This is the third interview in our series of interviews with HR heads and expert professionals across the country. The idea behind this is to gain insights, knowledge and valuable advice from the leaders in the HR domain and to impart this to the new and coming generation of HRs and other business leaders.
CHRO — Karvy Computershare
25+ years of experience across entire gamut of HR roles
ex — VP — HR, Bharti AXA General Insurance
National HR Manager — ICICI Lombard General Insurance
Connect with Pradipta on LinkedIn here.
Connect with Govind on LinkedIn here.
Q1: What do you think is the right approach to monitor and measure Employee Engagement and what do you think about the belief that Employee Engagement Analysis is a long term process and not a one time activity.
Employee engagement manifests itself in several ‘symptoms’.
Some physical symptoms that you can monitor are — How does a person respond to responsibility, how much ownership does a person exhibit and how much effort they put up voluntarily? These symptoms are completely different for engaged and disengaged employees.
For example, we see employees who go out of the way, don’t wait for managerial intervention and initiate actions and take decisions themselves.
That’s what an engaged employee looks like. They’re mini entrepreneurs within the company.
You can also measure some specific metrics.
One of them is avoidance versus ownership.
Some employees overstretch to help their teams even after meeting their personal targets.
Another such metric is the sense of pride and belonging that an employee feels for his/her company. This ambassadorship is noticed in informal sessions.
Keep an eye out for — How does an employee talk or treat the company while talking near the coffee machine? That tells a lot about what they think of the company.
In fact, how often an employee shows his association with the company and shares news/articles or any related material about his company on social media can be a big indicator of how proud he/she is.
Q2: Yes, that’s indeed true and I completely agree with your point. Coming to the next aspect, what are your thoughts on how employee performance relates with employee engagement in the workplace today?
When I think about performance and its relationship with engagement, I see two elements. One is capability and the other is engagement itself.
I don’t see performance as an isolated aspect, engagement neither. And there is an onus both by the employee as well as the employer to accentuate it. The commitment to the organization, which in a way is a synonym of engagement, reflects in a large way in performance.
But there are always some employees who consider themselves as Gladiators. There is a sense of ‘proving to be worth the salary being paid’ in these employees that drives them. Engagement is subsidiary for them.
You cannot completely consider this approach as wrong.
To give you an example, in MahaBharata, Bhishma wasn’t the most engaged person but that did not impact his performance.
The end goal is commitment from the employees and that can largely take care of performance.
Q3. This makes complete sense. Of course every employee is different and we do need to accommodate that difference keeping our end goal in mind. As we spoke of pride and belonging, a part of this also comes from the leadership in a company. How important do you think it is to understand the confidence that employees have in the company’s leadership?
I think confidence is something that has to be inspired within an employee by their leader over time.
For example, if a person meets an accident, they visit the nearest doctor because they have no options due to urgency. But afterwards, they would keep seeing that doctor only if they are happy with the treatment. This is exactly the same for an employee. An employee is obligated to report any and all problems to the manager and do as the manager commands.
It is now an opportunity for the manager to create confidence by helping the employee in the right manner. Managers need to be prepared and capable to grab these opportunities and develop employee connect. A 3 point rule for managers is suffice:
- Always note your behavior with the employee, keeping in mind that you’re a mentor to the employee.
- Always conduct in a responsible manner with the employee; balancing rightly between micro and macro management.
- Exhibit proficiency. Because employees only follow leaders who know their mettle and exhibit strengths that awe people.
This opens the door to another intriguing aspect . In many occasions, new teams of junior managers and younger employees are found to be more intelligent and better informed.
This poses a challenge: How do you manage someone sharper and technologically more advanced than you?
In such scenarios, we need managers who are secure & have the maturity to give the right advice that helps the employee and the company. This quality and capability develops with experience and there are no short-cuts to it.
Govind: Yes in fact, we’ve noticed that companies face issues when fresh and bright talent joins the pool. But when employees gel together, the growth curve becomes steeper.
Q4. Another important thing that we wanted insights from you on, are the values that a company has. And speaking of different groups of employees within the company, like age groups, experience groups, departmental groups… how do you make sure the values of the company are implemented across all the groups?
With regard to values, I’ve noticed that every generation has its own set of intrinsic values & expectations. For example, the new generation currently requires instant gratification while the older generation was more emotional and set sail for the long term.
As long as these values are good for the society & company, we need to accept them. In fact, values by definition are good.
Where we go wrong is in setting priorities. When employee values conflict with the values of the organisation, there is a gap and leads to a chance of taking wrong decisions and setting wrong priorities.
A very simple example can be the case of two companies and how they handle medical bills. Both companies provide medical reimbursement of 15,000 to every employee. Company A accepts every bill that an employee submits and refunds the amount, while Company B only accepts bills that have a GST number.
The situation in Company B could be painful for the employees, and this could create conflict. But what an HR needs to do is communicate the perspective from the company’s side to the employees. Once employees understand why the company is doing things the way it is doing — that is, to ensure that the tax flows back to the government & ensure absolute honesty, they accept. Cheating on tax is wrong and employees would understand that. This is because inherently their values, just like company’s values are towards the good of the company and the society. All that has to be done is to come to a common ground through communication and sharing the perspective from each other’s shoes.
If you notice, values had nothing to do with this scenario. It was a communication gap. In this way, company values, such as integrity, innovation, teamwork are generation agnostic and agnostic of other factors.
I can share a very interesting personal experience where priorities did become an issue within the organisation. I worked for a company X (all names are kept undisclosed). Unlike the previous companies that I worked for, the talent pool here weren’t freshers. There were sales employees from another company A and operations employees were from company B. This had happened because the HODs of companies A and B joined our company X and their teams had followed suit.
Company A had a culture of getting things done at ANY cost. It was a sales driven company.
Company B kept their rules and the processes first. Theirs was an operations driven company.
We also had a few employees from another Company C which was agnostic to everything that happens around.
When performance targets were not being met and the blame game started, the problem spilled out. There was a clear conflict on the way things were being done and the way people expected them to be done.
We tackled this situation in a simple and systematic approach
- The first step is to get the HODs and leaders to talk and decide the technicalities of acceptable way of working & where to draw a line when it came to deliverable. In this case, we decided how exactly a ‘Good sale’ and a ‘Bad sale’ has to be treated & where to set the threshold of tolerance. And we got the HODs to agree on the definitions and got them to trickle down this information to the lowest rungs. We rewarded the right behaviors and punished the wrong ones
- The second step is to create structures and systems that ensured the desired outcomes were achieved. This is an action-based step and needs strategic intervention too.
In our case, we started EQ training sessions of the employees. We accommpanied our sales teams on the field and cleared all ambiguity about what is right and what is wrong.
To decrease malpractice, we also penalized for ‘Bad sales’ and ‘Rejections’. Clarifying consequences has always been a way to control the intent of an action.
These are the steps to implement core values and solve conflicts.
By communication, understanding, developing mutual respect and tolerance and then taking action through reward and punishment for the right and wrong actions respectively.
Govind: This surely will be a great learning experience for our readers. Perhaps even the best part of this interview. One last question is left now.
Q5. We spoke about Ownership, Initiative, Productive Engagement, Involvement, etc. What are your thoughts on the idea that all of these are intrinsic factors and predictors of human performance? Also, now with increasing automation of processes like payroll, billing, etc. how do you see the role of HR managers evolve? How does technology impact the role of an HR? What is your perspective on the strategic role that HRs have to perform in this age?
I completely agree to the point that these soft-metrics and factors do impact business performance.
In terms of the change in the scenario, I’d say that I don’t know if I’m fortunate about this, but since the beginning of my career, the fundamentals of HR have remained un-disrupted. They are the same as they were when I started career in a PSU bank 25 years back.
Even then I used to sit with the managers in business meetings and give my part of insights on what should be done for solving problems. Basic work ethics have always been the same too. I would never give a problem, be it a statutory problem, operations problem or a people problem, without also suggesting a solution to it. The stake as an HR in the company is to keep the business running. If companies face a problem, and the rule book says some 1–2–3 steps, but that doesn’t work, then how would business run?
Our job as HR is exactly the same of doing strategic intervention as it was years ago.
That being said, how we perform our function as an HR has changed a lot with disruptive technologies coming to our aid and with changed values of workforce. We’ve become more media savvy and it impacts how we communicate. From a support function, HR today has a direct impact on business performance. There are new analytics tools available to help enable us in taking the right decision. This helps us in comprehensively quantifying all aspects of a situation and taking decisions backed on data. A lot of the leg-work is removed and decisions can be taken confidently. Plus the outcome is a lot more predictable now.
In a sense, thanks to technology, our capability to give objective suggestions has increased but the role we perform in influencing people remains the same.