believing it would not be beneficial to the company.

As a compromise staff can now work up to one day a week from home if required. "You have to allow employees to drive change", Ferose said.

Special interest groups managed by the staff were also beneficial to the company he said, with 26 now set up covering anything from football and table tennis to bird watching and reading groups.

"You don't just throw money to employees to get the most out of them, you get them involved in the company and also get them involved socially, including activities outside the firm like charities."

He said, "Managers have said that staff have been involved in activities that don't increase productivity - the opposite is true, as we have found that people who have interests beyond work are the best performers."

It is also mandatory at SAP Labs India to do social service as part of the organisation's "month of service" every year.

Another key performance indicator for Ferose is media coverage. He said SAP Labs in India is currently mentioned 1.5 times a day in the Indian media and he wanted to drive this up further. "We have to be known as a brand as we are competing against the likes of Facebook and Google on the campuses - everyone is aiming to get the top engineers from the top colleges."

Other things SAP Labs India provides to its developers to help keep them:

  • Free food in closed and outside eating areas.
  • Health facilities to help staff with physical, mental and emotional issues, including counselling for those with relationship problems.
  • A convenience store that can deliver staff purchases to their desks.
  • A space for yoga.

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