Janani Ravishankar has been associated with Cleartrip for over three years where she is helping steer Cleartrip's multi-market play by leading the Global Compensation & HR Analytics space for the travel technology brand. She has over 14+ years in the Human Resources function spanning several facets of HR like Talent Acquisition, Business Partnering, Organizational Development, Compensation, Benefits and Analytics.
An alumna of BITS Pilani, Janani has also worked with Mphasis, Infosys and Polaris in her previous avatars. A dedicated gardener, Janani is deeply interested in Carnatic music, painting and enjoys singing whenever her schedule allows her.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
From payroll generation, compensation & benefits to now total rewards, what are your views on the evolution of this function?
Work has been an integral part of human lives since times immemorial and human effort has been compensated through monetary/non-monetary levers ranging from barter, cash and benefits. At the workplace, with every change in the constitution of workforce (for eg: Baby Boomers to Gen X, Gen Y, etc.), there has been a development in the HR processes as well. What started as a function that was involved only in processing specific cash payments at specific periods, Compensation & Benefits (C&B) became a much larger function that solved for objectivity, clarity and care. It provided visibility around payments and introduced elements of care (health/life insurance). Today, C&B has reinvented itself to become an element in the broader Total Rewards portfolio of an organization. Gone are the days when C&B was perceived as a significantly numerical function with little / no emotional aspects. In its current evolving avatar, C&B is a complementing part in the jigsaw puzzle of Total Rewards and is critical to provide better employee/candidate experience. While payroll had no connection with employee value proposition, total rewards have become a key ingredient of employer value proposition, talent attraction and retention. It is a business-aligned sub-function within HR that strategizes various reward interventions to ensure business success.
What has been the most significant change in employee benefits during the last five years?
There is a shift in the mindset among employers in terms of not just extending benefits to employees but to rather identify benefits that appeal to their different demographic segments. Further, there is increased focus on the education of benefits to ensure it is a win-win for employers (offering benefits that are needed) and employees (receiving needed benefits at either no / subsidized cost). The APAC market is increasingly focused on extending flexibility, top-up and choice, and physical/emotional well-being.
How should total reward professionals and businesses frame Total Reward strategies given the changing expectations of employees? How does a winning rewards strategy look like?
In order to cater to today’s multigenerational workforce, reward strategies need to constantly evolve. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, especially in matters relating to employees’ career aspirations/life interests, etc. Any cash / non-cash reward comes with either a direct or indirect cost. Rewards professionals need to look beyond the current and immediate and consider sustainability and scalability of the approach. In my opinion, a winning rewards strategy is one which is objective and augments business success without compromising on the organization’s values. It encompasses several elements like pay, bonuses, benefits, growth opportunities and work environment. Every aspect of the strategy needs to reflect the same theme and belief for it to succeed.
How do we see the different areas of HR transforming due to technology and analytics? How is technology transforming pay and benefit practices?
Technology is revolutionizing the way employers and employees approach work. Companies today acknowledge that their talent pool comprises people belonging to different cultures, age groups and social status working under one roof. Hence it becomes all the more important to bring all the positive energies together and march towards achieving organizational objectives. Given that this is easier said than done, companies today are relying on technology to enable an ecosystem that is open, collaborative and connected. According to industry reports, currently, the global technology penetration is about 57% which is expected to steadily increase over the next few years. While technology is disrupting every segment, it has also dramatically changed the HR landscape in recent years. Technology coupled with people analytics offers extensive insights about various programs/processes thereby enabling organizations to gauge the return on investment through systematic identification and measurement of metrics. Companies are using technology to enhance HR service, boost productivity, and help deliver more rewarding and personalized experiences for job candidates and employees. AI (eg: Chatbots) has permeated several facets of HR like Recruitment, Engagement, Pay & Benefits. For instance, organizations are supporting managers to take pay-related decisions for a candidate/employee faster by empowering them with data and analytics.
We need to look at compensation as a conscious, objective strategic tool for an organization and not as a short-term lever to aid short term plans. Analytics helps in predicting and correlating possible benefits from a particular pay/bonus intervention. Companies are supporting employee benefit selection through tech-enabled offerings with simplified decision support and choice enablement. Technology is leveraged today to understand individual employee needs/preferences so as to extend customized benefits packages. As companies are moving from employee wellness to wellbeing, having an online portal for benefits administration is hygiene. We really need to focus on using technology to understand our talent deeply by operating within the tenets of data security and confidentiality.
Large organizations now realize that a personalized, agile, holistic rewards system is essential to attracting, motivating, and developing talent. So why are so many companies falling short, even as they realize their rewards programs are outdated?
Organizations today, irrespective of their size and scale, have to keep one aspect at the core: Understanding their talent. This is the key ingredient to ensure the success of an initiative. Today’s workforce consists of a significant proportion of millennials who are looking for a fast-paced, dynamic, open work environment which is aligned to their career interests and that helps them move closer to their purpose. Having said that, workforce also includes talent from Baby Boomers / Gen X / Gen Y and so on. Organizations, on the one hand, want to give personalized, agile rewards to their talent. On the other hand, their execution may be focussed on one group only. A balanced strategy is one which takes into account the needs of different employee groups and offers flexibility while retaining the soul of the program. As they say, ‘the devil is in the details’. Organizations may be good at strategizing, but fail on execution. This is where organizations need to invest more time and energy. Execution not only refers to how well a program is rolled out but also refers to the ability of organizations to take calculated risks and embrace change.
Also, reward programs are designed based on multiple factors like - needs of the employees, appetite of the organization, opportunities or enablers available in the industry to meet these needs, etc. Often there are boundaries within which an organization can design their rewards. For example, an organization may want to create a retirement benefit which is very different from the Provident Fund or Gratuity Acts, but not have the flexibility due to statutory regulations.
In order to cater to today’s multigenerational workforce, reward strategies need to constantly evolve
Can you share an instance of a successful total rewards implementation by your organization?
At Cleartrip, we have a program called CT Achievers. Every Cleartripper aspires to be a part of this club that touches multiple facets like recognition, development, compensation and benefits. CT Achievers club is a select group formed with complete meritocracy for only a few across the organization. This approximately includes the top 10 percentile of the Cleartrip workforce. The crème de la crème of Cleartrip that show consistently unprecedented levels of performance, commitment to Cleartrip and play a pivotal role in taking Cleartrip to new heights make it to the Club. Every selection for Cleartrip Achievers club is based on a comprehensive process comprising an objective review by managers and leaders, and is based on the quality of work and its business impact. Each CT Achiever is recognised in the public forums like town halls, email communications, team meetings and is awarded a special bonus to celebrate their inclusion into the club. A plaque is presented to each CT Achiever to express that their role has been important in taking Cleartrip places! Being part of CT Achievers also means, they are nurtured to take up higher roles and also perform at the highest standards. Their development goals are defined and help them progress towards what they want to pursue both short-term and long-term. Apart from this, they are also a part of the exclusive teams who come together to solve some important modules across the organization.
Last year, Cleartrip acquired Saudi Arabia based leading online travel organization Flyin.com. We are looking to extend this program to include members of our extended tribe as well.
What are the top challenges that businesses face when it comes to framing the total rewards strategy and its implementation?
In this ever-changing dynamic business environment, organizations are required to strategize and execute within a short span of time. This would mean that any initiative has C-Suite buy-in, right investment, stakeholder alignment and a robust communication plan. Many organizations face difficulties rolling out the plan due to perception differences amongst the diverse talent groups. Line Manager empowerment and enablement may not be strong in order to deliver the program effectively to employees. In many cases, communication link breaks down at crucial points resulting in partial success / failure of the program. For any program to succeed, time-tested key elements like transparent communication, positive work environment and development-oriented culture are essential.
The need of the hour is to have a rewards strategy which is broad and has a flavor of flexibility and agility.
As we enter the year 2020, what trend or development do you think will significantly impact the rewards profession?
Personalized rewards are going to be increasingly talked about. In the Benefits space, there have been few customizations over the last few years, especially in insurance-related matters. However, there is scope for more in the overall benefit offerings depending on individual needs. When it comes to pay-related matters, there is still some distance to travel to reach a personalized package. How can a package be truly customized to suit employee needs is the way forward (barring the statutorily required components). With customization scaling new heights, talent attraction and retention are taking a whole different dimension. It waits to be seen if a day comes when we have a prospective candidate put up the expected salary on the resume / social media for organizations to auction for!