A global health crisis like COVID-19 pandemic is ruled by unfamiliarity and uncertainty. A predefined response plan during such tough times may fail. What such crisis calls for are effective responses that are largely improvised.
While talking with us on the theme, ‘leadership in crisis’, Roshni Wadhwa, Director – Human Resources, India, L'Oréal said, “Adaptive leadership helps accelerate any transition.”
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
What does it take to create an extraordinary employee experience?
Building a great employee experience is at the core of every HR strategy. Right from the time you engage with a candidate for a potential opportunity to the time you stay connected with Alumni of your organization, you are constantly creating an experience which reflects the people culture of the company.
Employees today are no longer just concerned about job security, or aspects like onboarding, training, performance review and compensation and benefits. They also care about having a sense of purpose and pride, inspiring leadership, great amount of work flexibility, robust enabling tools, meaningful engagement and the opportunity to work on cross functional projects and upskill themselves. These are the new areas HR teams have to focus on, to help create an extraordinary employee experience.
How do you think organizations can manage employee experience in times of crisis?
The most important thing during a crisis is to keep the employee health, safety and wellbeing as the top priority. There is great appreciation for ‘Transparency’ and ‘continuous communication’ in times of crisis.
The job of Leaders is very crucial in these situations. Leaders must demonstrate empathy and compassion on one side and on the other hand balance it with leveraging the collective intelligence of teams by working on ‘bounce back’ plans. This helps uplift the morale of the employees and greater commitment.
How are you relooking at your own employee experience strategy?
At L’Oreal, we are creating multiple platforms to stay in touch with our employees. Constant communication from the CEO's desk and periodic town halls with the CEO and CXOs help address many concerns of our employees. With the help of a small taskforce, we have created a few listening forums to hear the voices of our employees across locations and levels. New and agile methods of engagement have been developed which are gradually helping us in setting up the ‘new normal’ ways of working. The body of work around digital and technology upgradation is key to create new employee experience in times to come.
What are some new initiatives that you have launched to keep your employees engaged and productive amid current lockdown?
At L’Oreal, our big focus today is to turn crisis into an opportunity for driving acceptance for new ways of working.
Upskilling and development has always been our key HR strategy. We have launched an initiative called – ‘#LearningNeverStops’. Together with the line managers, we have curated learning programs for our employees which are either ‘open to all’ or targeted towards certain sections of employees on a need basis. This gives great opportunity for our employees to continue to upskill and learn new skills amidst this lockdown situation. Virtual learning is the new normal and is here to stay going forward. We are in the process of converting at least 50-60 percent of our classroom programs into virtual platforms and change the way we impart training to our employees in future.
During the lockdown period, employees are likely to go through their moments of anxiety and frustrations. It is important to support our employees in managing their anxiety and reignite the fighting spirit. Through #WellnessNeverStops and our Employee Assistance Program, employees together with their family members can avail free online fitness classes and reach out to professional counselors for advice.
This is also a good time for business teams to reimagine the business situation post lockdown. Currently the teams are divided into smaller task forces and each task force is looking into different aspects and preparing the organization to be ready to bounce back quickly. This kind of working enables empowerment and stronger commitment from teams and spirit of belongingness.
Apart from this, sales teams are also encouraged to do tele-calling to their customers, our education teams are organizing more and more virtual sessions to train hairdressers across the country, etc.
How are you balancing business continuity and employees' wellbeing amid COVID-19 crisis?
Our biggest priority in this period has been the safety and well-being of our employees. We already had robust business continuity plans in place to ensure that we maintain business readiness, even as we continue to be guided by advisories from local governments in the areas we operate in. Our team and task forces are monitoring the evolving situation 24x7, and the management committee meets daily to take stock of the situation and respond to it.
As a leader, what do you think are some key pillars of leadership when it comes to managing a crisis situation?
The pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on leaders in business.
What leaders need to do is quickly get comfortable with widespread ambiguity and chaos, recognizing that there is no playbook for a crisis.
Apart from forming an architecture of decision making, another important quality is to display optimism combined with realism, pause to assess, anticipate and then act. Lastly, it is vital that leaders not only demonstrate empathy and take care of others but also pay attention to their own well-being.
The year 2019 had been all about tech adoption and digital transformation, with conversations surrounding what the future of work would be like. How do you see the future of work changing now?
Tech and digital transformation is not going anywhere and in fact are more crucial now. The nature of this new threat has made us speed up our digitization efforts. The last few weeks have shown us that we are capable of adapting quickly and changing the way we operate and that’s all thanks to technology.
Our business brand competition for B-school students – Brandstorm, this year was completed on a virtual platform. This was an extraordinary achievement with more than 100 participants logging in from their homes. The entire event was managed digitally and the verdict for National champion was declared at the end of the event. This is truly the new normal which will sustain for times to come.
We also launched L’Oréal Internships @ Home, comprising 100% WFH projects. After an extensive virtual onboarding program, all interns are assigned projects which they can work on remotely. Project guides are assigned to mentor and handhold them through this journey. Various touch points have been created to ensure there is no compromise in the quality of the output and learning for our summer interns. HR and business teams are demonstrating great agility in adapting to these new ways of working which eventually can turn out to be ‘new normal’ in future.
It takes a while before one can switch their perspective and look at a crisis as an opportunity. How can leaders guide their teams to accelerate this transition?
Business’s ability to learn and respond has always been a matter of great concern and study. When WFH started many years ago it was seen as a benefit and now WFH is seen as an ability to ensure business continuity for employees, clients and customers. Were we ready for it? Probably not but we ADAPTED very quickly. Adaptive leadership helps accelerate any transition. When there is a sense of shared responsibility for a company’s vision, the success of business becomes everyone’s business.
To learn from experts as to what it takes to create a world of incredible experiences, join us for the People Matters EX: A Virtual Conference on 19th June