Having worked in the HR landscape for more than two decades, Santanu Ghoshal, VP of HR, Schaeffler India, looks after the automotive and industrial business arms of the manufacturing giant. As this sector finds itself in the middle of major digital transformation given the advent of AI, robotics, and automation at almost every step of the process, it is crucial for a leader like Ghoshal to ensure that the people culture in the company is ready for the impending change.
Previously, Ghoshal has worked with companies such as Crompton Greaves and has held leadership positions in organizations in Timken and General Motors. His expertise lies in organizational development, succession planning, talent management, HR transformation, and employee engagement.
In a candid conversation with People Matters, Ghoshal shared his thoughts about the cultural traits that define the successful transformation of an organization and the importance of instilling a culture that allows for failure.
Describe your career journey having worked in various sectors including the automotive sector and now with Schaeffler. How has the landscape of work and people changed over the years?
I have been fortunate to work in various facets of HR in my two-decade-long career. Also, working with Indian and Global companies, within the plant or corporate assignments have offered different opportunities to try out new tools, methods… many times, unorthodox. I must admit that you got to have a good boss to allow this experimentation and I have been blessed.
Over the years HR as a function has evolved with many positive changes. Technology is a great enabler within the HR domain today and many creative minds are at play to improve employee experience and organizational development. The conversation language within the domain has changed and we are increasingly adopting the business language now. Conversations have become more data-driven and analytical. On the flip side, possibly, we are not using our intuitive faculties as much as our previous generations. Also, it is my observation, that in the effort to transform digitally, we end up spending less time on employee interaction.
Personally, I believe that being business-oriented and being humane need not be mutually exclusive. Rather a healthy mix, would help us evolve as more matured professionals.
What are the most common people challenges that you come across while driving any organizational changes?
In the VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) environment, we probably have no choice but to reinvent ourselves continuously. Normally, I continue to push my team to have an externally oriented mindset. They are mostly aware of what’s happening in the environment. This helps me, when we introduce any change. Today’s workforce is driven by “Purpose” and “Trust”. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Leaders need to earn that trust over a period of time. Also, it is critical to connecting the workforce to the purpose behind the change and It’s important for a leader to develop a compelling storyline and narrative to make people understand the context.
What cultural traits must an organization possess before embarking upon a digital transformation journey?
The most important traits an organization must possess for digital transformation is the openness of an organization to experiment with disruptive technology and continuously encourage employees to learn new skills. For me, it is crucial that the leadership in our organization is committed to creating a learning climate. At Schaeffler, the entire leadership team encourages all employees to pursue their passion for learning something new which interests them. Providing our employees with a platform to actually implement their learnings helps not only the employees but also the organization to build a sustainable learning culture. At the end of it, this is one of the major ways in which we can be known as a future-ready innovative organization on a global scale.
What cultural values do you think are critical for an organization, especially in the manufacturing sector, to thrive in a digital era?
The Digital Era in India is still at a nascent stage and for the manufacturing sector, we have a long way to go. Well, we need to bear in mind that adaptability and its pace plays a key role during any kind of transformation. There are certain organizations that accept changes seamlessly and are able to implement it well. Others are struggling to get the correct balance. So, it completely depends upon the DNA the company is built on. Here, the values that the company follows will play a huge role.
How do you go about building a scalable culture that can be replicated across geographies?
Every region follows a different kind of culture and within the region every country also has its unique cultural traits. Cultural traits of global organizations get influenced to a certain extent by the locational flavor. However, vision and core values of an organization form its DNA. This should not be compromised or diluted under any circumstances. Every smart organization needs to balance this mix to be successful in various geographies without losing its core identity. There is no standard formula for this. Schaeffler has been extremely successful in this area and that is why we have been able to build a truly global enterprise, which is agile, customer-centric.
How can HR leaders help their employees’ transition from being risk-averse to being open to risks in the digital age?
Risk is a factor that people in the corporate world are exposed to all the time. Transformation is an ongoing phenomenon. With the changing demographics of the workforce, we are witnessing changes in perceptions, point of views and attitudes. Today, employees are quite open to accepting changes as long as there is a credible narrative and it is articulated to suit the target audience. Thanks to the information revolution, today’s workforce is more knowledgeable and aware of the macroeconomic and social issues. This in a way is pushing leaders to be more prepared and transparent. So, as an HR leader myself, I continue to coach our employees across all levels, to stay curious, learn new things and adopt new practices. Unfortunately, one cannot afford to be insulated from the disruption and related risks in the market environment.
Every new experimentation is an opportunity. There is no absolute guarantee that you will be successful at all times! However, every such experiment gives you a chance to learn. These learnings add to your overall experience, hence seasoning your skills in order to become a better leader for the future.
As technology rapidly transforms people functions, how can culture help accelerate the process?
Culture is the backbone of every organization. Without the right leadership culture driving any kind of change within organizations is very difficult. Leadership at Schaeffler is based on transparency, trust, and teamwork. Our managers assume responsibility for decisions while also encouraging others to make decisions of their own. An open culture of feedback and trust in the abilities of others is an important basis here. We, at Scheffler India, recognize & appreciate that high performing organizations in today’s VUCA environment cannot produce extraordinary results from age-old learning methods. There are six leadership essentials that are guides for leaders across levels in the workplace:
Connect for success – Empower your team – Care for people – Manage for results – Drive the change – Take on responsibility. The six leadership essentials provide the framework for our leadership culture and are thus of particular importance for the future success of our company.
Your body can do it. You just need to convince your mind--is a popular saying among fitness enthusiasts. Similarly, how can business leaders build a culture that enables employees to overcome their mental blocks and embrace digital change?
India as a country is blessed with demographic advantages. Our new generation is much more tech-savvy. Fortunately for us, there is a focused effort from the government to drive digitalization and given the enormity and complexity of our country, I must say, that we have already started seeing success. One more important aspect is the effort we have been seeing in the area of skilling. Not only the government, but corporate leaders are also doing their bit. Therefore, the context is already set.
People understand the value as well as the risk associated with digital disruption. Technology enables opportunities to create jobs that can be innovative, higher-paying but this needs different skill sets. In general, our employees are smart and adaptive. They understand the need of the hour. Business leaders have to help the workforce by providing the right learning and allowing them initial opportunities to try their new skills. But more than anything, it is important to restate the purpose of the organization to the employees. Disruption is part of the environment and reassure them with trust and also let them know that we are all in this game together.
Any particular tip to build a digital-ready culture?
Leaders have to lead by action and be the torchbearers of this change. Frequent interactions with peers and other industry experts will help in getting new ideas of implementation and driving the change. Most importantly, the willingness to allow failure because people will stumble while learning.