Dec 16, 2011

NetApp India's focus on building a great culture

Some weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Vikram Shah, President of NetApp India where he shared the focus NetApp India (and worldwide) places on building culture and developing their people (they are in the top 10 Great Places to Work in various countries – including India). I met him on the sidelines of a NetApp training session called T.O.A.S.T. (which stands for Training On All Special Things !) – where all the 800 people who had been recruited over the last year came together and interacted with the company’s worldwide leaders who had flown in from all around the world. 

That was something special – not many companies fly down their top leaders including the worldwide head  to interact with ALL new joinees once a year. Typically such trainings/interactions are restricted to handpicked “high potential” employees. A word about NetApp – they are in the computer storage and data management business, competing against the likes of EMC and Seagate as well as the storage businesses of IBM and HP. NetApp India has been growing exponentially almost doubling this year to 1900 employees from last year’s 1100.

When I asked Vikram how does he hire so many people in such a niche industry, he shared that 45% of their hires come via referrals from existing employees. And they come from allied industries like chips and networking – spurred by their friends’ sharing of the culture at NetApp.

Vikram shared that values are the bedrock of NetApp and employees commit to it every day and at every opportunity. When I asked him to explain what he meant by values, he shared that it meant adding value to employees, customers, partners and society as a whole. He said that ethical behavior is critical and he addresses all new joinees in the first month stressing the fact that they have to behave ethically and legally. In the interview stage if they suspect a great performer hadn’t achieved his success in an ethical manner they would rather not hire the person.

"Employee engagement is a key focus. Be it in terms of contests , soliciting feedback on issues like talent development or initiatives that they would like to either steer themselves or make a recommendation – there are different forums that they can utilize. We have an effective Intranet where employees can brainstorm an idea, discuss an issue, post videos, upload pictures etc. NetApp encourages a healthy dialogue within employees as that promotes a collaborative culture."

How does NetApp ensure that managers and supervisors also focus on values and ethics, I asked Vikram. He shared there are various interventions like Brown Bags, Manager’s Round Table to surface issues.  "To recognize and celebrate our employees' dedication to delivering outstanding results, we have Living Our Values Awards. The Living Our Values Awards are given to NetApp employees or teams around the globe who are inspiring examples of living the NetApp values and who "go beyond" for our constituent groups. Nominations for the awards are submitted by employees for a peer/colleague whom they perceive to be the embodiment of NetApp Values. Employees share the stories of the people they work with who demonstrate immense enthusiasm, passion and commitment in whatever they task they undertake."

On being asked why the focus on culture and values, Vikram shared that it impacts the bottom-line of the business in the long term. It helps to open the doors of clients and the constant feedback that customers give is that NetApp employees are easy to work with. "Our engineers and product managers regularly interact with the customers to understand what business challenges they face and their future needs. Such interaction helps us work towards customer-focused product engineering; customer delight is very important to us."

It all sounded hunky dory so I asked what happens when an employee is struggling due to work, how does NetApp support him/her?

Vikram shared an amazing practice. He said every day, he sends a list of such employees to the Vice-Chairman of the firm who makes a call to all such employees, giving a word of encouragement and support! Vikram shared that it often acted as a huge source of inspiration for people stuck in a tough situation at work. The Vice – Chairman calls up employees who have been “caught doing the right thing” to appreciate their efforts towards making NetApp a Great Place to Work. In India, NetApp understands the importance of family to the employee – hence whenever a new employee joins the company, Vikram sends a a personally signed letter to the spouse (if married) or the parents (if not married). In fact, they once gave annual gifts to all the employees’ spouses saying “Thanks for supporting your spouse for their work at NetApp” I can imagine that impacting the attrition rates at a company :-). Vikram will be sending out personally signed New Year Greetings cards to the families of employees this December

 NetApp in keeping with its value of positively impacting society gives 5 paid days off for employees to do volunteering work via the CSR program called ‘VTO on the GO!’ ( Voluntary Time Off). Leaders and employees come together to offer their time to a community service. "In December we will be having an Executive Chef Day where the leadership team will take over the cafeteria and will be serving lunch to employees. The proceeds from lunch will go towards sponsoring the ILP educational visit and the ‘Habitat for Humanity Magic Build’ for December 2011." shared Vikram

(Disclaimer: I was reached out to by NetApp's communication team. However I was not compensated by cash or kind in any way for this post. The only thing NetApp team did was send me a car to navigate the insane Bangalore traffic to reach the venue :-))