Monday, 11 September 2017

Global HR practices and Future Trends

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In this post I am sharing the gist of the talk given by Mr Selwyn Thomas, Head -Corporate HR Crowe Horwath,  Melbourne, Victoria, Australia  during the evening meeting organized by NHRD Hosur chapter on 13th June 2017.. The speaker's wide exposure to strategic HR in India and subsequent stints abroad  marks him out as the ideal person to speak on the subject.After serving in India and rising to senior levels of counry head/Head HR of large multinationals, he  moved to Australia and has worked extensively over the past 17 years in the  Asia-Pacific region based out of Melbourne and Auckland. He also has project working experience in the UK and France.

  • We live in an era of economic paradox. On the one hand there are more products / increase in productivity and creation of more jobs while on the other hand the job market has become riskier and the job environment more demanding or if you prefer dangerous in terms of expectations,targets and pressure.
  • The employee bonding with the company has reduced considerably
  • In Australia, a third of the work force consist of contingent workmen( employed through contractors). As in the case of raw materials you are now looking at " Just in time employees".
  • 60% of the people in Australia work part time and 40% are in permanent employment. While the younger people tend to work full time, the older people across the board( at all levels in the organization) work less.
  • As people come and go often, the organization structure tends to be flexible and job security has become less important and also not much gains in compensation is observed.
  • In short, "the labour market is confusing" with more mobility and job changing as against earlier periods when jobs were changed less frequently.
  • These trends would mean, everyone including HR needs to constantly update and be able to meet changing requirements.
  • There has been a shift in the balance of power in favour of employers since 1980s. The Government presently are reluctant to intervene and are not engaging in policing as in earlier times. 
  • The time has come for change; technology enabled change. Therefore the future of HR as in the case of other disciplines lies  in embracing technology. 
  • HR needs to use infographics and landscape mode to reach out to large number of employees. (Infographics simplify information in a visually engaging and attractive manner. Here, basic principles of design is used to support the information presented, making it more easily accessible to a larger or target audience) 
  • Technology can be profitably utilized by HR for work force management, training and building strategy. HR analytics could play an important role in this regard. ( Readers may like to read my post on HR analytics and its possibilities for HR-  https://corporatepoem.blogspot.in/2016/10/hr-analytics-and-four-abilities.html )
  • While technology has its advantages, it could mean, the death of transactional HR ie  the repititive, predictive activities, that HRDians have been engaged since a long time.
  • Traditional roles such as wage negotiation  are getting reduced with Government releasing industrywise payment guidelines.
  • With the systems having become smarter, companies expect line managers to do this part of traditional HR role, devoting atleast 10% of their time for HR work. 
  • The strategic HR, however will continue to have relevance. To use the words of the speaker " Only the corporate HR guys will survive". HRDians need to use the opportunity to make vital contributions,  strategically and earn respect for the function. 
  • It appears that it is "Rest in peace" for the performance appraisal systems. In view of organizations having become very dynamic, it has become difficult to set 'fixed period' objectives for teams. Dynamic performance management is expected to replace performance appraisal. You are bound to be assessed on the go; assessed from the moment you join without a honeymoon period.
  • Assessments would be more matter of fact with only 'yes' or ' No' answers: Why has the team failed? Do they have some other issues not addressed?- yes/No
  • The social media enabled recruitment is expected to grow.In a study it was revealed that 80% of those surveyed used Linked in, followed by facebook and twitter.
  • We are likely to see Cafe offices wherein employees will operate from a neighbourhood cafe using tools such as video conferencing. Speaker gave the instance of employee dialing and connecting with colleagues from a mobile van in Singapore.
  • Flexible working hours would be more the norm than exception and laws would permit multiple employment.
  • The speaker predicted that 33% employers would permit their employees to work from home and 52% of the employers are likely to lose talent for not allowing such flexibility.
  • E learning which is gaining currency could become even more popular in view of its convenience to learn at your own pace at the time convenient to you. certificates can be acquired on completion of the course.
  • As against the traditional induction and orientation of employees, the 'onboarding' (like the highly structured and ritualized process of boarding an airplane) exercise in future would start even before the employee has joined the company with the Emails seeking details of the employee including his preferences etc, This continues after his joining giving the employee a personalized experience.
  • Similarly the salary packaging would also be personalized to specific individual needs of employees, permitting him/her to create the basket within the broad structure.
  • There could be a rethink on ways of employee communication given the fact that most employees, particularly the young are very active on social media.
  • The futuristic offices are expected to be very different from how we have known it - No telephones or desks,only pods to sit on.With no dedicated chairs or place for individuals, the office would have open spaces to interact- " Focus zone. Collaboration Zone, creative zone, technology Zone" and so on. The speaker said that the KPMG Melbourne office has been created on these lines.

After the presentation, we got the opportunity to interact with Mr Selwyn and seek clarification and elaboration on the matters discussed. It was indeed a very engaging and rewarding evening for the audience who not only got information on what is happening in other countries but also insights on future trends from an expert who has had exposure to varied working environments.

Monday, 21 August 2017

'One of a Kind' training Program

Any activity tends be done well when it is appreciated; valued both by the person doing it and the one who is a recipient of the benefit from the activity. In the absence of the feeling of being valued, it would merely be about going through the motions. When we look at corporate training, although these days behavioural and soft skill training is done a lot more than in the earlier periods, it is often organized to declare to the world “that we are a progressive organization. We can proudly claim to have done’ x’ man-days of training during the year” Homework as to the real needs for the training and addressing them through the training exercise is not given the adequate attention it deserves.

While reporting on the best practices of 3M, which were discussed in a professional evening program, I had shared in my blog about the experience of the company with respect to a coaching and mentoring initiative. The following feedback that 3 M received from the coaches associated with the exercise is very interesting and revealing:    

(i)  Most organizations are not proactive; in fact, they come to us at the last minute
(ii) The participants are simply referred to us. We do not get the opportunity to interact with the HR Head and senior management team before the program, as was done in the 3M program
(iii) Usually, the participants come in to the program with a negative mindset since they feel they have been sent to the program, in view of their being 'not good enough'.
(iv) The fact that 3M had already identified the areas of improvement helped the process of coaching and enhanced its effectiveness.

As the challenges for a trainer is similar, it becomes a matter of great delight when the client is a responsible participant in the entire process  identifying the areas of improvement, extending full support during the program and facilitating the implementation of the learning from the program, post training. I had the good fortune to experience such delight recently.

When I was working in Hyundai Motor India in Chennai as HOD of Learning and Development, we did a program for our future leaders through the Great Lakes Institute. Professor V. Ramachandran, Executive coach and business consultant was associated by the institute for providing coaching support to our participants.I got the opportunity to interact frequently with him during his visits to our factory as part of the assignment. Subsequently I retired from Hyundai, settled down in Bangalore, and focused on offering training programs on soft skills through my organization “Niche Learning Services Ltd”. In July 2017, it was a pleasant surprise to receive a  telephone call from professor informing me that there was an opportunity to do a program for Ms. MTS Foods who were looking for specific inputs and would like the trainer to be multilingual ( speak in English and Kannada) as they intended to do the program for participants across the board. He advised me to contact the CEO Mr. Krishna Kumar Menon, or KK, as he is popularly known.

I visited KK in his office at first cross JC road and we discussed in detail the operational activities of the organization and the purpose of the program. MTS Foods are agents for supplying excellent food processing machines manufactured in countries like Germany and Belgium. .The tagline of the company reads” Cost effective technological solution for the Indian food processing industry,” They supply and maintain these machines for sorting, cutting and peeling raw materials. The employees therefore work in both the areas of sales and maintenance.

The focus desired was on enhancing communication skills while communicating internally between employees as also while interacting with the clients. Improving the report writing skills was another focus area. It was decided to do a pilot one-day program and then consider further programs as per requirement. I explained to KK my pet concepts of the “Law of attraction” and “Mind Programming”. It was agreed to elicit from the participants the important aspects learnt in the training; the ones they would like to implement at work and use these for a mind programming exercise at the end of the program. (You may like to read my blog   https://hrdian.blogspot.in/2012/10/mind-reprogramming.html  to know more about mind programming).

When I asked KK about the participant profile, he drew for me an organization chart explaining job description of each position, the age and experience of the participant and other details of their job requirements and reporting relationships. It was very clear from the interaction that KK valued the role and significance of training. The reason for the same could be attributed  to the fact that he himself had worked in senior positions in professionally managed companies in the Gulf and in India before deciding to start his own venture. KK wanted the program to be a memorable experience for the participants so that the training day ended with dinner with all the participants. Accordingly, we tweaked the program starting a little late and ending late in the evening.    

KK was present to inaugurate the program, explain its significance and the expectations from the program and from the participants. He stayed for a while and left (because he wanted the participants to be free and express themselves without inhibition) promising to return towards the end. I am happy to report that I had a group of very active participants who comprised of the entire company. This was indeed a unique experience! The company had made sure that this was possible. The learning from the program and the priorities of implementation was presented to the CEO after a group discussion amongst participants. This was followed by the mind programming exercise.  

I describe this training program as “one of its kind” because of the consistent involvement and support of the client throughout the program. It is a rare occasion that the entire company attends a training program.The discussions about future focus areas, long after the program in a relaxed atmosphere over dinner was a unique feature.Incidentally, it was the only program wherein payment was credited into my bank even before I commenced the program. 

To conclude, it is to be reiterated that training programs can be a lot more effective if the corporates are responsible participants in the training process.An actor who comes to a movie set having little knowledge of the story, the plot or his own role is likely to perform differently from the one who has been given a bound script months in advance detailing the entire script of the movie.The same is true of the training initiative. Signals given as to the importance an organization attaches to its training initiatives will go a long way, in reaping the best results by everyone-the company, the participants and the trainer...  
    

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Decoding Talent acquisition - Attracting and Retaining the Millennials

Attracting and retaining the millennials ( also known as Generation Y) was the focus of the Shine HR conclave held in Bangalore at Hotel LeMeredian on June 23rd 2017 . This generation of employees born between 1982 and 2004, are expected to be 52% of the work force in India by 2019. It is therefore no surprise that employers are increasingly paying attention to aspects such as " what motivates the Gen Y employees?"  and "what are the ways in which  they can be better engaged". Earlier also, there have been occasions when this subject was included as a session in HR summits of one or two days duration. However, at that point of time the information shared by speakers were mostly speculative, or if you prefer predictive. The real time experience of handling issues related to Gen Y was limited and speakers largely depended on the internet for content support.

Today, in the year 2017 however, there are quite a few multinational companies operating in India who have faced issues dealing with Gen Y employees in many countries and have evolved global strategy or guidelines  for effectively attracting and retaining this generation of employees. In fact the tagline of the Shine HR summit read "From the Best in HR on the Next in HR" to call attention  to  the experise and competence of the discussion Panel for giving inputs on the subject.The distinguished panel included Ms Sanjuktha Sarkar, VP & Head HR Aditya Birla Fashion and retail Ltd, Mr Nagarajan.V, Sr VP, AXA Ltd, Mr R. RajNarayan, VP(HR), Titan, and Mr.K Raghavendra VP(HR) Infosys,BPO. The session was moderated by Dr M.S. Balaji a reputed executive coach with rich industrial experience.

At the outset, the moderator shared some interesting findings from a study made on the expectations of  the millennials from work. 90.33% of  this generation of employees were found to have  motivatiors different from that of other generations  for contributing effectively at work .64% of them indicated that they would leave their jobs after short stints; 28% felt that the real situation at work was worse than what they had expected. 75% of the millennials who participated in the study expected to advance in their career within a period of 18 months of joining.60% of the respondents said that they did not have a formal mentoring program in their company. In the discussions that followed, the panelists answered questions put to them by the moderator and the audience. The following are the important points that came out in the discussion.
  • Talent Acquisition- Branding important for millennials 
The visual brand/ No1 employer tag makes a big impression on young minds. Therefore it is important to ask the question " Are we doing different things and also doing enough to build the brand?" In order to reach  millennials, it would be necessary to utilize the media they are comfortable with such as Naukri,You tube,Twitter,Face book, Glassdoor (a website where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management) etc.

From merely sharing information about the organization in preplacement talks, companies are looking at giving projects to students providing them an opportunity to experience and get a sense of the environment. In one company 90% of the new recruits had done their projects with the organization.Some companies also declare contests for projects for engaging the students with business issues. ( you can read the practice in 3M in my blog  https://hrdian.blogspot.in/2016/07/best-hr-practices-3m-story.html ). These initiatives are not only essential part of branding but also contribute to better retention.

Apart from branding, another important factor that motivates youngsters to join is the interaction with the existing employees.Your existing employee is an important ambassador in this regard. His excitement or otherwise could make a deep impression on the mind of the prospective employee. The other factors include growth opportunities, work environment and sense of purpose in the organization. Availability of platforms for expressing oneself beyond immediate work aspect is important, all the more if the organization is not one of the best pay masters. The reputation of the company amongst one's peer group is also an important factor.  
  • High Attrition amongst millennials- Proactive efforts to retain them
Although we tend to club all millennials together, their background could be different and consequently the needs to be addessed could also be different.In this connection, they can be classified as follows:-
1) Those who have lived a major part of their lives in villages or small towns and have subsequently moved to cities (Conventional job security could be important to them atleast in the initial period)
2) Second generation city bred individuals (Their expectations could be a lot higher than conventional expectations of earlier generation of employees)
3) Those educated in technical and B schools abroad ( This group could see themselves as deserving no less than what their counterparts get anywhere in the world)

Based on an understanding of the above classification, companies could address particular needs of specific groups.However, when you look at the  millennials as a generation, it is seen that they are looking for more challenges than the earlier rgeneration of employees.They want a pleasant working environment and eco system.They are seeking experiences to enhance employability and not just promotions. Many large organizations today, are catering to this need of the GenY employees. However, a lot more can be done in the area of providing recognition, providing cluster of experiences and values matching in line with their natural style.
  • Career Progression and Development expectations of the millennials
The millennials have high achievement orientation.They have low tolerance level of hierarchy and are more self centered than the earlier generation of employees. To them progression is learning more and enhancing their employability; looking out for opportunities rather than linear progression. They would prefer 6-9 months of stints across various disciplines before deciding on what they would like to focus on long term.

In view of the above, it would be a good idea to move people seamlessly across marketing, production, warehousing and logistics. As the millennials have a low tolerance level of hierarchy, it is important to choose wisely the managers who would be guiding them. Competency and soft skills of the manager should be the criteria rather than total years of experience.In GE, they have experimented with ' Reverse Mentoring' wherein technologically challenged seniors of an older generation are taken under their wings and mentored by the youngsters.(you can read the best practices in GE in my blog https://hrdian.blogspot.in/2016/04/transforming-ge.html )

It is essential for companies to study the possible career progression of the millennials in the next 2 to 4 years and examine the gaps that need to be filled through learning interventions. This neeed not essentially be classroom inputs but bite size learning, at their pace. A bouquet of learning experiences can be planned that may include webinars, shadowing the CEO etc.
  • Flexibility and Work life Balance
The millennials attach a lot of importance to flexibility and work life balance. This does ot mean that they wish to work less.In fact they would like to work more and engage in more challenging assignments. What it means however, is that apart from work, the Gen Y would like to pursue other interests of their own such as hiking, bird watching, social service, sports etc and also spend time with friends and family. Some wish to make a difference in society and engage in CSR activities. In this connection they expect support from the organization. It is like they prefer work life fusion when work and life collide. Fixing of core hours when everyone need to be in the office but flexibility most of the time could address this need.Technology can be leveraged effectively to provide this flexibility so that work also gets done as per schedule.
  • Significance of Trust and Values
There was a question from the audience drawing attention to the volatile work situation these days with managers changing frequently and increasing number of lay offs and pink slips.The question was as to how a trusting culture would be possible in such a scenario? The panelists acknowledged the need to be transparent and fair when lay offs become necessary. The seperation conversation on such occasions should be fair, humane and with lot of empathy. The exercise should be acceptable not only to the person seperating but also to those who are continuing in the organization.

Another matter that came up during the discussion was the using of technology effectively in managing the millennials.It was opined that analytics need to be leveraged better and HR needs to enhance it's competence in analytics analysis. The millennials tend to seek instant gratification but this is not with reference to money alone. They expect real time feedback on how they are doing and not once in a year during annual appraisal.

The Shine HR conclave was truly a rewarding experience with 360 degree perspectives on the subject justifying the tag line "From the Best in HR on the Next in HR".There was one question from the audience though that was perhaps misunderstood by the panelist. He had asked "Have we been unable to communicate our expectations and culture of the organization to the millennials ?"

Going by the general mood of the evening the panelist answered " You don't communicate culture; you experience it." Although this is a remarkable statement, I think what the questioner had in mind was, to put it in different words- "we are speaking and discussing so much about the necessity to adapt and adjust to the needs of a group who would be 52% of the work force in 2019. But should not the millennials also be taught to work in harmony with the remaining 48% of the work force?"

 Should they also not understand the reasons for the conventional thinking of the earlier generations, what values are important to them and what their expectations are as well? After all, in order for a house to be a home, not one but both the husband and wife/ father and son/ mother and daughter need to appreciate the perspectives and adapt to the needs of each other so that a transition to a better life happens in a  smooth and effortless manner ....

Thursday, 6 July 2017

From the Notes of Yesteryears-(4)- Leader in Deed is Leader Indeed

In this post I am sharing from my notes, some sound and sensible advice to freshers joining the industry. It is given by none other than the veteran corporate leader Mr  R.C. Bhargava, former CEO and current chairman of  Maruti Suzuki. Many students tend to believe that once they have acquired a degree in engineering or management, they automatically gain respect and success. The wisdom shared by Mr Bhargava challenges such notions. According to him leaders need to earn the respect of their subordinates.

In most companies, subordinates, particularly workmen are convinced that the management's aim is to extract the maximum work and pay as little as possible. They believe that the management thrives and prospers on the efforts of  their workmen. Management itself contributes very little and  since managers are highly paid and enjoy lot of perks, profits would increase if the number of managers are reduced.If managers are to become leaders and motivate all employees to give their best, they should be able to dispel this image

One of the ways for earning respect and demonstrating real contribution is by being highly proficient and knowledgable in your work.Degrees will not suffice. If a worker makes a mistake or encounters a problem in his work and the supervisr is not able to guide him or provide a solution, he is unlikely to respect him as an engineer or manager. It is therefore necessary to combine academic knowledge and intelectual brillance with practical experience. This would enable one to gain the skills for doing the work that he is responsible for supervising and guiding.

You would be able to supervise and control only if you are totally familiar with the rules and procedure applicable. One should also know the company policy and objectives. The leader must be able to show total command over the work in his charge, to get noticed and identified as one with the potential to rise.The more aware you are of the overall functioning of the company, beside your own area of work,the more are the chances of your being able to make value adding suggestions. What is required is hard work and an intention to learn all the time. You cannot expect to succeed with the attitude- " Work only the prescribed 8 hours and do only what you are asked to do."  

Focus during Training Period

The training system should be designed for providing opportunity to the trainee to practically do the tasks that he would be supervising later. This would mean providing hands on  training to the engineer on the production lines and on various machines.The training should include knowledge about various aspects of the company's policies and regulations.This first hand knowledge of the working conditions and systems on the shop floor will stand the trainees in good stead in future, for making changes that will improve productivity and work environment.In the Japanese training system a great deal of importance is attached to 'doing the job yourself '. There was an instance of a senior manager who was on his way to a hotel as a guest.On learning about a breakdown problem, he  was not afraid or reluctant to get himself dirty repairing the car before proceeding to the venue.

In conclusion, the youngsters starting out on their career should understand that the importance of practical, hands on experience cannot be overemphasised. Degrees are only passports to enter the work place. There is no substitute for hard work, continuous learning and willingness to do work with your own hands.It is these attributes that will ensure future growth and success.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Unbox: Theater based learning experience on Bias/ Prejudice

NHRD Bangalore Chapter organized a theater-based discussion on the above subject on 30/3/2017. In view of the novelty of using theater to convey ideas, the attendance was very good with the conference hall being jam-packed. The speakers/performers for the day were Ms Aruna GaneshRam of Visual Respiration, a performance company committed to designing unique audience experiences and Ms Nirmala Menon, Founder CEO of Interweave, a company focusing on organizational diversity and inclusion solutions. The objective of the evening program was to create heightened awareness and inspire better inclusion for all.

In our society, we tend to look at a person not as an individual but through the lens of gender. What people are capable of doing or whether an action is right or wrong is perceived from the gender of the person, whether male or female. The program started with a theatrical presentation by Aruna who drew attention to the plight of women in society, whether at work (interviewed for a job, being considered for an assignment or promotion) or in personal life. She adopted the style of a  Sutradhara, a story teller or narrator In Indian Theatre of yore in a singsong exaggerated voice. I am sharing below a sample of what Aruna related in her performance:-
“Boxes boxes everywhere
Men and women in clear separate boxes
Categorizing people one way or the other”
“A woman’s chores include
apart from attending official work.
Attending PTA meetings, bank work and others.”
“she is to be commented upon
no matter what clothes she wears
be it Biz suit, hot pants or salwar
if nothing else, you can’t help asking
“What’s with the new look?”  “
 “At work it’s always doubt
Can you arrange, manage, co ordinate
They say, “I’m not tough enough
Fast enough, not networking
Not capable enough, not worthy enough”
For promotion Nikhil is chosen over me
Take a break they say- adding insult to injury
“In a way it’s an opportunity to chill out
Look after the kids, take up
Your hobby of gardening”
“Boxes, boxes everywhere!
What’s in your box?
How did it get in there?
What do you want to keep?
What do you want to throw out?”
“Boxes, boxes in the air
Boxes, boxes everywhere
It starts from the time of childhood
Boys get blue
Girls get pink
Boys are brave, girls do cry
Barbie dolls are girly
Video games are nerdy
Girls to the left, boys to the right”
“Boys are good at maths
Girls good at crafts
Boys have to be bread winner
Girls need to worry about being thin”

After the theatrical performance by Aruna, the baton was passed on to Nirmala Menon who brought in the necessary professionalism and focus to the exercise. What does the insights from the performance mean to the HRDians assembled for the evening? Whether an appreciation by HR leaders, of the negative aspects of boxing employees based on their genders could lead to policies that are progressive, more egalitarian and inclusive? As a person engaged in sensitizing corporates for some time now as a diversity professional, Nirmala admitted that all problems would not disappear instantly as if  by waving a magic wand. Yet, baby steps taken in this direction in more and more companies would yield results in the long run.

Nirmala underscored the fact that it is not women alone but both genders, who are victims of the practice of boxing people. As for example in our country, society would not view kindly or appreciate a male’s wish to be a ‘home maker’ based on his natural traits and inclination for that role. In the work situation, if the capabilities of women are constantly judged unfavourably due to biased prejudices, it would amount to ignoring 50% of your talent pool. Why would any organization want to do that? The success of diversity management at the organizational level would be possible only if concerted efforts are made by managers and the spirit is reflected in the culture of the organization.

Nirmala concluded by stating that notwithstanding the efforts of organizations, the challenges to the problem included comfort and psychological safety felt by women, societal influences and the psyche of the women themselves. There has been change in   women over the years and they are demanding more of their rights. However, more change or corresponding change is necessary in the mindsets of men. It is in the interests of the organization to have a balance of the masculine and feminine energy. In this connection, a few courageous souls need to break the status quo and the others would follow. 

The evening provided all of us present a lot of food for thought.By recreating the evening for you here readers, I am passing them on to you also to mull over- How much longer are we going to continue  at the work places and in all spheres of life with a limiting perception of seeing people in boxes?How long will it to take to break boundaries, realize full potential of indivduals and claim the palaces of possibilities?     

Edit: I found this on the net and it is very relevant. After all, it is the story of a middle class man like any one of us and how he treated his daughters...Hope you like it.


Monday, 10 April 2017

A Nursery for Leadership

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NHRD Bangalore organized a very interesting evening discussion on 23rd February 2017 in which the former and current senior executives of Asian Paints participated. The discussion sought to unravel the secrets of success of the 75-year-old, home grown Indian Multinational having 25 manufacturing units and operating out of 19 countries.  The initiative for the same was taken by the President of the Chapter Mr. Bala Balachandar who is himself a former executive of the company.

In his brief introduction, Bala said that he got spontaneous response from his former colleagues when the idea was mooted for sharing their experiences and insights gained from working for Asian Paints. He acknowledged the presence of veterans as well as younger employees in the audience who had come in large numbers to participate in the discussion. The baton was then passed on to Mr Sudesh Shetty who has earlier served as president of the chapter, to initiate and conduct the proceedings of the evening.

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Sudesh described Asian paints as  a nursery for leadership, recruiting talent from the campuses and then nurturing and developing them at each stage. He also referred to it as a company with innovative marketing practices. Sudesh invited to the dais the members of the discussion panel namely Mr Amitabh Sinha, Mr Jalaj, Mr Ashish and Mr Sundareshan.

Some information gathered from the opening remarks of the panelists are the following. The company has encouraged executives to make cross functional moves and gain experience in diverse areas. As for example, sudesh moved from a sales to HR role while sundareshan moved from the plant in India to a foreign assignment in Egypt as the unit in charge. When the panelists moved to other companies, whether it is in a very different industry of Fashion retail with Aditya Birla or to the JSW group, their experience with Asian paints stood them in good stead, in dealing with the challenges of the new assignments.

 Asian Paints is a company that has not made a loss even for one year in its 75-year history. Described as the Don Bradman of Indian industries by a panelist, It is the top Ranked Indian company in the “Forbes Most Innovative company List” in 2016(Ranked 18th in the world). The company has been able to groom many leaders from within the organization. The CEOS of many companies have come from the stables of Asian Paints.

The questions put by the moderator Sudesh and their replies are given below:

Question to Jalaj: What is the secret of success of the company, which has celebrated 75 years on 1 February? What are the respective roles that people play to achieve this?

Answer: The story of Asian Paints have been that of a story of people. Having smart people has always been a priority. Focusing on all aspects of the company while empowering people and excelling in certain business strategies has been the key.

Started in 1942, in a small garage in Mumbai by four friends, Asian Paints came a long way and became a market leader by 1967-68. The company was however open to learning from others. The founding fathers recognized the importance of getting the best talent and looked towards IIMs and other institutions to meet this need. Every idea that comes from the employees for improvement or development is consistently looked into. Asian Paints had a flat organization structure even in the sixties and seventies with employees having easy access to senior management. They have a lot of freedom to try out ideas in the best interests of the organization. Later, these practices evolved as principles over a period of time.

Question to Amitabh:  What does Asian Paints do to develop leaders?

Answer: The Company has always given priority to the leaders being operationally fit managers, meaning they should have their basics right and be aligned well to be able to work harmoniously with other departments rather than be in a conflict mode all the time. Sound managers with a long-term perspective and being able to stand the test of time has been the focus of the organization.

Question to Ashish: You had moved to Aditya Birla from Asian Paints and have been credited with organizational transformation initiatives there. Could you compare and contrast your experiences and learning in the two companies?

Answer: I worked for only six years in Asian Paints followed by twenty years in Aditya Birla. Therefore, a direct comparison may not be appropriate. However, one can say that the core of both companies, in terms of values are similar.

My initial stint in Asian paints at Guwahati was during the insurgency days. The tough situations that I encountered at that time dealing with contract labour and other issues steeled me for future challenges. I believe that all this helped me in becoming president at a young age of 39.
Both the companies valued and developed grounded leaders giving importance to the nitty gritty and shaping the character of managers. Contributing quietly and practical decision making was important in both companies.

Question to Sundar: You have come to be known in the company circles as ‘remarkable Sundar’. From an assignment at the plant, level in India, the company sent you to Egypt on an international posting instead of looking for local talent. How did you cope, considering it was your first posting abroad?

Answer: Asian paints had always had a reputation of exposing and preparing its managers for various roles. It was a strategic decision of the management to go for an acquisition in Egypt instead of a green field project. I had experience in the company although not all of it relevant to the new assignment. Yet the company reposed trust and confidence in me. Asian paints is known to provide challenges and let the employees figure out what needs to be done. Everyone is given this space; four of us had gone to Egypt. It was clear that it was my territory and there would be no interference. Resources were provided but decisions were my responsibility. 
  
Question to Amitabh: Tell us about the recruitment process in Asian Paints and what has changed over the years?

Answer: Asian paints, traditionally have been going to the college campuses of premier educational institutions for recruitment. The objective was to select those who have done well academically, are hardworking and have a need for achievement. Typically, the candidates preferred were meritorious, middle class, not too flashy or abrasive. We looked for those with a point of view and would defend it.
Here Jalaj added: The candidates preferred were those exhibiting humility, empathy, with listening and connecting skills. We looked for the same basic qualities in those selected to work on the shop floor as well. Other abilities sought were process orientation with willingness to execute in any area.
Today the company is in need of out of the box technology; having diversified from manufacturing to services, technology space, and decoration bathroom business. Now, we will also need people who will go and set up business and have better soft skills. They would need to take risks and be able to push the manager (Middle managers could become complacent and prefer the status quo).

Question to Ashish: What did Asian paints not teach you?

Answer: As mentioned earlier, I had a comparatively short stint of six years in AP. The supply chain distribution was very good in the company. Later I applied these principles in the fashion business as well However, I found the new business was very complex, changing every moment. There were more than 10000 products with shelf life of 3 months and consumer’s life of 10 seconds. While analytical thinking worked for me in previous assignments and helped me become general Manager, President, CEO I found that in the new industry of fashion more of right brain thinking was essential and that you are as good as your last product.

Question to Sundar: You moved to a seemingly very different field of private equity and was quite successful. What is that you picked up at Asian paints that you were able to profitably use there?

Answer: The risk taking exposure that I got in Asian paints handling domestic and international business came in handy in private equity for value creation and long-term perspective. In the private equity role, it enabled me to look at different business sectors be it restaurant, pharma or other sectors.


Question to Jalaj: Companies like GE and Unilever have made a mark internationally by their contribution to best practices in HR. When will we see the practices of Asian paints included in HR text books?

Answer: Generally, at Asian paints we have been reluctant and uncomfortable speaking about or projecting ourselves. In respect of HR, our focus has always been on hiring good people with a long-term perspective and giving them diversity of experience. Our challenge and focus as we become more and more global would be to see how we harness further this diversity of experience.

The floor was then thrown open to the audience to shoot questions. One particular question that I found very relevant and interesting was on the company culture in respect of which the following matters were discussed.

Ownership: One of the panelists gave insights into this aspect of the work culture in the company by sharing an anecdote. Once a visitor to the shop floor stated “I want to meet the company.” A person in the level of a supervisor had no hesitation in declaring, “I am the company. What can I do for you?” This kind of a response is possible only when the management empowers employees and they in turn exhibit the ability and willingness to accept the responsibility.

­­­­­­­­­­Integrity: In this connection a story was shared of the time, company had announced the launch of a new product of automotive paint- APCA which required separate go downs for storing and obtaining license from explosives department of the Government. Although the date of the launch was notified, the company decided to postpone the launch rather than pay money to the ­­­­department to obtain license, which was being delayed by the department.

Emotional bond with company: A panelist revealed that the employees of Asian paints had a high level of emotional bond (95%) with the company. This is borne out by the fact that a large number of former and present employees turned up to attend the evening program in which the company was being discussed. As many as 250 former employees of the company registered with the What’s app group in two days on learning about the program.

Engagement with employees: The persons in leadership roles in Asian paints gives attention to coaching, mentoring and imitating conversations with their people. He or she is accountable for the team, appraising their performance, engaging with them, standing up for them and adding value in all conversations.

Delegation of authority at various levels in the organization: On this subject, Sundar already shared about how he received full freedom during his assignment and posting to Egypt.

A former employee who was present among the audience related another relevant story. He was responsible for a role that included taking decisions on paint replacement given to contractors. On one occasion, the contractor demanded 6 litres of paint while he felt that 3 litres were sufficient to carry out the specific work. Although the contractor took up the matter with higher levels, the company stood by his considered decision. It is instances such as these that boosts the morale of employees. It enhances their willingness to stick their necks out and take risks for the benefit of the organization.  

As a blogger, it gives me a lot of happiness to report on best practices of good companies. However, this time my cup of joy was full and overflowing as I was reporting on the success factors of an Indian multinational, which has made a mark for a sustained period of 75 years. It is wonderful to know that the company has its heart in the right place and cherishes important values; values that distinguish the good from the great….  



Friday, 17 March 2017

Gate Keepers to the Bosses

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This article written by me in 2001, was published in the Deccan Herald, a leading newspaper from Bangalore. Please give allowance for the time gap in case readers experience flavour and relevance of an earlier period...

The article has another history in the sense it ruffled the feathers of powerful persons who had moved up to occupy senior positions in the PSU, I was then working. Director (HR) called me and cross  examined me as to how and why I wrote it.When he could not find anything wrong with it technically, he directed that in future all my articles would be seen and cleared by him before publication. I politely refused citing writer's freedom but assured him that I would not write anything for some time.

It was after over a decade that I started writing again when I started my blog...


"We in the 21st century live in an age of information explosion. Today there is total transparency in the corporate world.With the internet and Email facilities, anyone can access information and communicate their views to any level of organizational hierarchy without the fear of disapproval."

The above statement is similar to saying that "India is now a developed country. The status of her being a nuclear power, the wide choice option of automobiles, electronics and other goods enjoyed by its citizens are all proof of its developed state."

We all know that reality is far removed in both the statements.In respect of corporates, the statement is true of very few companies having a genuine computerized environment.In most brick and mortar   companies nothing much has changed with respect to channels of communication.The feudal mindset continues to thrive and prevail. Various gates check and inhibit free flow of information, ideas or opinions. The gatekeeper is ever vigilant protecting his boss from inconveniences.

The personal secretaries and personal staff of senior executives described as 'gatekeepers' often bask in the privilege of free access to the boss. They often tend to get carried away, even risking the very effectiveness of the bosses whose roles they are expected to enhance. Of course there are exceptions to the general tendency and not all of the personal staff exhibit such behaviour .  The employees who are exceptions in this connection, are a pleasure to deal with. They not only contribute to effective working but also enhance the image of their bosses.

Although at a first glance the subject under discussion may appear to be unimportant,obnoxious behaviour of gatekeepers cause grave damage to the communication function which is acknowledged by academicians and practitioners as key to effective working.The problems arise due to a lack of clarity of the secretary/personal staff as to their actual role in the office.The secretary does not see himself as an aid enabling the boss to carry out his duties effectively.On the contrary, he sees himself as a 'door keeper'who has to keep people away from the 'busy'boss. In the process he himself begins to gain a lot of importance. He can enjoy the vicarious pleasure of curtly telling a manager to wait or listening to an employee pleading for an audience with the boss. It is a fact that it is difficult to detect arrogant persons since such persons are seldom unpleasant to those who have the power to make decisions affecting their career.

A retired director sadly remarked "We have ourselves contributed in some way to these people behaving the way they do."Yet the fact remains that if by a magic wand we could take the clock back to his pre-retirement period, the executive would deal with his staff in exactly the same way permitting them undue liberties. One of the main reasons for the behaviour of personal staff being what they are, is the total and helpless dependence of the boss on the personal staff like that of a newborn on his mother for all his personal work, be it booking cooking gas for the residence, drawing money from the bank, even investment in stock markets. To the net savvy, it may appear that these are no longer relevant or major issues which can be attended to by the 'busy'executive himself with the click of a button. Yet, the fact remains that the dependence is still a reality. The compulsive dependence works very well to the advantage of the staff but it almost invariably lowers the image of the boss who is perceived as weak and ineffective if he allows the staff to overstep their authority/ brief.

While a gatekeeper's role may appear vital and relevant as he seemingly saves precious senior executive time from being wasted, in reality it proves counter productive when officers reporting to the boss are prevented from meeting him by the 'gate keeper'who is more concerned with the inflation of his own ego to either see or understand the urgency of the matter brought for decision/discussion.
There is a saying in Kannada language which when translated reads "Even if the Lord is prepared to give a boon (vara) the pujari is unwilling to do so." We have also heard of a folk tale of a poet who wanted to meet the king but was prevented by the gate keeper.He was finally allowed inside on the condition that he give 50% of the presents he gets from the king to the gate keeper.The poet asked the king for a hundred lashes.We need to check with the boss whether in reality some of the instructions attributed to him are in fact given by him. We need to keep the boss informed of occasions when our functioning has been adversely affected by the behaviour of an overzealous gate keeper.

Persons who are in the role of the boss need to educate their personal staff as to the correct expectations from them. The right signals will go a long way in ensuring appropriate behaviour from the staff.An important requirement in this regard is to provide continuous training to the personal staff clarifying their roles and expectations as also appropriate behaviour in  different situations.

Free access to information and communication still appears a mirage.It may still be quite a while before the mirage becomes a reality in corporates of all hues.Access to information and transparency will not only ensure smooth communication and harmony in working but also help the personal staff to retain their relevance in the future as well, even in a paperless environment.