Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Employee Engagement and Sustainability

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The first talk in the new year 2019, organized  by NIPM Karnataka Chapter on 11th January  was on the topic  "Employee engagement and sustainability" at Hotel Capitol Bangalore, The speaker was Dr Michael Nobel, Executive Chairman of the Nobel sustainability trust . He is the great-grandson of the renowned industrialist and humanitarian Ludvig Nobel (Elder brother of Alfred Nobel). Given the importance of the topic and the eminence of the speaker, the session was jam packed with many past chairmen and office bearers of the professional body marking their presence. Dr Nobel was accompanied by the chief operating officer of the Nobel sustainability trust Ms Stina Nordlander who also shared her thoughts on the occasion.

Professor K.B Akhilesh  Senior Professor, Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore introduced the speaker. While traditionally, Nobel prize, recognizes and  awards Outstanding contributions for humanity in chemistry, literature, peace, physics, physiology or medicine, and economic sciences, the £100 million Nobel Sustainability Growth Fund, spearheaded by Dr Michael Nobel, (in partnership with Sustainable Technology Investors Ltd (STIL)), focuses on resource efficiency, clean energy and sustainable technology. Prosperous organizations can plough back part of its profits  for the welfare of  society.  Professor Akhilesh said, to that extent , Dr Nobel  subscribes to the unique maxim " Sustainability equals prosperity." Dr Michael Nobel is presently chairman or board member of six international companies in medical diagnostics, treatment and information and in five non-for-profit organizations

In his talk, Dr Nobel explained the objective of the Nobel Sustainability Trust viz. financing clean technology innovation projects. The activities of the trust include giving (a) Award for Sustainability; (b) four diplomas of excellence to runner-up candidates; (c) scholarships to two young researchers in the field of renewable technology; and (d)  annual symposiums or conferences on the subject of sustainability. He said that implementation was the key and that the Nobel award is given also for implementation. Although 185 countries have signed the agreement for environment sustainability, 50% of them have hardly done anything on the ground. The speaker called attention to the huge threat to the planet Earth.In ten years time huge storms are expected to occur in Sweden, rising sea water levels and other catastrophes. The air quality in Beijing is poor and not fit for human breathing. Similar  situations have been reported in respect of New Delhi and other cities. 

The speaker said that the entire initiative was geared with the future in mind. He has been visiting countries all over the world with the purpose of ensuring impact investing. It is not just about financial commitment. Focus is on helping to identify supportive organizations that wish to leave a heritage behind for mankind unlike the American way of leaving huge inheritance for one's immediate family. This is the reason that the Award recognizes local organizations instrumental in making change and also young researchers who will see the benefits of the change in their lifetime. The aim is also to develop the best scholastic centers fully equipped for studying  the gamut of sustainability. Presently, all the assessment for the award is done by the university of Oxford,U.K. 

Ms Stina Nordlander, Chief operating officer of the Nobel sustainability trust spoke briefly  about her journey from being a beauty queen (Miss Sweden 2015) to a job that seeks to make a difference to the world. She said that after the initial euphoria of being in the world of glamour, she felt a need to do something more. She therefore decided to join the Noble sustainability trust, moving from her home town in north Sweden, 700 Kms away to Stockholm. Ms Stina  initially joined in a junior position and worked her way up to the present role. Ensuring a smooth running of the organisation, her responsibilities include managing logistics, administrative support, office management and project management. She  also manages the calendar and operations of the chairman. Ms Stina said that during her visit to India, she thoroughly enjoyed speaking to and interacting with 300 women students of Sona College of Technology in Salem, Tamil Nadu on the subject of "women empowerment" and her own experience in the journey. 

Question- answer session   
  • What are the steps companies can take for employee engagement and sustainability?   
Answer: It is important to establish cooperation between the Government, educational institutions and the industry to ensure that  concerted efforts are made in the area of sustainability. The academic institutions can come up with solutions for implementation by the companies and the Government. There is no point in having inventions that remain on the shelves. Corporations need to educate employees on the correct practices, offer incentives for appropriate behaviour and punishment for breach.

 It is like 'wearing seat belt' or 'No smoking' in non smoking zones. It is mandatory and not optional. In Norway, in order to encourage use of electric cars for a pollution free environment, the Government offers number of incentives that include free parking. As a result 20% of the population use electric cars.    
  • What are the features of Sweden's world class work culture?  
Answer: To my mind, a very important requisite of business is "Respecting your agreements". Once you have agreed and shaken hands, there cannot be going back on price and other basic terms of agreement. In some countries, this basic requirement of staying on course without re-negotiations, tends to be breached, Impartiality, persistence and trustworthiness are important features of a good work culture.
  • It is observed that there is high quality of life in Scandinavian countries like Sweden in terms of sustainability. What can be done to bridge the gap between these countries and the less developed countries?  
Answer :  Steps can be taken to reduce pollution. More use of public transport facilities and use of cycles as a means of movement would go a long way in bridging the gap. Throwing of garbage on the road needs to be avoided. 
  • Question addressed particularly to Ms Stina: As a person who has tasted success at a very young age, what advice /tips would you like to give women to be successful?  
Answer: "Believing in yourself" is the key. My mother always told me "You can do it" and supported me in what ever activities I took up whether joining the Miss Sweden contest or taking up the job with Nobel trust. Belief and perseverance will lead you to success. 

Dr Nobel added: Women have to believe in themselves and get out of the 'we have no role to play' syndrome. In Sweden women can choose to be the 'bread winner' and the spouse can take the role of 'stay at home husband'. The husbands go on a sabbatical and can join back for work at any time when the child is old enough to manage without parental supervision.  

With that the formal part of a very informative and engaging session came to an end. However, it was entertainment time for us audience when the guests from abroad were honoured in our traditional manner with the famous Mysore peta (Classical royal Indian attire worn by Wodeyars, the erstwhile Kings of Mysore) being placed on their heads.It looked grand and at the same time funny to see our distinguished guests in an attire so unfamiliar to them! Professor K.B. Akhilesh, Sr Professor, IISC was similarly honoured in recognition of a high civilian honour that he had recently received from the Government of Philippines.  

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Friday, 28 December 2018

Gig Economy and the Future of Work

NIPM Karnataka Chapter, for its last meeting of the year, December 2018, met at the St Joseph's Institute of Management, Bangalore.The speaker was Augustus.G.s Azariah, Associate Director (HR), IBM, India. As the subject of the talk is about the 'Gig' economy, it is essential  to understand what this means before we proceed further-  Gig economy refers to a labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. working in the gig economy could also mean constantly being subjected to last-minute scheduling. 

In order to set the tone for the discussion, the speaker shared the experience of a senior executive Rukmini (not her real name) aged 42 years who was considered an achiever, in terms of  her  contribution thus far, for her multinational employer. However, one day she found a message on the monitor at her desk which read " Click here if you want to be relevant. Where you are now? Where you can go with additional certifications?.

The message was clear. No matter what her contribution in the past, she was ill qualified for the present requirements. She can either accept the challenge or end up without a job. Although, initially devastated, Rukmini decided to take the option of  becoming relevant. She soon began to enjoy the process and started investing more and more on herself and acquired additional certifications. Three months later, she not only got the congratulatory note but was offered more opportunities than was originally targeted. Subsequently Rukmini was able to position herself as a freelancer with various talents and skills. Her reputation and prestige also went up several notches on Linkedin and social media.   

I would now like to place before readers the matters discussed in a brief bullet point style.

  • Short term contract or free lance work is here to stay- Its form can be seen in Uber, Ola, Swiggy. Zomato and others.
  • Interesting to note that recent strike by Ola and Uber drivers was not for permanent employment status but for better remuneration, better Km rate and dynamic pricing based on fuel prices. 
  • The focus and expectations now is on safety net- social security for all rather than a permanent job.
  • Work, talented work force, demand etc. are the drivers today.
  • "Work" is no longer a "Place"- The amazing web and collaboration tools has made it possible to work from anywhere.
  • Competition for jobs is not limited from only those who live in the area, where you live.
  • Similarly, vendors and contractors could be from across the world.
  • No organization is going to guarantee a life long career.
  • No one pays you for a degree.Skills will be the new currency. 
  • Personal branding and social eminence is important. Using social media is a must to stand out.
  • The future of work would be "On demand".
  • Informal education will be high with more of learning on the job- A"Fail fast" mindset is expected so that not too much time is lost, in applying the required competence.
  • More of coaching and webinars online 
  • The decision would be between Hiring new employees Vs Contract relationships 
  • The future of work would see collaboration of independent individuals with unique talents coming together for a project and moving on to another, after completion of project as in the case of a movie production. They may ask for compensation structures linked to the fate of the project- A cut in case of huge success. 
  • Virtual teams cutting across time, space and organizational boundaries- Talent equity exchanges and talent swapping as done by IPL cricket teams.
  • The future will also throw up challenges in aspects of trust, passion, integrity, freedom, data privacy, confidentiality and regulatory challenges.
  • Experts will go up the value chain from doers to consultants
  • The performance of a gig worker will be determined socially, in terms of social eminence.
  • All this is all the more important, relevant and of concern to Indians since by 2020, as many as 325 million Indians will reach the working age. 
The speaker in this evening talk  played the role of a futurologist, a la Alvin Toffler, author of the book " Future Shock". However, his job was a lot less complicated than Toffler's as in 2018, many of the predictions for the "Future" have begun happening in the "Present".The far reaching predictions of Toffler  was made in 1970,  at a time no one seriously imagined that they would happen, in the near future.. Overall, an interesting evening, that underscored the need for Gen Next, the Gig workers, to be flexible and ever prepared for the unexpected!   

Monday, 3 December 2018

Building a Great Place to Work- Unique Challenges of the Retail industry

The evening talk for the month of November 2018 organized by NIPM Karnataka chapter at Hotel Capitol Bangalore, was on the topic of the unique challenges encountered by HR operating in retail.The distinguished expert invited to share his experience and  insights was Mr B. Venkataramana, President- Group HR, of the Dubai based Landmark Group. He has over 15 years of experience in retail.

The Landmark Group started the first store of Lifestyle International Pvt. Ltd in India in 1999. Lifestyle International Pvt Ltd. retails apparel, footwear, handbags, fashion accessories, beauty products, and other products for women, men, and kids in India.The Group’s business in India has since expanded to include Home Centre, Max, and Easybuy. The company has around 40 Lifestyle stores /departmental store chain; 85 value fashion stores under the brand Max and 16 home products stores under the Home Centre brand. 

The speaker's exposure to the retail business began when he joined Reliance Retail in 2005 as the seventh employee of the company. He related a story from that period to drive home the fact that retail is a different ball game altogether. In October 2005, the Chairman Mr Mukesh Ambani had confidently declared that he would be investing Rs 25000 crores in Reliance Retail and that he expected to earn 100,000 crores on the investment.However, this was not to be. The company did not do as well as expected; in view of the losses, the actual investment had to be scaled down from what was originally planned.

 The company also had to deal with protests from various quarters. The middlemen did not like the idea of making available products directly from the producer to the customers, cutting them out.Mr Venkataramana said that one thing that cannot be wished away is the local kirana/provision shops, the friendly, owner  manned, general stores which would continue to be patronized by the regulars. The entry of the E commerce companies have also affected the prospects of the organized retail sector. In spite of these factors, the retail business in  India continues to be attractive when compared to the saturated retail markets in developed countries. As against 90% penetration abroad, in India it is only 8%, meaning there is a lot of opportunity for growth. 

The Challenges of HR 

Mr Venkataramana said that 85% of the 22,000 persons employed by the Landmark Group in India are the front line staff whose education is between 10th and 12th class. He described them as the brand ambassadors and pillars of the company. Taking into account the many indirect employees who sell Lifestyle products, around forty to forty five thousand employees are being managed by HR. The speaker said that the biggest challenge is the high attrition rate amongst the employees. At the time of his joining the company, it was as high as 90% which was gradually brought down to 35% in 2017 and is presently at around 23%.The industry average is still at a high 50%. 

The speaker then discussed the steps taken to motivate and excite employees to give their best. He said that initially HR reported into finance and more of an admin role was expected. The engagement level of employees was around 59%. However, on his joining, he got the full support of the top management. He made a presentation to the board outlining the action that needs to be taken and the amount of investment required in this regard. Subsequently a number of processes were put in place that included a lot of training, Gamification (application of game-design elements & game principles in non-game context to leverage people's natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement etc.) and use of theatre techniques to drive home the importance of  appropriate behaviour at work. These exercises contributed to educating, entertaining and engaging  employees. 

Celebration of the Retail employees' day is another important initiative for enthusing employees and motivating them to stay with the company. Each store is given a budget of Rs 50,000 for the celebration. On the D day, the managers line up in the front to welcome the front line staff as they come in. Gifts are given to employees every year during the Diwali festival.  

Two important employee development initiatives were introduced in the name and style of LIFE and LEAP. The LIFE program encourages employees to Learn - Implement - Fastrack -  (become) Expert. Along with the LIFE program, the LEAP program also provides technical and soft skills to the front end employees. On successful completion of the course, they earn a degree in Retail management which makes them eligible for a managerial role in future. Employee appreciation schemes were devised and awards given in the name of "the Lifestyle People Oscar Awards", "Clash of Icons" and " Make a difference" awards. 

Long hours and the seven day working pattern of the retail industry has been a matter of heartburn and cause of the high attrition in the industry.This problem has been addressed by the company by making available flexible working hours and opportunity to take leave. This is done by scheduling and providing for ten percent excess manpower to cater to the flexi and leave requirements. Further, employees are persuaded to take leave during off season so that they spend more time with the family and have a work- Life balance. 

In order to underscore the importance of  engaging employees, 30% weightage,( based on the engagement survey score card), has been given in the performance appraisal of managers. As a result in every store or department, executives have taken more initiative for engaging with employees. They are making sure that employees grow. They are also encouraging employees to utilize the schemes discussed above to enhance their competency and qualification. If an employee has served for one year in the company he will be required to pay 50% of the cost of the Retail management course, rolled out in collaboration with IGNOU.

However, If he does the course after completing two years of service in the company, the 50% fee spent by him is paid back to the employee .In case he has completed the course and served for a period of 3 years, Rs 70000/ is paid as bonus. Thus the scheme has proved to be a good retention strategy. The company also has an executive development program under which executives are deputed for learning programs at IIM Calcutta and Ahmedabad. They are also deputed to international destinations to understand the latest trends in fashion abroad and also understand international markets. 

Although the majority of the employees of Landmark Group in India are the front end employees, the other key personnel are the warehouse staff and those working for the apparel business for which recruitment is done from topnotch institutes. The company is the highest recruiter of students from NIFT (National institute of fashion technology). The company focuses on developing capability and creating a pipe line with the help of methods like the development centres. The future potential leaders are categorized as A,B and C with provision for fast track for the stars. The company has a robust E learning management system through a tie up with Litmos. The intranet is also very strong in the organization. The company has also gone in for a lot of digitization. 

Presently, there are 250 employees working in the company for the HR function.The diversity ratio of women employees have risen from 9% to 22%. In the engagement survey "safety of women in the workplace" got a healthy score of 95%. There is zero tolerance to sexual harassment in the work place. Further, in a company that has a lot of buying and other activities, the whistle blower policy is also very strong.(A whistle blower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization ). Venkataramana said that Titan, Infinite retail Ltd, McDonald's, Shoppers Stop and others are in the race with the company for a "Great place to work" in retail. ( Readers may like to read my earlier blog on "Great Place to Work- )

Question-Answer session   

Question:  During festival time the queues can be very long and frustrating. How do you ensure that your front line staff who are educated only up to plus two, handle the pressure effectively? 

Answer: We try to reduce the rush at the billing counter through steps such as  self billing process and managing the mobile process. Further, the cashiers are given adequate training. The time taken on each transaction is measured.

In the interactive sessions, case studies are discussed on subjects such as integrity, customer satisfaction and how to enhance the customer experience. If the store does well, high incentives are paid.

Question: In view of the increasing automation, do you envisage loss of jobs in retail? 

Answer: The automation in retail in India is only 10%. Hence it would take a while for it to have a big impact. Further, in view of low wages of manpower in India, it is still attractive for companies to employ people and this is not likely to change in the near future. 

Question: How successful has been your engagement activities?

Answer: Under the scheme for employee development, 910 employees became graduates and have  become eligible to become store managers. The success stories of people who have reached heights in the company are shared with new recruits during induction.As mentioned earlier, our attrition rate has come down drastically and is one of the best in the industry. 

The millennials have very high expectations and are very different from earlier generations. Our challenge is to realistically prepare them for what to expect in the retail business. As for example they may come in with the expectations of working in an air conditioned environment of ease and comfort.We explain to them the real life out there would require hard work and "dirtying your hands". 40 to 45% of the attrition happens within the first 90 days of joining. 

Mobile is going to be the way forward and we can use it effectively for learning needs in future.  
As a means of handling stress, we expose the employees to Zumba dance ( Zumba is a dance form with aerobics fitness program created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto "Beto" Perez during the 1990s) and AOL (Art of Living- meditation).

Having worked whole through my life in manufacturing, this was for me a very interesting and revealing session. I feel that having received these inputs, I would be less impatient and kinder to an employee at a retail store. After all, he or she works under a lot of pressure and trying circumstances, The silver lining, however is that if more companies take initiatives like the ones taken by the Landmark Group,  retail could also be a' great place to work' where employees can contribute and excel in the long run....

Sunday, 4 November 2018

"Me too to Not Me"

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The October month meeting of NHRD Bangalore Chapter was on the hot topic of "Me too" titled in a catchy fashion as what we can do to change "Me too to not me". In line with the practice of NHRD of late, of having two speakers for the monthly meet  (more if a panel discussion), Ms Kaadambari, Managing partner, UCOL a lawyer and Ms Mridula Chhetri, Founder CEO, InmovidoTechnologies Pvt Ltd, a social activist, shared their thoughts on the subject.

While having two speakers have been effective earlier with a strict control over time, it seemed to have not worked this time when a very sensitive, yet volatile subject was being discussed. The audience also had a lot to say and were not willing to wait till the end for the question- answer session to air their views.

The first speaker Ms Kaadambari started out with the observation "Me too movement is a double edged sword". While on the one hand, it brings out instances of sexual harassment, on the other it gives room for false accusations. She said that another flip side of the fall out  is that men become scared of recruiting women, meaning employment opportunities would diminish for women. She opined that media trial shames a person and causes irreparable damage to the reputation of the accused even before a fair trial. She related instances of two cases handled by her firm,wherein the accusations made against male clients were proved to be false.

According to the speaker, the subject of sexual harassment need to be approached not in terms of gender but as an offence that tends to be committed by those in power on another on whom they have power or control.  As presently more number of men are in powerful positions,it may appear as if men are harassing women. This position could change in future with more women occupying senior management positions. She said that there are also instances of harassment of men which are not reported as it is not held 'manly' for the victim to come out. There are many cases of young boys being sodomized, raped and sexually harassed in educational institutions and organizations that remain under wraps. 

Ms Kaadambari said that documentation is a very important requirement given the fact  that these days, there tend to be accusations, denials and counter accusations. Inconsistencies in the statement of the complainant, when asked to recount the incident multiple times will reveal whether or not a person is telling the truth. Details as to who were present, what were the things lying around etc. should not change with each narration. The speaker was in the process of going into details of relevant sections under IPC ( S16, S409)) and CRPC (S376) and IT Act (S66A), when she was stopped by the moderator for want of time. He requested the second speaker of the day Ms Mridula to share her thoughts.

Ms Mridula opined that the "Me too" movement is a very good thing that has happened which has given the courage to those affected to come out and that it will serve as a deterrent for sexual harassment instances in future. She spoke about the impact that sexual harassment incidents have on the corporates. Sexual harassment cases (1) affect work productivity. It could mean feelings of insecurity, disloyalty and disharmony. (2) There could be distortion of the public image of the company and the loss of reputation. It may become difficult for the company to" crawl out of the pit". (3) Such incidents could also have financial impact. Absenteeism and strained work relationships could be a fall out.

The speaker said that employers should take steps for educating employees on what constitutes sexual harassment under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work place Act 2013 and also take swift action for redressal of complaints. Proactive steps would go a long way in  building a harmonious work environment.

At the end, there was hardly any time for taking questions from the audience as they had  made frequent interjections earlier for airing their viewpoints on the subject. However, there was one point excitedly raised by a participant, that was answered by the lawyer Ms Kaadambari at the end. The question was whether a consensual relationship between a boss and subordinate can subsequently be raised as sexual harassment. The answer was in the affirmative. The very relationship of one person being the boss takes away the concept of 'consent' and the onus would be on the boss to show that there was no harassment.

To my mind, this discussion did not give either of the speakers sufficient time to articulate all that they wanted to say. As for example, the lawyer could not speak about the implications under the Indian penal code, Criminal procedure code, IT Act etc while the social activist could barely tell her part of the story. The audience was also similarly placed, like a hungry person half fed. The promo to the program had announced "Find out what role organizations can play;find out what you can do to ensure employees feel valued and cared for". This objective cannot be said to have been achieved.
Perhaps, for a topic of this nature, that has the capacity to arouse a lot of emotions and reaction, it would be better to have only one speaker with more opportunity for clarification and discussion.     

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Quiet, Best Practices

Some time back, when I casually interacted with Mr Nagesh Adiga Manager HR Ace Manufacturing Systems, Bangalore I was pleasantly surprised to learn about some of the people friendly initiatives that the company has been practicing for years. I had pointed out to him that his company is following a remarkable path quietly,without much fanfare and yet many more would be inspired to emulate such practices if they are shared publicly.

Recently I had the occasion to visit the AMS factory located at Peenya industrial estate while accompanying MBA students whom I teach at the Wellingkar Instiute of Management and research. It was a wonderful opportunity to understand from close quarters, the functioning of a company that had impressed me earlier. We went around the neat and tidy shop floor and rounded off the visit with an interaction with Mr Nagesh, Manager (HR).

Mr P.Ramadas is the Managing Director of AMSL, who along with other founders Mr B.Machado, Mr A.V.Sathe and Mr S.G.Shirgurkar had started AMS in February 1994. The founders with a rich engineering experience behind and between them, adopted a customer centric approach that earned the company popularity, not only among big corporates but also among small and medium scale enterprises. The philosophy of the company also encompasses a people centric approach and adherence to ethical practices. AMSL which specializes in  CNC machining center manufacturing, has supplied over 8000 machines worldwide. The customers are from varied industries such as Automotive, General Engineering, Aerospace, Medical and Dental, Energy, Defence and Education. The company focus is on meeting the unique needs of customers.

During the interaction with the Manager (HR), one question that was asked by the students was "How is it that AMS has run for so many years without the presence of a union ?". The answer was that perhaps the employees did not feel the need for it when working for a company that gives equal importance to its employees and customers. The morning session each day, starts at the shop floor with r
ejuvenating exercises and reinforcing of ethical values. Safety & health pledges (includes personal safety tips outside factory) and guidelines are read out bilingually in Kannada and English. If it is a birthday of an employee, he is presented a birthday card  by MD and also wished personally by all the 400 employees present in the shift, shaking hands with him. There is a yoga center and a meditation room in the factory premises. Employees can take a break for meditation when they feel the need and compensate by working for an equivalent amount of time. 

The company perceives its employees as a family unit that includes his family members. Before an appointment, the parents of an employee are invited to visit the factory and see for themselves where their son/daughter would be working. The appointment letters are handed over to the parents. In case an employee is not coming 
to work, it is natural for the MD to telephone his wife and ask" Why is your husband taking so much leave?" An accident in the factory whether it happens to a regular or contract employee is given immediate attention with the person being hospitalized and provided adequate treatment. Another thing that stood out for me was that AMSL treated its suppliers also with care and concern. As for instance, as a matter of policy, company ensures that the suppliers receive timely payment within the committed date.

Mr Nagesh said that performance appraisal was not merely an annual or biannual affair but a continuous process. One to one feedback on how an employee is doing is given to him by the section head/HOD/ MD depending on the level at which he is working. Production data is captured week on week and serves as material for the discussions. He said that 'Punctuality' was a very important value for the company. Those achieving 100% punctuality and their spouses/mothers are honoured at a public event during the annual day celebrations. The attrition in the company is less than one percent (ranges from 0 .42 to 0 .73%) per annum. The corporate office and factory is housed in a ten-acre property amidst a lot of greenery,flowering trees and plants. There are more than 300 varieties/ species of plants in the premises. 

While taking leave, the manager (HR) reiterated the philosophy of the 
company- "Law of nature is above the law of the land". Nature does not exploit anyone. Similarly, AMS does not exploit any stakeholder be it an employee or a supplier. On the contrary, it seeks to enhance the welfare of all stakeholders including the society at large. 

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Journey to Becoming #1 in the List of "Great Place to Work"

NHRD Bangalore Chapter, for  the monthly meet of September 2018, arranged an interaction with top executives of two organizations who were ranked first in the list of "Great place to work" in India for the years 2018 (SAP Labs India) and 2017 (Intuit India). Dr Shraddanjali Rao, VP (HR), SAP Labs Ltd shared her experience along the journey of reaching the pinnacle in the year 2018 while Mr Somnath Baishya, Head HR, Global development centres, Intuit, discussed insights gained from a 13 year journey that culminated in the top position in 2017 (Intuit India was ranked # 2 in 2018).

"Great Place to Work (Certified TM)’’ certification is the most definitive ‘Employer-of-Choice’ and Workplace quality recognition that an organization can  receive. Great Place to Work® Institute, partners more than 8000 organizations every year around the world to help create and sustain a High-Trust, High-Performance Culture™. In India, Great Place to Work® produces the annual lists of ‘India’s Best Companies to Work For’, a study in partnership with The Economic Times.  

Participating  organizations are assessed in two parts – employee survey and people practices assessment. The proprietary and globally-trusted framework, Trust Index© survey is used to survey the employees on 5 dimensions of a great workplace – Fairness, Respect, Credibility, Pride and Camaraderie. People practices implemented in the organization are assessed through a Culture Audit© process which covers 9 distinct practice areas of a great workplace culture.

The steps of the process include administering the Trust index survey, sharing company's policies and programs for evaluation, analyzing of results to determine whether thresholds of certification has been  met by organization, awarding of certificate, obtaining reports and insights for continuous improvement . The certification Program of the institute allows companies to be automatically considered for all its Best Workplaces list competitions for 12 months from the date of evaluation.  

Shraddanjali said that the one thing which provided unflinching light throughout the journey to becoming a "Great place to work" was the clear guiding vision of the company- "Be the most innovative lab". The key success factor was that everyone from the top to the last person in the company related to it. Pick and talk to any employee from any of the 20 labs located in 17 countries the company has presence, and you will find that he/she owns the vision. SAP Lab has its second largest R&D center located in India and employs 7500 employees. She said that the focus has been on people practices and people experience. " How do we become the most innovative lab?" is the question always on the mind of senior executives. 

It is not just about policy making but paying full attention to 'employee experience'.Whether it is a millennial, a working mother or one retiring in a few months, all feel the same warmth towards the organization- " Loyalty is a matter of impact", declared the speaker. The other aspects that are given priority are co-creation and customized employee experience. Efforts are made to understand the unique needs of various categories/layers of employees (women, new recruits/experienced etc.) and after individual discussions and consultation, the benefits package is signed off with them. Empowering your employees could be tough as you would be required to "Let go". Yet, empowered employees who have faith in you as an organization, will go all out to contribute their best. 

As innovation is a top priority in the company, the platform and time is provided for it in full measure. Top six ideas of the employees are supported with investment. Twenty five of the best innovations are awarded every quarter. In order to meet the the need of career development and career conversation of employees, adequate time is provided to them to discuss with trained business leaders of the company over Skype. 

Shraddanjali, then shared some of the initiatives that give a signal to the employee that "SAP cares for me and my family." These include addressing issues faced by the employee as a parent of sick little children, time off , employee assistance, insurance cover, wellness initiatives (facilities at work place for tennis, badminton, gym, yoga), choice & flexibility, long term incentives, celebrating professional & life events, healthy and inclusive work environment, 40% discount for buying company shares, celebrating annual day (Singer Shreya Ghosal was invited to perform for the employees). She said that while extending any benefit, the one question uppermost in her mind is "How to make it customized and better for the employee?" 

The speaker concluded her talk by stating that it is not only about extending a lot of benefits to employees.There is a need to create an awareness about them. The natural human tendency is " I remember a benefit only when it is relevant to me." Therefore, it is most essential to educate your employee about not only the benefit that is immediately relevant to him but the many things he gets in an entire employee life cycle. She said that she was satisfied and elated by the company's achievement, given the fact that 700 companies representing 20 major industries had participated. The response rate to the survey was as high as 87.13% .SAP Labs India has also been recognized in the list of the Best Workplaces – Culture of Innovation 2018. 

The other speaker of the evening, Somnath Baishya then took over and narrated the Intuit India story, moving towards the goal of  becoming a "Great place to work." He said that his company equated employees to air,  meaning you cannot survive without them. The company focuses on a community culture, ensuring that employees felt good working in the company. In this connection, he called attention to the quote of the poet and  social activist Maya Angelou who said " People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." 

The speaker said that for Intuit India, it was a step by step rise to the top of the list of "Great place to work", moving from top 50 to top 10 and then top 5. The company learnt early that what was important was not reaching a position but sustaining it and  working for continuous improvement. Initially, company  had aimed for the top and had got the 8th position. "However, we realized that we had aimed too high, the process of which could not be sustained". The ranking fell to 25 and the focus of the company changed to that of sustaining and consistent improvement/ growth. It was all about building a culture of initially developing (1) engaged employees, followed by (2) nurturing them as  ambassadors and finally  (3) employees as  change agents.

Building the culture of the company by providing employee experience in line with the organizational values was an important goal. Employee advocacy became the voice of the brand. It involved giving up control to create empowerment and ownership. Somnath then shared some live stories of how this was achieved. As a company becomes bigger, there is a possibility of feeling lost in a crowd or having  a feeling of being a cog in the wheel. In order to avoid such a situation, the speaker said that the organization takes inspiration from start ups/small organizations and engage in bite size connects. As for example although the company occupies physical space on a number of floors in the building, meetings and celebrations are done at a floor level in order to have better interaction and connect between employees.  

Another initiative is personalized acknowledgement and celebration of achievements and milestones. For instance, if an employee has completed five years in the company,  colleagues and juniors share simple and candid information about him/her in an open forum.This exercise also serves as a motivation to new employees who know that they would be similarly appreciated for their contribution. 

Family get together is organized in a grand manner in the form of "Little Intuit day" wherein 400 little super heroes are invited to their dad/mom's work place and given a thoroughly enjoyable summer camp like experience comprising of games, fun and competitions.Another interesting development was the graduation of engaged employees to ambassador roles- from social sharing to social ambassadorship. It all started when one employee Shruti, on her own, posted on social media
 " I believe in innovation. I am Intuit"- ranked #1 in India's best companies to work for 2017". More and more employees have slipped into the ambassador role with gusto. From 100 ambassadors in 2016, the number rose to 134 in 2017. 

"Investing in the future" is another important initiative in Intuit wherein the company's NGNers (Next generation network) are encouraged to take the lead for driving the leadership program. The program which includes juniors shadowing seniors in leadership roles, provides opportunity for testing out their skills in leadership situations such as speaking before a large group. Innovation awards, product & tech contests, 24 hour Hackathon are other activities geared to make impact in this direction.

Somnath concluded by stating that the company's culture of building engaged employees  to ambassadors and change agents has meant that HR has a large population in the organization to support and drive their initiatives and is not dependent on a small HR team alone. He said that he perceives the #1 rank as a responsibility and an opportunity for continuous improvement.

The speakers then took questions from the audience. To a question on the challenge of aligning the culture to everyone in the organization who may come from various backgrounds, the answer was  "We keep it simple and honest. All activities are aligned to the values of the company."

In spite of having many reasons to work for the company, people may still leave. How does the company deal with attrition? SAP has an "entrepreneurship sabbatical scheme" wherein employees are provided  opportunity and support to indulge in their passion if bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. They can return to work with SAP after the sabbatical period. At Intuit, the CEO spends quality time with employees every month to understand their concerns, challenges and priorities.

How does the company integrate culture across the organization? Best practices are shared across locations. It is for this reason that an employee moving to a distant location on transfer, feels comfortable as the culture is the same. Reverse mentoring is another mode of integrating culture. Listening to the younger generation, particularly in their strong areas such as on social media helps in reducing gaps in the organization. Employees are encouraged to refer appropriate and suitable friends for vacancies. Persons who have already engaged with them during the hiring process are attached as buddies to new recruits to help them integrate smoothly into the organization.

To a question on employing differently enabled candidates, it was informed that SAP has a scheme for supporting candidates having autism. There are also visually and other differently enabled employees working in the company. Training people in rural areas has been an important CSR activity.   Intuit has experimented with three differently enabled interns and found the exercise quite promising. (Readers may like to read my blog on the unique challenges of Retail industry in becoming a "Great Place to Work"- )

With that, it was curtains for a very informative and rewarding experience for the members who made it to the September monthly meeting. It is not often that we get to listen to learning and wisdom from the experience of companies who between them  achieved the #1 ranking in two consecutive years. Many other companies, I am sure would be motivated to take the plunge and work  towards becoming a ' Great place to work" and figuring high up in the list. 

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Chasing Failure : Learning for Corporates from the Circus

The monthly meeting of NHRD Bangalore, planned for August 2018 promised to be novel and exciting. The notification read "Corporates have got a lot to learn from the circus"-come and understand about adapting and learning from failures.The very idea was intriguing. What can corporates learn from circus seemingly an entirely different field? The latter has its focus on entertaintment while the former is symbolized by serious executives discussing figures. Further, I was enthused by the fact that the speaker was Mr Stefan Haves, the world renowned creative director representing Cirque du Soleil, the pioneer organization that combined circus and theatre to great advantage.

Stefan started his talk by calling attention to the similarities in the challenges faced by a circus professional and  an HR person, both of whom work with human beings who are complicated, smart and unpredictable. They go through emotions of anger, isolation and depression. He said that as director, he has to ensure that his artists are in a state of happiness to perform irrespective of their existing temperment. Keeping the temperature of the room great for everybody, is an important objective for the artistic/creative director. He needs to constantly check the temperature of the room and take corrective action. "Comedy is possible only if everyone is having a good time.". Charlie Chaplain was so successful not because he was a creative genius but because he knew how to keep his team energetic.

The speaker said that his style was to collaborate with the artistes, seek their ideas and incorporate them suitably in the narrative. This is in sharp contrast to the approach of some directors in cinema like Mr Adoor Gopalakrishnan of India,who insist that even the slightest movement of the artiste should confirm to their bidding. Creativity and innovation is the life blood of  arts and the entertainment industry. Stefan said that at Distney the employees are encouraged to have 'blue sky' time when they can come up with ideas, seemingly wild and impractical  without the worries of financial constraints. (Blue sky thinking is business jargon for a sort of brainstorming or analysis that is uninhibited by the cruft and complexity of tedious and confusing reality- open to all creative ideas regardless of practical constraints).

Similar approach is adopted at Cirque du Soleil where employees are told " We want you to dream and not be bogged down by constraints of money". The internal talent is encouraged to experiment with clowns, set, costume, designing. Time is provided to relax and muse back and forth. Employees came up with innovative ideas such as a 30 foot shoe with 12 persons to tie the laces. All this empowers your people who feel "heard at a creative level." Stefan exhorted corporates to consider this form of empowerment of allowing people to dream freely in the company without any constraints so that they no longer feel like a cog in the wheel.

The speaker said that for his company what was most important was "How everybody felt as part of the team?"during the process  . It is not so much about being the 'most amazing circus' in terms of money generation. It is about giving employees a part of the process and the opportunity to share their view points with any level of the organization.

Chasing Failure: 

"I don't run away from, but actually embrace failure" declared Stefan. He explained that it is not about not ever failing, or falling down but being able to get up and continue  the journey. The first step here is not to be ashamed of failure.  When a person is ashamed, he tends to withdraw and does not want look at others in the eye. In life, you win some and lose some and this is a reality which is beyond your control. So occasional failure, is to be accepted as natural. Replacing shame with acceptance and taking action to move forward is "chasing failure". This involves  guts, looking at each other, and relying on your intuition to get out of the failure. "Failure is the pilot light that helps you to come out of a situation" (Pilot light is a small gas burner kept alight permanently to light a larger burner when needed, especially on a gas cooker or boiler). 

Stefan said that his organization Cirque du Soleil chases failure as a matter of policy/ philosophy. The owners get bored easily. When the company gets something right, instead of basking in the success, they want to to try something else. Many successful shows are retired to start new ones.Today, the organization has over 15 shows running world wide simultaneously. However, the initial journey was not easy. The original circus concept was reinvented (a circus with neither a ring nor animals) and making it attractive not only for kids but a wider audience. Each show is a synthesis of circus styles from around the world, with its own central theme and storyline. Shows employ continuous live music, with performers rather than stagehands changing the props. 

The company had no competition for 35 years.It experimented with many innovative ideas such as using  music of Beatles rock band and shadow play; Beatles did not appear live on the show .The show was a big success while another about Elvis Presly failed. The company, however continued with its policy of 'chasing failures'/ trying out new things.The post mortem of  the projects provided insights- "What did we learn from that? What can we do differently?" 

In the last part of his talk, Stefan shared his views on the changing times and his take on life in the digital world we presently live in. He described the present generation as a "Generation of lost skills". According to Stefan, the emotion/skill of empathy is sadly lacking in the digital world. People are able to see some one fail and walk away dispassionately without the feeling "Hey,that is me!" Empathy is most essential for a healthy community. 

If they have a problem with someone, the internet generation is unable to confront that person, even to ask-"Hey, what are you guys talking about me?" . They don't know how to handle pain or unpleasantness. They avoid unpleasantness and prefer to open a browser to distract themselves.The human element is being left behind.  This approach  has proved to be detrimental to one's  personal well being. As everything is done at a very fast pace, there is no time to warm up. Young people mask their real personality on line, projecting themselves as very aggressive,  not ever getting upset and denying failure. The real personality in day to day life on the other hand, could be very vulnerable and lacking in confidence. There is a need to bridge the gap between the two personalities.

According to the speaker "Being shy is being selfish". Although this may not be by intention or design , the shy person holds back and tends to be selfish with his/her humour, intelligence and in many other aspects. People need to just let go and be themselves without inhibitions. Today, there is a spiritual vaccum.Human beings after all, are not just robots playing around with plenty of data. Breathing seperates a human being from a robot. It is important to pause before an action and allow your intuition to guide you to the perfect way of doing, which may not be necessarily logical. Stefan concluded with the statement " There is a child in all of us - asleep in some of us but still alive! "  Awakening that child would make our life a lot more fun and worthwhile, both at work and in our personal lives.

It was clear at the end of the session that corporates indeed have a lot to learn from the circus whether it is with respect to empowerment of employees or keeping their energy levels high at all times or having an easy and spontaneous work environment without inhibitions. We had the good fortune of having  a performer as the speaker of the day which meant electrifying energy in the room right from the word "Go". The whole session was filled with spontaneous laughter and a lot of fun.

The good news is that Stefan is willing to help individual companies by extending customised solutions to their issues. He would provide this service in India through Mahindra SSG. Stefan shook hands with each one of us as we were going out and also handed over the business card of Mr Manish Advani, Head Marketing & Public Relations of Mahindra SSG (Special services Group). Those interested can contact Manish by Email- or over telephone- +91 2240903232 and +91 9820085094 (mobile). 
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