High Skilled Talent Retention through Journal Clubs
Peeta Basa Pati, Salaka Sivananda
Cognizant Technology Solutions, Bangalore, INDIA
Human capital is the key to organizational efficiency and therefore, HR department & Functional
managers are looking for new ways to acquire & retain talent in tough markets.
Meeting & sustaining the ever growing demands of good talent in IT industry is a big challenge with
employees constantly looking to up-skill their knowhow through challenging assignments and looking for
Economic downturns create a chaotic situation for the IT industry. Curtailments of existing and new
projects reduce employee engagement causing severe concerns such as head-count reductions &
insecurity. However, some organizations devised innovative strategies to engage employees in
productive activities. Such efforts have resulted in improved employee morale, loyalty & satisfaction, while
also strengthening the organization’s IP portfolio.
One way to keep employees engaged during these times is to conduct journal clubs. In these clubs
employees study research papers from various scientific / technical journals and share the learning with
their peers. The benefits from this are:
1. Stimulates intellectually and helps stay in touch with cutting edge research
2. Improves the interpersonal communication and soft skills
3. Promotes networking & team spirit
4. Explore new ideas and innovation
Investment in the employees’ learning & development is seen as a promising sign of the organization’s
commitment. Employees demonstrate a new zeal to generate tangible outcomes, thereby potentially
contributing to the organization’s IP portfolio.
This paper presents a case study of implementation of this technique. It was observed that once the club
was created and made functional, the motivation level of the employees improved with enhanced levels of
commitment to work and organization.
Journal club, talent retention, employee engagement
The IT industry is heavily influenced by the global economy and growing competition from other nations.
The economic swings lead to increased competition amongst the industry’s champions to consolidate
their existing customer base, while looking forward to add new clientele. Retaining high customer
satisfaction demands successful delivery & relationship. For successful delivery it is essential for the
organization to have good & motivated talent with the right skills & attitudes.
Employees who stay with an organization for long attribute their loyalty to some of the following reasons
(and not limited to): employee-friendly work environment & policies, technically challenging assignments,
promising client line-up, talent improvement avenues, and attractive compensation & benefits. In this
paper, the focus shall remain on talent management & encouragement.
Talent retention & growth is a hot topic in most forward looking IT organizations. People at different levels
are given various avenues of improving their technical, managerial, and soft skills. Trainings (classroom
or computer-based), workshops, seminars & conferences are the most prominent options.
In large IT services organizations, people resources are usually allocated to a project. Upon completion of
a project they are either moved to another instantly or wait in anticipation of another forthcoming. While
on a project, the technical trainings are more focused towards the specifics for that project. Functional
managers demand custom trainings oriented towards project-specific needs to be arranged for their
teams. Additionally, subject-matter-experts within the organization may be tapped for informal insights.
When off a project, employees are expected to cross-skill or up-skill so that they become deployable.
Talent managers have an agenda every year to ensure that across the organization a standard set of
trainings are conducted basis the general feedback obtained from across teams.
Besides the regular streams of learning, having ad-hoc programs with a focus on specific topics can be
great motivators. One such exercise was of having a journal club which chose a particular topic for a
collective study & analysis to understand it better in a shorter time span. The topics could range from
technical, managerial, leadership, communication or other soft skills.
The objectives were multi-fold regardless of whether the topic was technical or otherwise:
1. Sourcing inputs through collective participation of the group
2. Preparatory brainstorming to arrive at a common consensus of understanding
3. Make a formal presentation to the group and invite questions / debates
4. Receive feedback for further analysis with a time-bound action plan to re-present
CHALLENGES OF TALENT RETENTION
Knowledge-workers are the key to the IT industry. A constant and consistent effort to encourage, tap and
promote the knowledge potential is very essential to retain talent. Quality of talent in an organization has
a direct impact on its deliverables that will determine customer satisfaction and hence growth. Forward
looking organizations ensure that customer satisfaction and employee job satisfaction are maintained at
Good job satisfaction levels reflect strongly in retention of skilled employees in any organization . Such
employees being under-utilized due to projects getting delayed or cancelled poses a huge risk of
demotivation, heightens sense of insecurity and will have a spiraling impact on productivity. Talent &
functional managers need to actively engage with them and ensure their readiness for new challenges.
Learning needs are usually driven by: (i) company mandated, (ii) project needs, (iii) personal aspirations
of the individual employee. The organization’s learning channels & modes have to provide ample support
for the employees to accomplish their various learning needs in a timely manner.
Concerns of Employees
1. How to keep up with latest technologies?
2. How to become a subject matter expert on specific technologies?
3. How to demonstrate that delivery quality is above expectations of the client?
4. How best to impress upon client / manager and improve selection opportunities to better
prospects (roles, perquisites, etc.)?
5. How to share knowledge with peers & subordinates and empower them to perform better & make
the team stronger?
Concerns of Managers
1. How to build a right-skilled team?
2. What new skills to be developed for new challenges, and by when?
3. How to keep team motivated through active learning?
4. How to ensure that learning is put into actual practice through innovative delivery?
Concerns of Organization
1. Are the projects progressing on the right track?
2. Is the client happy with the team’s capabilities, processes, and deliverables? Is the client
satisfaction score reflecting any concerns? If so, what is the remediation plan to mitigate those
3. Is the employee satisfaction score reflecting on the good side? Are the concerns captured
appropriately and timely remediation plans being put in place?
4. How to ensure the appropriate learning opportunities are facilitated at different levels of people?
Talent management & retention is one of the primary focus areas consistently for any organization. Given
the challenge that the global economics influence the growth prospects, it is vital that the existing
employee pool is nurtured better while efforts to recruit new talent continue. One of the key aspects of
ensuring job satisfaction is based on the perception of what measures an organization is taking towards
employee’s growth .
Learning forms an integral element of talent management. Basis the level & role of a person and the
project needs, employees need to replenish their learning and hone their skills. Reputed employers
provide multiple avenues of learning – classroom, audio-video, conferences & workshops. Additionally,
custom trainings may be conducted on specific technologies basis project-specific-needs.
Given the nature of client that employees connect with and the frequency, it is important to cover
technical, communication, & managerial trainings – the percentage of each of them may vary basis the
employee’s maturity & experience. While some may be conducted in-house, others may depend on
Structured trainings definitely have their inherent benefits basis the content and the trainer’s capability to
deliver. And, unstructured programs conducted efficiently could also be a good source of learning
resulting in positive outcomes. Some of the unstructured programs include:
1. Mentoring interns/campus trainees 
2. Journal clubs
3. Orator clubs for extempore speeches, group discussions, debates
About Journal Club
Journal clubs have been a source of constant learning and knowledge sharing across different forums. It
is widely practiced in university research labs where the research & development work is volumetrically
more than in their industrial counter parts. This is an experience gained by the authors during their
research collaboration with universities .
Historically, there were mathematical circles in Russia. These circles worked on the principle that study of
mathematics can be as much fun and can generate equal levels of enthusiasm in participants as any
sports event . This helped spread the concepts of mathematics while popularizing the subject as a
stream of learning amongst the masses. A non-traditional teaching methodology was adopted that
encouraged the participants to relate the mathematical principles to their daily life situations, thereby
helped ingrain these concepts easily. It has been observed that the journal clubs help the participants in
multitude of ways.
1. People learn new concepts and principles in an interactive environment. This mode of learning
has been proven to be far more effective than the formal channels of imparting instructions. For
example, when one person spends 2 hours to learn a subject and shares the learning in an hour
with the group consisting of 8 people, (s)he saves about 15 hours effort for everyone to grasp the
2. A group discussion about the concepts learnt from a literature leads to new paradigms of
comprehension or knowledge application. This is because each person has a unique model of
interpretation and knowledge retention. Besides people have unique ways to relate concepts with
their life’s situations.
3. Such a club and discussions allow people to express themselves with their understandings and
ideas. This helps participants to understand each other better and discover the individual and
4. The club serves as forum for people to present and obtain feedback in real-time. This helps
improve their communication and leadership skills which also adds to the intellectual capital of the
5. A highly charged group discussing on new concepts allows innovation to flow far quicker than it
can happen otherwise. Thus, it enriches the intellectual property of the organization in a cost
Thus, the tangible and intangible benefits of a journal club are far greater than perceived and
A journal club can be implemented in following ways: (i) passive model, and (ii) active model.
In this model, the presenter presents the concepts in a forum followed by questions and answers,
whereby all gain. Examples of such model are tech-symposiums and conferences in an organization.
Typically the number of participants is larger, playing a passive role by listening. It gives the presenter to
express his/her ideas more than anyone else. This forum supports people with varying degrees of skills to
attend and gain as per their capacity and ability. The topics of discussion and presentation is decided /
approved by an organizing group. The event is well planned and organized. These events also need
management approvals and funding.
In an active model, the participants are less than or equal to 10. Such a group usually consists of similar-
skilled and like-minded people. The topics are chosen as per the group’s need & convenience. These
forums are much more participative in nature and the conducting of the session is charged with
discussions and debates. Such forums hardly need the management approval and its conduction relies
more on the employees’ time and less on any other resources.
In this work, the authors adapted a hybrid model, as shown in figure 1, combining the concepts from
passive and active, for implementation of the journal club in their organization. The senior members of the
team decided on the topics at large which are of interest to the organization in general and the group in
particular. The group then decided on the mechanism of exploration, selection and ownership of
presentation for each session. The group consisted of 8 people and the following roles were adopted.
1. Facilitator – a person responsible to conduct the sessions. The facilitator is responsible for all
activities related to the conducting of the meeting such as locating and deciding the place and
time, information sharing etc.
2. Presenter – one responsible for identifying a literature, study it and share the understanding.
3. Participants – listen to the presentation, discuss and debate the concepts and brainstorm on the
correlation of concepts to the organizational situations.
4. Scribe – is responsible to summarize the session, take notes of the proceedings and publish the
on topic &
the paper, studies &
Fig 1: Journal Club Workflow
There are tangible & intangible benefits obtained by forming a journal club. These benefits are realized by
both the individual employees and the organization as depicted in figure 2.
Broadly, tangible benefits are realized as better innovations, improved intellectual capital, IP creations,
new business ideas, lesser attrition and reduced training costs. Intangible benefits reflect as improved
employee morale, greater zeal & enthusiasm, better productivity & commitment.
Costs Better Business
New Proposals /
Fig 2: Benefits of Journal Clubs
The various beneficiaries are depicted in figure 3. While the direct beneficiaries are the participants
themselves, the relative outcomes benefit the organizational stakeholders. A successful program will
have multiple outcomes that may not just have recharged employees, but new ideas or innovations that
sprout may become value additions.
Team Manager /
Participants – Team
HR / Training
Fig 3: Beneficiaries of Journal Clubs
CASE STUDY – Cognizant Technology Solutions (http://www.cognizant.com/)
Cognizant (Cognizant Technology Solutions) offers technology and transactional services to clients
across different domains and geographies. On the technology front there are many teams working on
delivering products & components with cutting edge technology. To keep the projects flowing into the
organization, the concerned teams strive to attain customer delight through delivery of services that
always exceeds the expectations of the customers. To attain this, the teams adopt the principles of a
learning organization. At Cognizant continuous efforts are being made that leads to skill up-gradation and
IP creation. Budgetary constraints and current market conditions pose a challenge to both the above
The authors have implemented the concepts presented in this paper at their department. The team
consisted of 8 high-skilled members most of whom had post-graduate or equivalent degree in
engineering. The members are from a research & development team focused on activities such as
creating high-end modules involving algorithms, natural language processing, data analytics, IP creation
by disclosing patents, write & publish papers, interact with universities for collaborative research. With
market constraints appearing at beginning of 2012, project sponsor paid lesser attention to such activities
thus causing concern to the team. Some members contemplated quitting the organization as the support
for higher learning stopped and challenges diminished. The organization had offered cross-skilling the
members to take up delivery of application development projects which clearly were not to the members’
At this juncture, the authors, being senior members of the team, considered implementing the concept of
journal club as a mechanism of employee engagement. The concept was welcomed by the team. The
program started with one of the authors starting to deliver an introductory course on data mining which
was of interest to the team. The delivery of the sessions was as proposed in this paper. Besides, regular
weekly discussions were commenced for an hour each week where every member was encouraged to
play the role of presenter.
The following benefits were observed & quantified from the journal club program:
1. The team members started getting engaged with the program and the motivation for participation
started to rise. Individuals who were considering a departure from the organization, reconsidered
to stay back.
2. Innovative concepts worth of USD 20,000.
3. Emergence of 3 new ideas currently being considered to be disclosed for patent filing.
4. New system architecture that performs 3 times better on the same pre-existing infrastructure, for
a hosted service providing information extraction and parsing service on documents.
The paper presents the case study of conducting a journal club in their organizational premises and the
benefits derived through it. Some of these benefits have been measured and presented in this paper.
While a few of the intangible benefits have not been quantified, it is clear that such clubs lead to positive
short & long-term outcomes for the employers as well as employees. A more systematic and metric driven
study needs to be conducted to quantify such benefits.
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on employee retention in Gulf Cooperation Countries”, ICMIEE Aug 2012.
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via Internships," CSEET, pp.255-262, 2009 22nd Conference on Software Engineering Education and
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Peeta Basa Pati, PhD
Peeta Basa Pati has completed his Bachelor of Engineering from NIT Rourkela (fka NIT Rourkela) in
1998. He has completed his masters and PhD in engineering from Indian Institute of Science Bangalore
in the years 2001 and 2007, respectively. He has worked as research engineer with First Indian
Corporation, CoreLogic and now at Cognizant Technology Solutions. He has published 17 articles in
international journals & peer-reviewed conferences and holds a US patent. His research interests include
Information extraction, Image and pattern recognition, data analysis and mining. He currently is working
as a Senior Architect – Technology at Cognizant Technology Solutions.
S. Sivananda, PMP
Sivananda has completed his Bachelor of Engineering from Bangalore University in 1997. He is a PMP in
good standing and Certified Scrum Master. His IT career spans more than 14 years in organizations such
as CyberCash, GE India Technology Center, CoreLogic (fka First Indian Corporation), and is currently
employed with Cognizant Technology Solutions as Associate Director – Projects. He is responsible for
teams conducting R&D, application development, testing, maintenance & support. Besides delivery
management, he promotes innovation and has published 1 paper in an international journal, presented in
project management summits at First Indian Corporation, and holds a US patent.