Virtusa tunes into GenY with home-grown social media hub

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne September 1, 2014
In the first of her new weekly HCM-focused articles, Janine Milne looks at the success enjoyed by Virtusa in using social media to meet the needs of a Gen Y workforce.

[sws_grey_box box_size="690"]SUMMARY - In the first of her new weekly HCM-focused content, our new contributor Janine Milne looks at the success enjoyed by Virtusa in using social media to meet the needs of a Gen Y workforce.   [/sws_grey_box]

Rather than expect employees to fit in with its working practices, global IT services company Virtusa has changed the way the business operates to feed the needs of its young, social media dependent workforce.

Key to this change is the creation of a home-grown social business platform, V+, which its 8,000-plus global employees use to work, learn, collaborate and innovate. Together with social practices, such as gaming, crowd sourcing, badges and leader boards, social media technology is being used to motivate and engage staff performance.

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Janine Milne

The impetus for change began three years ago, when an engagement survey revealed many employees were bored by conference calls and other typical working practices. A breakdown of workforce demographics revealed 86% were digital natives, born after 1980. These younger employees came with a different set of demanding work expectations. For one thing, they didn’t distinguish between work and home technology and using social networks was as much a daily routine as brushing teeth.

This immersion in social media also contributed to a disregard of hierarchy: they were used to asking for advice or opinion from all quarters. Virtusa also identified that these digital natives wanted more feedback and flexibility at work and to be motivated to improve and be rewarded for their efforts.

What that really boiled down to, recalls Sundararajan Narayanan, global head of HR at Virtusa, is that they wanted:

Something cool, mobile, with a forum to chat and be online.

Virtusa quickly recognised that meeting this employee wish-list would require more than simply cladding their existing infrastructure with a few social media extras: a social platform needed to be at the hub of the business.

Rather than buy something off-the-shelf, Virtusa decided to build its own in-house social platform. Using internal teams meant that changes and feedback could be easily incorporated into development and also reinforced the message that this was an inclusive company, where all staff had a voice.

There was also a very pragmatic reason for taking on the project in-house, as Narayanan explains:

When we looked at doing this, there was no complete package available, and even if there had been one, it would have needed customisation.

Narayanan, notes, however, that Yammer is bundled into V+, acting as an in-house Facebook. Today, 98% of employees are using Yammer.

V+ includes a video-sharing network and an ideas sharing portal (V-Innovate) among its features, but a key aim was of the social media bias was to improve communication between management and employees.

The benefits

Today, communication between senior leadership and team members happens through the online portal. Every quarter for the last eight quarters, the chief executive and executive team discusses earnings, strategy, revenue growth using the portal, enabling staff globally to pose questions.

Performance management is one area that has been revitalised by using social media. While a traditional performance management system measures outcomes, it doesn’t give a true reflection of what someone is really like to work with and the opinion of their co-workers, believes Narayanan.

Instead of recognising employees formally and quarterly, recognition is now more immediate. The ‘rave’ system enables employees to recognise and thank co-workers for their help. About 4,000 raves are made each month and these feed into individual performance appraisals.

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Sundararajan Narayanan

Employees are also recognised through a badging system, awarded for a range of things, from being a ‘tech wizard’ to a ‘super-helper’. The competition to gain badges not only produces a feel-good factor, but significantly, helps improve collaboration.

Narayanan points out:

When you give people social media, the energy level is high and there are higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. It’s very immediate.

Another key aspect of performance management has also been changed by introducing a leader board system. HR staff used to spend weeks badgering departments to complete their performance management assessments.

But, last quarter, Virtusa set up a leadership board across the different locations to see which individual, group and location could finish the process faster.

The leadership board was updated every few hours and everyone could see which areas were doing well or slacking. Narayanan enthuses:

It created a fantastic culture of competition.

It also was an effective team-building tool. Individuals could see that their efforts helped their work group and ultimately location improve its position on the leadership board. But the best thing of all from an HR perspective was the 11/2 month completion cycle was slashed to just 10 days, and as Narayana observes:

It used to take an HR team of close to 30 people to constantly follow up people and get them to complete their forms, which frees them up now to do other more quality activities.


Virtusa has created leader boards for all types of activity from code quality to compliance. As well as improving quality and speed for projects, it also helps identify potential problems, such pinpointing disaffected staff members who aren’t engaging, prompting managers to find ways to try and re-energise those individuals. As a result, retention rates improved.

The next step is to tackle recruitment and on-boarding. Virtusa already has an arsenal of videos available for new recruits and other employees to build up or refresh their skills, but this aims to open up communication to recruits before they join the company. Recruits will be able to talk to leaders about potential projects they might work on, for example, so that they will be up to speed far faster. Narayanan says:

It takes a long time before someone is useful when they join a company, so why not start the engagement and communication before they join? Research shows that when a new person joins, there’s a three month time frame after that engagement drops.

Narayanan hopes that this will help maintain engagement levels as well as ensure new recruits hit the ground running.

While adopting a social media outlook in such a wholesale fashion has changed business practices, Narayanan stresses that this did not require a radical rethink in company culture. Technology has merely been the enabler, as Narayanan concludes:

It has always been a team-oriented culture, but it has improved because of this process.


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