For employees, it is no longer about what salary and benefits they get from the job
Seema Arora Nambiar, Hardcastle Restaurants (McDonald’s), shares with Basuri Dutta, what drives the new workforce and their need to focus on the purpose of their job
Q. What does the new generation joining the workforce expect from the workplace?
The need to be able to see the direction in which the company is going would be at the top of the list for Gen Y employees. Today, an employee’s need to know ‘why I do what I do’ is a lot more critical than it was even in our time. Quite often, senior people have discussions, that in their time they did things only because their bosses asked them to do. Today, employees want to know what their energies are going to yield. I have a slightly radical view on Gen Y & Gen Next, that they are a lot more result focused and contrary to the commonly held belief, they are not too focused on money. Their focus is really their purpose and whether they have work-life balance. The new generation is no longer willing to work 15 hours a day for the first 10 years of their lives. People, who joined us when they were 18, require a lot of hand-holding once they get married. I have had conversations with employees, who would have just been married, around how they would plan their finances and whether they have thought about building assets for the future. They need to be given this well-rounded perspective and they appreciate this kind of relevant actionable advice. So, that is the personal touch at work that they need. They don’t just want you to be supportive about work and contrary to popular belief, they are not as transactional as they are made out to be. As a culture, India is very emotionally bonded, where the workplace is a large part of our social circle, and our boss and colleagues are probably friends, unlike the West, where friends and office colleagues are clearly differentiated. The Gen Y is extremely confident of their skill levels and they do not want functional feedback. And that is what I love about the McDonald’s competencies, that do not talk about functional competencies, but clearly talk about the eight behavioral competencies that are expected from people, and that is what most employees want feedback on.
Q. What is the one characteristic that every people manager should possess? Why?
One critical need is the ability to stay connected with the frontline. That is a non-negotiable characteristic. Recently, we did an exercise when the entire corporate team took over the operations of the Bandra restaurant at peak lunch time. The head of supply chains was working French fries, the head of design was working on the grill and they kept me for taking orders, because all the customer complaints happen outside. We later found out that the complaints were more, because we were not as fast as the regular crew. This process allowed us to connect with the crew who were 18 or 19 years of age. Just the energy that they brought to the place was phenomenal and it was what made the business click. So, as a people manager, if you are not connected to the frontline, you cannot run the business effectively.
Q. What change has the employer-employee relationship undergone in recent years?
In the employer-employee relationship, the ‘values’ piece has become very critical. For employees, it is no longer about what salary and benefits they get from the job; but it is also about the way the leadership deals with issues, whether or not the employer is socially responsible and does what is ethically right. Today’s employees do take you to task as an organization if they think that there is a value mismatch. For example, if someone has been injured off the job, the managers are very clear that they will help the employee and the organization is expected to support the decision. They never ask you for financial support, but they expect you to support the decision. Managers feel that they are responsible for each and every employee. We faced an instance, where an 18-year-old employee in Mumbai was traveling by train and met with an accident, resulting in a head injury. He was the youngest in his family of eight children and the only earning member. I was amazed at the quick reaction from the entire organization where an email was sent out seeking contribution to support this employee and they collected about a lakh and a half overnight.
At another time, when we were stuck in Ahmedabad during the riots and there were employees stuck in the restaurant, the only thing our then CEO did at that time, was to try to get everybody out of the city. That is the kind of caring environment that employees look for and that is essentially the other change that has come about in the employer-employee relationship. The other piece is leadership and the credibility of the leadership team. These days in interviews, we have candidates asking us questions on whether or not the company is making money as a business and is it profitable. We admire people who have the gumption.
Q. Please share an example of managing people, which has been personally rewarding and meaningful for you.
One of the nicest things in managing people is having conversations with them on what they want to do. I have had people coming up to me and wanting to understand what their opportunities are, what should they do for the next couple of years and what should their individual development plan be. I am not sure if I can talk about any one instance, because there are so many, but ultimately it is the fulfillment of working with this one large group of people, who look back at the organization and say that this organization has given them a lot. We have an alumnus, who is a CEO of his own organization today and he always says that McDonald’s is the foundation for what he has achieved. There is another person who is currently a very senior resource in a large IT company and still swears by the brand. There are many such instances where people have gone into multiple avenues and yet they continue to be brand ambassadors. We hire people at McDonald’s when they are just in their late teens having passed their 12th class and we truly believe on acting on the ‘skills for life’ philosophy.
Q. If you had to hire the entire workforce by asking just one question, what would that be?
‘What drives you?’ And based on the response I get, I will make my decision.