Article: The building pillars of high-performance organizations


The building pillars of high-performance organizations

Unmesh Pawar, Partner and Head, People, Performance and Culture, KPMG, India, in an interaction with People Matters, talks about the equations of high performance organizations.
The building pillars of high-performance organizations

With more than 25 years of international experience building high-performance leadership teams to meet business outcomes, Unmesh is a senior leader in human capital strategy, organizational transformation, and coaching. He is responsible for leading KPMG in India’s People, Performance and Culture (PPC) and is a part of the India Leadership Team. In his role, he is responsible for building differentiated capabilities in the market place through designing and deploying complex talent acquisition and management practices.

Prior to joining the firm, in his 17-year stint with Accenture, Unmesh was the Global Managing Director–Human Resources, for their Products Operating Group. He also previously held key roles there as the Global Managing Director for Talent Acquisition, Global HR Head for the Operations Business and as the APAC Human Resources Business Partner. In his early career days, he held roles with Mastek, Tata and Peerless groups.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

What are the building pillars of a high performing organization? 

In order to create a thriving organization, we must create and sustain an environment which encourages people to give their best each day, so as to ensure commitment to the organization’s goals and values, and motivate them to contribute to the organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being. The first pillar which is important to build a high performing organisation is to create and bring about a sync between the organizational goal and individual purpose To this effect, our engagement model, at KPMG in India, focuses on three dimensions: Connect –Which is all about our communication efforts; Inspire - our recognition and motivation efforts, and Engage - our non-work related efforts to bring colleagues together. 

The second building pillar which is crucial for a high performing organization is working towards understanding the client’s business, building trust with them, and last but not least working towards gaining the trust of the space we are operating in–which in our case is professional services. The third and last building pillar in my opinion, which is important, is the need to innovate our offerings continuously, to keep pace with the demands of an evolving industry, as well as our business.  

A well-balanced combination of these three pillars could go a long way in helping organizations become high performing. Staying invested in people is important, which in turn will inspire employees to build trust, seek growth and thereby deliver impact for our clients and our business. 

How and what stack of technologies do they leverage to build competitive muscles and drive growth?

The use of technology empowers businesses to go through a vast amount of data faster and more precisely than any person. It can also determine where an organization’s practices have gone or might go wrong. It pinpoints where and how systems, operations, processes, and controls can be improved. A cognitive system (powered by Artificial Intelligence) can learn as it goes along, allowing it to broaden and refine its knowledge and analytical capabilities.

As a high performing organization, our differentiation is derived from rapid performance-based, industry-tailored and technology-enabled, business advisory services delivered by some of the leading talented professionals in the country. Similarly, our internal information technology and knowledge management systems enable the delivery of informed and timely business advice to clients.

KPMG’s 2018 CEO Outlook Report shows that a core challenge for many business leaders will be ensuring they can draw on enough suitably talented technology experts to adopt, deploy and deliver results from new technologies – and that for 65 percent of CEOs, AI will create more jobs than it will destroy. CEOs see technology as an opportunity: almost all (94 percent) see technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat and 30 percent of CEOs are actively disrupting the sector in which they operate, rather than waiting to be disrupted by competitors.

What challenges leaders face when it comes to embracing the rules that drive high-performance?

The markets today are extremely competitive. With technologies accelerating at a frenzied pace, the challenge of managing the skills gap is an extremely big one, which makes innovation a true strategic imperative.

What also makes this further challenging is the evolving and changing aspirations of the workforce. Leaders today, have to stay in step or ahead of it if they are to tackle this challenge. There is also the issue of job disruption on account of technology advances, hence a proactive leader should look to work with his/her team towards gradually sensitizing employees around this, to ensure meaningful careers for them and maintain a high performance. 

Employees continue to find it difficult to connect with the larger organizational goal that they do on a daily basis. What’s your take on this?

Today, employee engagement is all about co-relating one’s own individual purpose and passion with the higher purpose of the Firm. Most organizations recognize this fact and through various people related initiatives for development and engagement, encourage a culture that brings out the best in their people. At KPMG in India we undertake multiple initiatives to bring out the best in our employees, thereby helping them realize their passion, in alignment with the organizational goal, as well as their purpose. 

Kommunities is one such initiative that gets like-minded colleagues together from a hobby/interest standpoint so as to help them nurture these interests alongside work and help bonding of colleagues in a particular location. With an aim to ensure a consistent and continuous flow of communication within the firm we have regular sessions with our leaders to ensure a good leader-employee connect, to keep pace with the larger organizational goal. This is followed by regular E –Town Halls a “Confluence Connect” of sorts through which the entire firm is brought together to engage, discuss and exchange views and opinions about the organisation. It is the central channel through which the vision of the firm is shared, followed by extensive discussions on how to meet the targets and thereby the larger organizational goal. 

From a CSR perspective, KPMG in India launched the ASPIRE program in 2014 which has seen our senior women leaders mentor disadvantaged girl students through quality education and providing strategic direction etc.  

From a culture perspective, what is the right equation that organizations should embrace to become high-performing?

Efforts should be made to make the organization culture as open and transparent as possible. Below are some aspects which could help an organization, to become high performing.

Encourage open communication- Organizations who encourage open and honest communication at the workplace will always be at an advantage. Start today to be a better communicator. This is an important value that we inculcate in all KPMG in India employees, which has allowed us to constructively and effectively manage tough situations with clients and staff.

Giving and receiving feedback- Creating a feedback-rich culture is a key imperative for a positive culture. Transparent feedback can go a long way, to find out how employees are feeling about your culture and if there is anything that needs to be improved or addressed. This is another of our values we encourage in our employees here at KPMG in India, as we constantly seek facts so as to provide insight. This has helped us strengthen our reputation as trusted and objective business advisers. 

OPEN - We recently launched ‘OPEN’ a Performance Development mechanism which has been designed to help us develop our expertise and improve our performance. We’re moving away from a focus on proving ourselves towards continually improving ourselves. We believe- That’s how innovators work – try new things, they are prepared to fail and they ask for feedback and grow. This mechanism allows for, timely, meaningful conversations between performance managers and appraises, to help develop our talent and to guide learning, personal and career development. 

How do/should organizations measure and determine if they are on the path to high performance? 

Measuring high performance includes measuring the real results of an organization against its set goals. Identifying strategic measurements that go down right up to department is imperative as is simplifying performance processes. Eliminating silos is another key way to determine if an organization is well on truly on its way to high performance. 

An organization that promotes a culture of focusing on the following qualities in the order listed below should be on the path to high performance in the medium to long term.

  • A focus on having a positive attitude is imperative. This is only possible if an employee is healthy and his or her emotional well-being is stable
  • The above point leads to the assurance of security through relationships
  • This then allows open expression of opinions, which in turn encourages and improves organization-wide communications
  • Leading to a diverse set of inputs to develop a broad perspective on business and people issues
  • Further leading to a culture of innovation and experimentation to create value
  • Resulting in high-quality products and exceptional service that provide value and exceed expectations
  • Which leads to confidence, thereby allowing people to find meaning in their work and achieve exceptional results 

The points here only help enhance the above points

  • Self-development and Continuous learning, 
  • Connects with individuals, teams and organizations to build lasting, collaborative relationships that enable global, firm-wide growth
  • Creates an environment in which all people feel like they belong and take sound ethical and business judgment when making decisions


How do you envision the future of workplace and what will distinguish top-performing organizations from the rest of the pack?

As technology is advancing, organizations will have to look for ways to curb and cut down costs, with a view to increasing competitive advantage. This means organizations will have to look for opportunities to increase people to people connection to get employees to engage in conversations etc. This is because we live in a society which is well connected and virtual in nature. That said, technologies such as AI have the ability to transform human to human communication in many ways. It could help with improving an employee’s confidence, add a sense of fulfillment, increase peer engagement and most importantly create a huge impact with a message, by reducing time taken to deliver a message and improve business efficiency.

Flexibility, previously was seen as a wonderful perk, and not one you would necessarily come across that often. But today flexibility at work has become acceptable and in the near future will become a necessity, what with advances in technology making it a whole lot easier to work remotely and stay connected to one’s team. The focus should be on the outcome, as employees with flexibility to change their hours and workspace have proven to be more productive.

Lastly, with the workplace and technology continuing to evolve, what will become important is our mental and emotional well-being in the future, all this while striking a collaborative partnership between how humans and machines can best work together. Organizations who are able to do this could leap ahead of the rest of the pack.

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Topics: Culture, #ChangeTheGame

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