Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Managing Mind in a Competitive World

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The topic for the evening meeting discussion of NIPM, Karnataka Chapter on 17th April 2019 was on the interesting and relevant subject of managing the  mind  particularly in the  turbulent times that we presently live in. The speaker was Swami Bodhananda, Chairman of the Sambodh Society operating in India, North America and Europe. The objective of the foundation is spiritual revival of humankind. It seeks to inculcate values such as respect for all religions, respect for the individual and his/her fundamental rights, respect for nature and harmonious living with a scientific temper.

At the outset, the Speaker said that  India has got a lot to give to the world in the spiritual realm. It does not mean that we have the monopoly of all wisdom in the world. We will teach and we will learn as well, accepting the best practices from anywhere. Today, we are living in a global village with the way of  life in any part of the world, influencing lives in other parts of the world. Managing the mind has become most essential for being effective in any life situation. He gave the example of Lord Vishnu,  the "CEO of the universe". Although he is sleeping on a serpent ( a fearful prospect for ordinary mortals) and responsible for the well being of the entire universe, he is always in a calm, cool and collected, demeanour.

One can manage better when the mind is relaxed. When tensed, you tend to lose grip over the situation. Therefore, being relaxed is the most important lesson. Being relaxed even  under provocation is the key. The provocation these days come from various quarters- work place, family situations, traffic on the road, teenage children, ill health etc. The management task is to be calm and relaxed in all stressful situations. In this connection, we have to learn to not blame self or others. Like Lord Ayyappa riding a tiger with a smile, a leader should have the quality of calmly managing all circumstances without complaining. After all, a leader has been positioned to handle uncertainties and make things happen without giving excuses. Taking new challenges and promptly responding to situations, becomes possible when the mind is calm and quiet. Today, AI may be available in a big way for gathering data but the ultimate decision will have to be made by the human mind.

The traffic of the mind involves processing a thought or sensation, applying the individual's own values and responding to it. How you respond to something depends on this process. As for example, one person, based on his belief system, would accept the Ganga Jal ( Water of river Ganga)) as sacred and consume it with devotion for attaining Moksha, while another may look at it as polluted water ."You are nothing but your mind." Yet,deep down, we are all pure consciousness. In the work situation, for effectively motivating people, the key is to make people aware of this fact. When this is done, work is not merely a means of earning one's bread but something that is pivotal to one's very being.

When the employee is made aware that "he is the field of infinite possibilities" and that he is a spirit deep down and not just the body/ mind/emotions or a pair of hands, the idea of ownership and belongingness automatically happens. When the employee is thus engaged, although the company benefits, the bigger benefit is for the individual himself. Thus it is not salary raise and other benefits alone  that motivate employees.The time and effort spent in explaining to the employee the vital role of  work in his happiness and well being is very important. 

Three major problems faced by human beings today are stress, anxiety and anger. In view of the  inability to handle stress, everybody seems to be afflicted by the passion of anger. Pollution, adulterated food etc are also causes of stress. The process of battling the big three has resulted in strained relationships. " You don't understand me" says the wife to husband while husband says the same to her. Nobody is prepared to listen patiently. They are preoccupied with themselves. Operating in a very complex, data driven world with people having become more aspirational has added to the problem.  The dysfunction of the mind which is the instrument for dealing with the world has been the biggest problem.

In the modern times we also have to grapple with situations such as jobless growth and carbon intensive growth. In  the situation of  jobless growth, unemployment remains stubbornly high even as the economy grows. This happens when a relatively large number of people have lost their jobs, and the ensuing recovery is insufficient to absorb the unemployed, under-employed, and those entering the work force for the first time.Problem of carbon intensive growth is encountered when Economic growth leads to greatly increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resultant impact on the global climate.

For managing the mind in a competitive world, the employees need to be told that "We are all fields of infinite possibilities. We are responsible for our own happiness and success." This message is in stark contrast to the general tendency of people to blame others for all their problems. Taking responsibility for one's own well being, is cardinal. We come across many disruptions in life, some of which are not under our control. However, when the mind is relaxed we are able to deal with them -  able to go deep into oneself and come out with solutions. In this connection, HR needs to think 'outside the box' and guide people about managing the complexity by calmness.

Swami Bodhananda suggested changes in life style including in the food that we eat, change in the breathing style ( breathing from the abdomen instead of chest) and giving a break after every three hours to the employees during which time they can engage in relaxation, deep breathing and prayers. It would be good if they have a big picture of the company and life rather than worry about the small stuff. Working together as a team is another important requirement and also a challenge. Humility is very important to be able to work in a team.

One should be able to respect another, irrespective of his competence on the job. The speaker concluded that "Real HR" is contributing to all these aspects. The focus of HR  should be on implementing native Indian concepts, for the effectiveness of our native work force. Listening to the speaker, I was reminded of the practices in Ace Manufacturing Systems Bangalore that I had shared in my blog " Quiet Best Practices". Readers may like to read about it  here.( https://hrdian.blogspot.com/2018/10/quiet-best-practices.html ).

One cannot dispute the core of what the Swamiji discussed viz. about the need to be calm and relaxed when approaching a problem or taking decisions. His suggestion to delve into the Eastern thought for solutions instead of blindly aping Western models makes sense.Yet, the fact remains that the industry does not have the time or inclination to consider this option busy as people are, doing "Business at the speed of thought." Everything has to be done in haste so as to appear efficient and it is the person who appears very busy, seemingly working long hours who is held 'valuable' to the organization. The management education in the country is based on the Western model and concepts. 

There is hardly any literature about the "How" of implementing the Eastern thought in an industry. Now and then we listen to a Swamiji or a speaker who quotes from the Gita, Ramayana or Mahabharata, nod our heads in agreement and go back to practising the Western approach in which most of us are trained in the first place. How many Allopathic doctors are willing to acknowledge that Ayurveda also has its place in healing? (one objection would be that it is not backed by scientific research). How many CEO s of Indian companies believe that a calm, relaxed mind is paramount and that focusing on this will automatically take care of bottom line, top line or Ebitda?   


At one time, I was excited by the prospect of introducing Eastern thought in management. I had procured two books published by the Allahabad management association one each based on Ramayana and Mahabharata. I also went to listen to talks of Mr Subhash Sharma in the late nineties ( subsequently he published the book "Management in New Age:Western Windows Eastern Doors" in 2006) in which he talked about using more of Eastern thought assimilating it with the Western. The problem with these exercises is that they focus on the 'what', providing theoretical models rather than on 'How' in practical terms.Perhaps this can be worked out only by the practitioners in the industry themselves. 
   
To my mind, we have had plenty of Gyan (Knowledge) from various quarters.Time has come for us HRDians to work out for ourselves as to how to implement the knowledge. First of all, we need to ask ourselves "Do we really believe this is important?" If so, what practical steps can we take to implement it. While having tea before the meeting, I met a gentleman Mr sadasivam who said that a topic like this is very important and that a discussion on it requires at least half a day. He also opined that that on a week day, it is difficult for members working in the outskirts of the city to make it to the venue and therefore the meeting should be on a Saturday.
   
I feel that half a day may not be required for normal meetings. However, NIPM and NHRD (HR Professional bodies) would do well to organize brain storming sessions of half day duration on a Saturday dedicated to eliciting  simple, straight forward, actionable points, on matters important to the profession and develop a model for implementation. It could be on the topic we have discussed above or other matters such as " What can be done to enhance the esteem of the  HR role in the company, particularly with reference to our internal customers?", "Practical ways for enhancing work place wellness" etc. Till such time we  discuss  practical implementation aspects and implement some of them , we will continue to applaud " the great ideas" in a meeting and go back to doing what "we have always done".

When we continue to do the same things,we will continue to get the same results!

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Psychology of Pay

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The discussion in the monthly evening meeting of NHRD Bangalore on the topic " Psychology of Pay" organized on 28th March 2019 was led by Mr Arvind Usretay, Director Talent and Rewards, Willis Towers Watson and his colleague Jude Vijay. The one take away from the discussion that reverberated whole through the evening was that perceptions of people differ and therefore no pay concept fits all. Some are more interested in short term immediate gratification while others are interested in long term benefits such as pension. In between, there are those who would like to pick from a basket, different aspects of the benefits that matter to them (Basic pay, variable pay, pensions, executive pay etc).

Pay and rewards have an emotional component. Individual preferences are dynamic and varied. Different approaches are required for various elements of pay.Deferred reward implies sacrificing immediate compensation for a future reward. People react differently to a disappointment in a pay rise which is influenced by individual mindset and perception about the situation or event  . As for example someone may become so upset that he may put in his papers while another person may take it as a challenge and work harder till his goal of the expected pay is attained. Today, employers are willing to be flexible and are open to customization of pay to the individual needs of employees. Ideally two or three choices can be given for a particular section of benefit. It may not be a good idea to give too many choices which could confuse the employee and may not at the end meet the needs of what he/she really wants.

The speaker said that differing needs of employees have more to do with differences in the personality and approach to life rather than economic differences. He said that a country head of a multinational company told him that those earning $10,000 and $100000 have similar approach and worries concerning money. Arvind said that there is a tendency to discount the value of compensation that is deferred, although it also has its place in the 'psychology of pay'. However to a question from the audience about the preferences of the the millennial generation, he admitted that they are clear about wanting high pay and was not concerned much about the future.

During the question answer session one question raised  was " Does not money lose its significance beyond a point? Are not people more interested in aspects such as Flexi time rather than pay?" . The answer was interesting and in line with the tone and tenor of the discussion throughout the evening-
 "Well, it differs from person to person. you need to meet with people. find out what is important to him/her and seek to fulfill individual needs".

Thus it is all about making available higher flexibility to the employees and having an integrated total rewards strategy consisting of pay, benefits, career and well being. According to the Willis Towers Watson findings, the five areas critical to meeting employees' total reward expectations and delivering a consumer grade experience are (1) Understand what employees value (2) Consider employee well being, a top priority (3) Make effective use of technology (4) Measure cost and impact of programs and (5) Prioritize fairness, purpose driven benefits and I &D. This would involve improving technology solutions, more personalized and transparent communication and higher flexibility to employees with a focus on more measurement of ROI.

After all,  perceptions differ and no pay concept fits all!

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

From the Notes of Yester years- 6 - Key tips for Effective Living

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I delved into my notes from the past in order to share some interesting and useful  tips for effectiveness at work and in our personal lives. Unfortunately I had not noted down the source of the information - could be a book or a talk I attended.

  • Zero in on 20% of important activities and work on them. Let go of the less important (80%) activities or reduce time spent on them.
  • Give your focus on finding solutions- spend an hour instead of one whole day to solve a problem. If the problem is more complex, spend only one day on its solution instead of a whole week.
  • Practice 'Batching' of boring routine tasks.
  • Give respect, love, kindness, opportunities and be open to receiving them.
  • Be the first to take practical action and get the ball rolling.
  • Mistakes are okay and sometimes good when it provides learning so don't dwell on them. People have their own challenges and lives to worry about, instead of dwelling on yours.
  • Don't beat yourself up-It is a waste of time that can be better utilized constructively.
  • Assume rapport- when you meet people pretend you are meeting one of your best friends, and start interacting. 
  • Focus on what you want, not on what you don't want and keep that focus steady. Set goals and review them frequently to keep your focus on what is important. Use external props to remind you of this in the form of a slips stuck to the fridge or bathroom mirror. 
  • Your attitude changes your reality- when you change your attitude, you change what you focus on.
  • Gratitude is a simple way to make you feel happy. spend a few minutes feeling grateful for the things you already have. It turns negative mood to happy one and these emotions are contagious.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. It is better to compare where you were and where you are now to understand your growth and improvement. 
  • 80-90% of what you fear will happen, never come into reality.
  • Don't take things too seriously. It only results in unnecessary suffering.So do not take seriously either yourself, your thoughts or your emotions. 
  • Write everything down- Many good/great ideas get lost if not written down. It also helps to keep focus.
  • Be always in awareness- There are opportunities in just about every experience.      

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Money Matters- Then and Now

One of the topics discussed during the Times Literary Fest organized in Bangalore on 23rd February 2019, was  " Money Matters- Then and Now". It was initiated and moderated by Mr Ravi Subramaniam renowned banker and author. The participants were Mr Gurcharan Das, Economist & author and Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai, author of a series of books on Chanakya Nithi. Before we start, here is a brief about each of the three eminent personalities:-

Ravi Subramanian is India's numero uno thriller writer, having written seven bestselling books. An alumnus of Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore), he is currently head of a leading financial institution. A career banker and financial services professional, Ravi has worked with various multinational banks (Citibank, ANZ Grindlays Bank and HSBC) for over eighteen years.

Gurcharan Das is a renowned author, commentator, and public intellectual. His last book, 'India Grows at Night' was on the FT’s best books for 2013. He is general editor for Penguin’s multi-volume ‘Story of Indian Business.’ He studied philosophy at Harvard University and was CEO, Procter & Gamble India before he became a full time writer. 

Radhakrishnan Pillai is the bestselling author of Inside Chanakya's Mind, and Chatur Chanakya and The Himalayan Problem. He has researched Kautilya's Arthashastra extensively and has a Master's degree in Sanskrit. he is a well-known management speaker, trainer, author and consultant.


Question:  What has been India's approach to taxation and tax rates since the ancient times? 

Answer: Gurcharan Das (GD) :  India has always had a concept of a just tax rate which was pegged at 1/6th of the earnings. The balance of payment between countries has also been in India's favour till the industrial revolution and  British entry on the scene.

Radhakrishnan Pillai (RP) :  As per the Chanakya Niti, taxation was based on the premise "Wealth belongs to the society". The policy of the state is to function as a regulator. Tax collection was to be gentle akin to a honey bee collecting honey from the flowers. Even on occasions when the tax payer was unable to pay the tax, the aim was not to punish him immediately in a merciless manner but in stages of sama, dana, beda, danda ( first stage being that of counselling and ending with punishment)

Question: What was the significance of money and money matters?

Answer:  GD:  Wealth was held very important ( Artha eva pradhana). Once the economy is got right, everything else will follow.There was a direct connection between administration of wealth and the temples of ancient times. Often times, trade negotiations happened in the precincts of temples. The relationship between temples and the wealth of the administration is borne out by the recent instances of huge amounts of wealth discovered slashed away in the treasury located at the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.  

RP:  Under the Chanakya Niti, the four principles for dealing with wealth are (1) Wealth identification (2) Wealth creation (3) Wealth management and (4) Wealth distribution. Philanthropy is to be inculcated as a way of life. It is not something to be considered after one has become rich.

Question to GD:  In your writings on the East India Company, you have made some interesting observations. Could you elaborate?   

Answer: This was the time when the best goods were made in and available in India. The world did not wear any underwear until people were exposed to India's fine muslin cotton. On their first voyage to India, the Portuguese brought many things to exchange for the coveted Indian goods. But the Indians were not interested in any of their goods. 

Later, the  Portuguese ship returned filled with Indian spices. As it came near Sumatra, the British traders took permission from the rulers in Sumatra to destroy the ship after saving the Indian spices and in return offered to give them the goods at much lower prices.  

Question to RP: Economic models are changing by the day whether it is with regard to land, agriculture or patents.How does this impact business?   

Answer :  What it means is that today it is not about doing hard work alone but doing smart work is the key..  

Question to GD:  In your book " The Marwaris: From Jagat Seth to the Birlas ( The Story of Indian Business)", you discuss the importance of the trust factor, A lot of value was placed then on trust? 

Answer: Yes, if  one traces the life and times of Ramakrishna Dalmia, one can see that  a big success was achieved by him from humble beginnings.He took a lot of risk at a young age dealing in London silver in the stock market but this approach was possible because of the trust that he had in self and others even in trying circumstances. 

Question to RP: Trust levels are going down these days and we are also seeing a reduction in the risk taking appetite.On the policy side what can be done to revive these aspects in Indian institutions?  

Answer: Chanakya Niti advises to "test them before trusting." Spying and counter spying was resorted to then while appointing bureaucrats.  

Here GD added There is a  need to revise and update the insolvency and bankruptcy law. we must raise the growth rate to 8%. Apart from this, if left alone, Indian entrepreneurs  have been doing very well since 1991,when the economy opened up. India grows at night while the Government sleeps.   
We need Governance reform. The problem of court cases pending for ages need to be addressed. Meritocracy should be the criteria for selecting and promoting public servants as well. Technology should be leveraged to cut bureaucratic red tape.  

Overall, I felt that this session was a rare gem, something one may not hope to find in a literary festival which would normally focus on social issues. Although the subject of discussion was "Money matters: Then and now" I had the feeling that the panelist RP chose to play it safe while speaking, and stuck to his expertise of  Chanakya Niti (Then) . He appeared to be very reluctant to share his thoughts on addressing the economic issues of "Now".

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-     https://hrdian.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-journey-to-becoming-1-in-list-of.html )

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....