Unlike IT/ITES, the Insurance sector is new to the culture of working virtually and digitally. It has for many years relied on face to face meetings. Amid the COVID-19 crisis and the current lockdown phase, how can insurance companies ensure business continuity and adopt the new ways of working are the top two challenges.
In a recent interaction, Shharad Dhakkate, Chief Human Resources Officer, SBI General Insurance talks about managing the crisis and shares the company's business continuity plan.
How is the current COVID-19 crisis impacting the insurance sector?
The insurance sector is a pivotal role-player as far as cushioning against unforeseen perils and losses caused by them are concerned. Notwithstanding the increasing awareness, innovative products and new types of distribution models that will drive the Indian Insurance market exponentially, it remains largely conventional in its approach. It largely is a relationship based, face to face interaction-oriented business. Overall insurance penetration has continually remained low in India, providing a huge underserved market.
In such an environment, the ecosystem has dramatically changed overnight. The challenge is now for the workforce to capitalise on their personal equity, digitally.
With the disappearance of ‘in person approach’ in the current crisis times, the workforce which was competent, in face to face relationship based internal and well as external transactions, now has to gear up to acquire and deliver, without time lag, through work from home circumstances, deploying digital interfaces, remote working and monitoring technologies, processes and cater to new work models.
Unlike IT/ITES, where such work culture was an exposure available earlier, Insurance sector is new to this and the ecosystem for the same is still at a WIP stage. Current situation has impacted almost all major industry segments, including automobile, infrastructure, BFSI and few others which will have direct linkage with insurance business. While this situation will have a huge impact on the overall financial sector, how we evolve during this crisis and come out with appropriate business models will be the key to a commensurate recovery phase. If it is a challenge, there is a huge underlying opportunity awaiting to be tapped as well.
How is SBI GI planning to ensure business continuity amid such a crisis?
At SBI General, People First and Customer-Centricity are at the core of everything that we do. Amongst all other stakeholders, they continue to be at the center of our robust Business Continuity Plan (BCP) as well.
We are following a comprehensive BCP to address all probable situations and attune to near-to-normal BAU using virtual and digital modes.
We are taking care of our employees’ health and safety and at the same time ensuring that we deliver on our commitment to our customers. Thus, even during the current crisis, we are committed to offer the best of services to our customers. At the very early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak, we had formed the Emergency Management Team (EMT) that comprised the core leadership group.
We have been closely monitoring the situation in liaison with all government authorities and accordingly the necessary advisory is being issued to the employees and other stakeholders. EMT has been taking necessary steps as per our crisis management plan, to reshape the business strategy suiting the evolving situation; and to maintain business continuity, to build resilience and prepare for recovery.
We also have a Crisis Management & Communication Plan for COVID-19 in place. In the plan, we have highlighted the necessary Do’s and Don’ts for the stakeholders.
To make the ‘Work from Home’ a pleasant and productive experience for the employees, the EMT has provisioned for various L&D interventions, engagement activities and monitoring matrices.
Would there be any impact on key people's decisions like hiring, performance review & compensation?
People are at the core of our every decision as we have consistent conviction and corresponding practice that our people are our strength and their ability to rise up to any demanding occasion is our USP. While many sectors may revisit their policies and accordingly adjust their people decisions, we are committed to our immediate focus on the well being of our people and any decision around it will be based on the continually changing landscape influenced by the ensuing circumstances and its impact on the near and mid term plans.
Hiring certainly will have direct correlation with economic recovery cycle post lockdown.
Duration of lockdown, its impact on major industry segments, economic sentiments and change in buying behaviours of the customers, deployment of remote working processes and related technologies, etc. may warrant companies to revisit their business plans which will have direct impact on sourcing plans.
Hiring plans of the companies post COVID 19 will also define, apart from the strength of a particular industry, strength in fundamentals, agility and technology readiness of the company. At SBIG, we stay positive about our hiring plans.
With respect to Performance Review and Compensation, we may expect companies to recalibrate their performance and talent review cycles considering the uncertainties around the current situation.
However, at SBIG, we do not expect any changes either in the performance review cycle or its constituent elements. We also stay committed to our compensation philosophy and guiding principles and do not see any change in it because of the current crisis. Yes, there is bound to be more stringent and objective scrutiny of the performance and enhanced cost sensitivity across the board.
What are some of the top people challenges that have emerged for you in the COVID-19 times? How are you looking to deal with them?
Impact on the office environment
Most of our locations are spread across the geography covering most of the mofussil towns as well. It’s here that we must herald this new style of working and staying relevant in terms of individual productivity tying up with the organizational overarching objectives. Some of the other key challenges that have been faced are, developing the ability of working with limited resources and staying connected with the team and keeping up the meaningful engagement levels. At the same time, the managers are not only expected to have clarity in terms of expectations and performance benchmarks in the new environment but also provide the same to their team members.
Employee Stress Levels
The current situation would be unsettling for some of the employees as they would be dealing with medical issues, EMI of loans repayment, childcare/eldercare challenges, income disruption of a family member, etc. This scenario in today’s time doesn’t seem to be ending soon given the number of cases rising with each passing day. Also, normalcy will take its own time to settle. All these have their impact on employee engagement levels, productivity and quality of work.
We as an organization have been sensitive to such situations in the current context and have taken some proactive steps to ensure seamless transition to the new situational demands. The primary mantra has been simple: Care, Communicate & Engage. We have provided our people with all the required tools and facilities to work effectively in the Work from Home scenario. We have created a structured web engagement framework to keep employees engaged. While we were early adopters of online learning and mobile engagement and already had a robust utilisation background, we have upgraded the same to ensure that it caters seamlessly to the challenging demands of the current times
We have also enhanced the engagement quotient of our L&D interventions keeping in mind the Work from Home situation and the monotony that it might slowly breed. We have clearly defined work streams and productivity expectations and all these efforts are motivating the workforce positively in coping with the transitioned environment more effectively.
What new ways of working you have adopted recently?
While the world at large has begun talking about the possibility of decoupling of interdependencies, at organizational level a greater focus on crisis preparedness, resilience, change and transition agility, adversity management, goal focus and still holding core values shall remain the areas of concentration. In these difficult times, we continue our trysts with developing mechanisms that may influence individual level attitudinal shifts, managing recalibrated views of balance between work and family life, and rapidly scale up new skill sets and competencies required to deliver the aggressive organizational expectations in the new working environment.
We have identified critical work streams and are taking steps to ensure that there is no interruption in it through multiple delivery settings like Work from Home, Structured Web Engagements and Re-Defining success indicators. We continue to enjoy the passion and commitment of our intermediaries and channel partners in an attempt to serve our customers in the best possible manner who treasure the trust that our brand value invokes. In the absence of a face to face environment, we are upskilling our workforce to continue with the same penchant through other mediums of contact and remain committed to the organisational mandate of ensuring that the customer is never inconvenienced in any situation.
The workforce is enabled to work from home environment through our efforts of establishing clear remote working norms, publishing norms on- how the teams will collaborate, how to access information across teams, departments, and external stakeholders. We are also empowering our human capital to maintain cohesiveness and morale and acquire virtual social confidence
How are you measuring productivity amid lockdown?
There is no argument with regards to the fact that sales functions have been the hardest hit when compared to production or supply chain. Having said that, in spite of the grim situation, we are trying hard to remain unabated. Largely, there is no change in basic productivity measurement logic as yet. Performance of key processes and associated people are being measured against the prescribed norms. Interestingly, productivity measurement for virtual workspace mode is rather easy provided remote working norms and productivity expectations are clearly defined.
However, we have not lost sight of the fact that certain facets of productivity measurement have certainly changed for sure. It is an unprecedented working situation influenced by this global pandemic and it has impacted not only production levels but also ways of working. We are yet to ascertain its impact on employee morale, behaviour and productivity. We expect some recalibration happening in this area.