HR in India: A Fast-Growing Market Focused On People Development and Culture

India is an amazing country. I just spent a week there meeting with clients and talking at the PeopleMatters HR Tech 18 conference and came home excited and invigorated.

In this article let me briefly give you some things to think about.

1/ India is the Fastest Growing Economy in the World.  So Talent Demand is High.

India’s economy is like a rocket ship. Its GDP is now growing at 7.4% and is expected to grow faster in 2019, driven by an increasing focus on education, infrastructure, and capital formation. I spent a few days in Mumbai and Delhi and everywhere you go there is construction, growth, and economic vitality. The country is dominated by tens of thousands of small businesses and merchants, and a set of globally diversified companies that provide infrastructure, energy, raw materials, transportation, and other major goods and services.

While the country’s economy is only $2.3 trillion in size (the US economy is $18.6 trillion and China is $11.2 trillion), the growth rate is staggering. As you can see from this chart India is almost twice the GDP of Russia and will soon be a bigger economy than the UK.

With such a fast-growing economy, the country suffers from many of the same challenges we have here. (Read about The Ugly Side of the Low Unemployment Rate) Research indicates the country’s unemployment rate is 3.5%, which is astoundingly low – but this is misleading. While there are many jobs for skilled, educated workers but there are places where the unskilled workers cannot find jobs. Like the US, small cities and rural counties have much lower rates of work, so there are challenges in upward mobility.

That said, if you look at the Gini index (index of income inequality, with higher numbers as bad), India’s Gini index is around 35, while the US’s Gini index is around 42. So while India has plenty of issues with poverty, we have an even more uneven distribution of wealth here in the United States.

Many of the professionals I met with change jobs very frequently, so there is a big focus on employee development, career management, and the need to revitalize the work environment to create well-being, growth, and management skills.  (Just like what’s going on here.)

2/ HR Leaders Focus on Development 

Unlike the United States, where L&D budgets are often fleeting and hard to maintain, in India the focus on upskilling and development is pervasive. Every client I met with is interested in improving their learning culture, looking for a lower cost way to build skills, and wants new tools to facilitate career growth. 

One of the companies I met with is a highly regarded outsourcing and call center operator. This company, which is one of the best-run outsourcers in India, has an entire portal focused on development and career mobility and they expect their employees to develop themselves every year. The performance management process is heavily weighted toward development, largely because the company is going through massive amounts of automation and jobs are changing quickly. They are one of the most highly rated employers among their peers in Glassdoor.

I met with two of India’s pharmaceutical companies and both are focused on building a stronger learning culture. The CHROs and their teams are actively seeking out better learning technology and both give employees rewards and recognition for improving their skills.

As I met with one of India’s fastest growing telecommunications companies, again the topic focused on skills. This company is hiring people as fast as they can, but they cannot train them fast enough. They, like others, are experimenting with various forms of mentorship and mobile learning solutions, and now hold their managers responsible for continuous development. 

And as I spent time with many of India’s largest electric utilities and energy companies, I found a focus not only on skills development but also a pioneering approach: they partner with universities to develop leaders and technical skills; they have built their own Virtual Reality based learning programs to simulate plant experiences; and they reward and list employees for their focus on skills development.

3/ HR Technology in India Is Different

HR technology budgets in India are limited, so vendors like Workday, Oracle, and SAP are less popular. While many of the major vendors are all there (I met with Pymetrics, LinkedIn, Facebook, Skillsoft, Degreed, EdCast, ADP, SuccessFactors, Indeed), there are India-specific HR platform providers like PeopleStrong and Darwinbox and Keka who provide end-to-end cloud-based HRM locally. And many companies build their own software. I know that sounds odd, but engineering expertise is inexpensive, so is still a lot of homegrown software.

That said, the local, India-led, HR technology market is heating up. I must have seen almost 100 vendors at the conference and at least a third of them are local Indian companies. Several vendors, for example, have innovative new ways of measuring employee engagement, using AI and analytics to correlate many forms of data (HONO and Hyphen). Another has developed a voice recognition system that understands language, age, and stress among callers – and is now using it to improve HR self-service. A third is focused on managing CSR and volunteer activities (Goodera). There are quite a few vendors selling training and various forms of leadership development (SimpliLearn) and quite a few next-gen recruitment tools (TalView,, TalentRecruit). There are more intelligent chat bots (Senseforth and Chatteron) and lots of tools for perks (Pine Labs, Happay) and other rewards providers. 

In India AI and software expertise is fairly easy to find, so many of the innovators here start with AI-driven solutions. I saw the very first chat-driven HCM system in India two years ago in fact. 

And there’s no question some of these vendors will thrive – engineers in India can become tremendous leaders. Remember that the CEOs of Microsoft (Satya Nadella) and Google (Sundar Pichai) are both Indian, so there is plenty of ambition, intelligence, and education in the country.

4/ Culture Is Critical and Highly Valued

In the United States we talk about organizational culture as a feature. It’s something we worry about when times get tough, but it’s often a topic put aside when the market is growing fast. In India, I would venture to say, organizational culture is critical. The country is crowded and developing fast, so people talk a lot about the culture of their employer.

I was in a series of meetings with young professionals and mentioned many of the companies I was meeting with. In conversation, we had an open discussion of what that company was like to work for, their reputation for employee development, and how well their CEO is regarded. It’s a common discussion and easily comes up in conversation, because culture really matters.

I don’t know if this is because of who I met, because of the Hindu religion, or perhaps it’s my own filter on life – but for me, India has a warm and caring culture. It’s crowded and often underdeveloped, but people are respectful, polite, and kind. Business leaders feel a responsibility for developing the country, and this creates a focus on employees. 

The lesson here is simple: in a fast growing economy a focus on culture and people pays off. Companies like Taj Hotel Group, Aditya Birla Group, Adani Group, Reliance, Lupin, Dr. Reddy’s, Godrej, Genpact, and many others are mission-driven organizations focused on helping the Indian economy thrive. Their investment in culture, employee development, and careers is real, and something we can all learn from.