Article: Shailesh Singh on employee well-being, allyship and being an HR leader

Employee Relations

Shailesh Singh on employee well-being, allyship and being an HR leader

Shailesh Singh, Director & Chief People Officer, Max Life Insurance, talks to People Matters about the organization’s priority as the second wave rages on, key skills being sought in new hires, enabling a high-performing and collaborative digital organizational culture, and the three essentials of being an HR leader.
Shailesh Singh on employee well-being, allyship and being an HR leader

Shailesh Singh is currently Director & Chief People Officer at Max Life Insurance.

In his present role, Shailesh is responsible for developing and implementing successful Human Resources strategies that support long term growth and transformation of the organization. As part of the transformation agenda, Shailesh is spearheading Max Life's journey to becoming a ‘Great Place to Work’ while benchmarking organizations culture and people practices to the very best. He is also responsible for the company's societal connect and leads Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

With about 25 years of experience, Shailesh is committed to enhancing culture, creating value for teams and organizations, raising engagement levels and developing talent & leadership to facilitate the delivery of world class people agenda and culture.

Prior to joining Max Life Insurance, Shailesh has worked in multiple HR leadership roles in GE Energy, GE Supply-chain, GE Capital, SRF Finance, Eicher Tractors and National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). These roles have included a variety of functional disciplines focusing on culture building, learning, rewards management, HR process excellence, organizational development & transformation and human capital transformation in a variety of business cycles, contexts and cultures, nationally and globally. 

In this exclusive conversation with People Matters, Shailesh sheds light on the organization’s priority as the second wave rages on, key skills being sought in new hires, enabling a high-performing and collaborative digital organizational culture, and the three essentials of being an HR leader.

Read on for highlights from the interview.

In your career spanning over 30 years, what were some significant milestones and experiences that shaped your outlook and approach as a leader? 

Reflecting back on my journey of 30 years, there have been multiple instances that have reinforced my belief in how culture is a strong enabler for an organization. And that has been a guiding principle for me throughout. In this fast moving world, there are many experiences that I came across that were challenging, including entirely redesigning organizational systems or evolving them to reflect a fair balance to shareholders, customers and to employees.

I would say embracing change, focusing always on the long term, and having a growth mindset are absolutely key for an HR leader.

As I look at nearly a decade of working with Max Life, I take immense pride in its very solid foundation that has people commitment at the center, where everyone leads with a set of core values that are ingrained in the culture. They say a crisis reveals the true character, and with this pandemic, we have all faced challenges that were never seen before, there was no playbook, you had to do what was right for your people. We moved the company to a virtual setup within a very short time, but there were always new challenges - juggling work-life balance, not having face-to-face meetings, and not being able to go to the office in some cases for more than a year, can have a significant impact on our employees. And as we face the second wave of the pandemic, I just want to reiterate, our people are absolutely the number one priority for us. We stand by them, for them – at all times.

How is Max Life looking at hiring practices this year? Any significant changes in processes and approach from the previous year?

There’s an increased focus on digital mindset – and we’re looking to be joined by people who have been exposed to the digital world, increasingly. In today’s age of automation, we’re also seeking those who possess the right amount of emotional intelligence, and skill sets that enable an end-to-end understanding of customers and digitization of processes.

We have also gone through a similar review across functions beyond digital. Cognitive proficiency, a customer oriented mindset and ability to operate in different cultural settings, driving effective collaboration and engagement with all stakeholders are deeply valuable. 

In shaping meaningful employee experience in the present context, what are organizations not doing right? What are some essentials of employee experience in the evolving workforce construct?

It is absolutely essential for organizations to focus and channelize their efforts towards employee well-being in this very vulnerable and dynamic world. It is the key ingredient for every person to thrive, whether in a workplace or at home / relationships.

Employee wellness is a key focus area for us at Max Life, where physical and mental well-being of our people are at the forefront.

Secondly, and I can’t emphasize this enough how important the role of excellent leadership is right now. Employee experience is also about how the employee feels about his/her connection to the organization.

Good leaders can steer their teams in the right direction and become amplifiers of change. Empower and equip your managers and leaders to be the true guides and ambassadors of the purpose, values and mission of the organization. 

How is the BFSI sector driving people experiences through these disruptive times? 

For years on, the BFSI sector has been traditional in its approach, relying heavily on in-person communication, but the ongoing pandemic has disrupted these experiences.

With the in-person channel removed, the entire sector sped through on a digital journey ushering groundbreaking innovation.

We also successfully digitalized all our key operations such as sales, policy issuance, claims, servicing – across the entire value chain, making the experience for customers during the pandemic, as seamless as possible. In a largely contactless era, we managed to constantly deliver elevated customer experience by creating ease of access, introducing digital initiatives, and ensuring seamless claims settlement. 

In this journey of digitization, it has reaffirmed our belief in constant learning and development. I think it’s an imperative for the cycle of innovation and improvement to be faster, better and edgier. We offer digital learning platforms to our employees which have a plethora of topics and courses to choose from depending on the choice of the individual. 

In terms of evolved learning and development modules, Max Life has completely moved virtual too where all sessions have been converted to bite-sized zoom modules and Webinars, alongside enabling all trainers to take virtual sessions. We have also initiated specific contextual sessions for current scenarios including e-magazines for disseminating important HR, and Culture news. The organization has ensured anytime anywhere learning via mobile enabled/e-learning – including for culture/values embedding.

For several firms’ inclusion took a backseat in 2020, however, global incidents triggered the lament spark of allyship. How can organizations leverage the power of allies in their D&I journey? 

Gender diversity and inclusion is a deep focus area at Max Life Insurance. It is an important agenda for the company and a key pillar to enhance our gender footprint in due course. We endeavor to be a bias-free organization, committed to providing equal opportunities without any discrimination on the grounds of age, colour, disability, origin, nationality, religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Within the private life insurance industry, we are proud to share that 45% of our sales agents are women, the highest in the segment. Over the long term, our diversity ratios have seen a consistent upward trend; we have recorded a 50% increase of women employees in the organization since 2012.

Allyship is one of the most meaningful ways of driving workplace harmony and opportunities for underrepresented groups.

By promoting social justice, inclusion, and rights of members of an ‘ingroup’, allyship can be a great way to drive D&I journeys.

Recently at Max Life, we have initiated a ‘Women Mentorship Program’ that aims to support a set of experienced women leaders to become mentors. The women leaders will go through a formal orientation and training process to become mentors. The program will prove to be a game-changer and will provide opportunities to our women leaders to step up for the next leap. 

What role does inclusion play in crafting a new culture for the hybrid experience? What is your advice for leaders working towards building and enabling a high-performing and collaborative digital organizational culture? 

Harmony and togetherness are essential factors in building a future ready-workforce driven by remote experiences to avoid alienation - diversity and inclusion are pertinent to attaining this.

Giving into unconscious bias is fairly easy when working remotely, but this is exactly why companies, especially leaders must be cognizant of the fact and initiate a revamp of culture that can increase transparency, sense of belongingness, leading to high-performing teams. 

Leading hybrid workforces requires leaders to break through the uncertainty and this can be done by setting clear expectations – while this has been done in the past, revisiting these expectations to align basis the evolving context is crucial. Apart from that, offering support within teams, building digital infrastructure and recognizing the capacity and capability of employees to thrive in these environments will lead to a growth mindset top down.

Know more about what’s new in employee experience at the People Matters Employee Experience India Conference on 10th June, 2021. Register Now!

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Topics: Employee Relations, #EXChecklist, #EmployeeExperience

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