No Rules for the Indian Process Industry

I finished reading ‘No Rules Rules!’ a book by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyers on the culture at Netflix a couple of weeks ago. It analyzes in detail a lot of things that Netflix does – or doesn’t do – which are counterintuitive. For example, they have unlimited vacation days, no T&E policy, and employees are expected to assume end-to-end ownership including being financial signatories to their own projects. Hastings and Meyers talk about the evolution of this culture and what makes it possible and in doing so, offer a roadmap to companies looking to be more agile. One would assume that employees would end up misusing privileges such as unlimited vacation days but that’s where Hastings proves everyone wrong; according to him, when you staff your teams with high performers, pay them top-of-the-market salaries, empower them and trust them to do their jobs, you don’t need formal policies. One could argue that such utopian – even cult-like – cultures are possible within the context of the world that Netflix operates in, but the book did provide a lot of food for thought for the world where I reside – the Indian process outsourcing industry. And out of the many things that I thought I’d jot down, there are two that I particularly want to cover.

The Indian process outsourcing industry has been built on the back of the principles of division of labor and specialization, i.e. one person performing a set of specialized tasks that contribute to the larger whole. This approach had obvious advantages and made sense for jobs that were repetitive in nature – on assembly lines and across the manufacturing industry, specifically during the industrial revolution. But in a world where most of these repetitive tasks – across industries – are being lost to automation, these principles do not hold any weight. Companies are now rushing to reskills associates who have spent years delivering one task, which will eventually feel the full wrath of automation. The point I’m trying to make is this: the minute you tell someone that they have to do just one task every day for the rest of their time in the company, a sense of myopia sets in. The unfortunate fallout of building an industry on such principles is that its constituents know how to that job – and only that job – well. They fail to connect the dots, build a larger picture, and see how their work helps the company increase its top-line or bottom-line. That is something that companies in this space also need to address as they go about preparing for the future.

The other aspect that I thought I’d address was the architecture of the workspaces we’ve built for delivering services to our clients. A lot of the offices and delivery floors that I’ve seen in my short career are variations of an architectural design called a panopticon. It was a popular design choice during the industrial revolution and was meant to give the workers on the factory floor the impression of being watched, thus increasing their productivity – something referred to as the Hawthorne effect.

In the context of process outsourcing – specifically, live front-end processes – delivery floors often have raised platforms – modern-day variation of the panopticon – which are used by support roles that monitor associate behavior against service levels required by clients. While this encourages associates to close contacts and cases as quickly as possible, the emphasis is never really on the outcome of that contact. Do we really need such panopticons? If we move to an outcome-led model of service delivery, can we re-design delivery floors that scream, “I don’t trust you to do your job?” What happens to those raised platforms and those roles that yell, “Wrap it up!” in a work-from-home environment? And more importantly, what will a delivery floor in the post-Covid world look like?

My vision of an outcome-led model looks a little like this chat between an Amazon customer service representative pretending to be Thor and the customer pretending to be Odin. And my vision of a post-pandemic office looks a little like the office floor of Anne Hathaway’s startup in The Intern 🙂


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