READ the August 2021 issue of our magazine: The Rise of Work Tech
A pragmatic leader with extensive experience in business HR partnering, organizational strategy execution, managing/leading complex culture change projects, organizational design, and team effectiveness leadership/executive development, Shubha Shridharan oversees all HR interventions in the APAC region across 11 different countries. Before joining The Adecco Group, she had worked with Signify (Philips Lighting) as the Global Head of Learning & Leadership Development and has led various people and leadership transformation initiatives at ING Group.
How do you see the larger EX scenario today where COVID-19 has changed the whole equation of how people work?
Providing an enriching and amiable experience for employees has taken a center stage in the minds of every HR leader for over a decade now. In the past 4-5 years the topic has only intensified further. If you think about it, as an employee, we are becoming increasingly transparent and responding to more pulse surveys, attending feedback sessions, participating in crowdsourcing forums when it comes to sharing our experiences around company culture and what truly makes us happy at work. This has all been part of the evolution of EX. When I joined The Adecco Group a few months ago, I witnessed the seriousness with which the principles of EX are being actioned here in reality. Conversations around EX are integral to the way we conceptualize and design everyday work.
COVID-19 in that sense has given us a whole new definition of EX, especially in the manner how we augment it. The effort to create a differentiating work experience where employees feel healthy, happy, and productive will remain in focus forever from now in my view.
Amid all the continuing uncertainty, can organizations elevate the work experience of virtual workers while struggling to get things on track?
This is a very tough ask and is also quite contextual. We need to be sensitive, thoughtful and continue to prioritize this activity, particularly during these times of chaos and uncertainty. Within APAC, I see several variances of how, at a country level and a company level, people are coping with the overall pandemic. But regardless of how it is done and which magnitude, enabling fundamental safety to our employees is at the top of all minds. That's the starting point.
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Now, also here we go back to Maslow’s hierarchy – safety first, i.e. as a company we take utmost measures to ensure our employees within the work premises and also outside to whatever extent possible are being protected from not getting infected. From an EX standpoint at this basic level, it accounts for measures like - acting without panicking, providing clear communications, clarifying the protocols on all the “what-if” scenarios as much as possible, having a regular dialogue at all levels keeping track of health and well-being, sending basic supplies like masks & shields to home if possible these are all part of creating a better experience and I think these are fundamental. Once you have crossed that bridge of basic health safety, we then start to look at work from home (WFH) arrangements. Offering support with decent technology, agreement of behaviors around virtual working, being respectful of people's time (at all times, not just beyond "work hours") is all part of creating a good WFH experience. The next level is for the locations where the threat from COVID is relatively controlled, and return to work is resurfacing, at those places you start to think about how you design the hybrid working model.
Overall, it is challenging, but this situation is also several opportunities that we are tapping into. For me, the whole notion of becoming more human is a big reality. I take many of my calls from my kitchen and I have stopped shooing my kids away if they happen to come on the screen occasionally when I am in meetings. It is all ok and accepted and that acceptance accentuates my experience when a lot of things are not in my control! I don't "dress-up" in a deeper sense and I like that...
With more companies planning to shift to remote/hybrid work post-COVID-19, what’s your advice for leaders to meet the evolving needs of employees?
I have been a remote worker doing an intense global HR leadership job for over 4 years, this was even before COVID-19. Based on my first-hand experience my advice to leaders and employees would be to strive for a balance. For the majority of jobs, going entirely virtual without human touchpoints is a recipe for disaster in my view. It will work for a handful of roles but for the greater majority, a healthy hybrid work construction would be ideal in my view.
We should design work in such a manner that we eliminate inefficiencies including traveling back and forth to the office every day. But at the same time, we should not miss out on preserving face-to-face human interaction. I believe we are essentially at our best when collaborate and co-create with our people, which spark innovation and creativity. We should not make the mistake of taking that out of the work equation. Having said that, we should also not feel obliged to be locked inside the office for long hours. We focus on designing work in such a way that employees yearn to come to the office rather than on mandating the number of hours people need to be at work and monitoring that! But creating an environment where people feel positively compelled to be at work is not easy.
How are the roles of HR and talent leaders evolving amid the crisis especially the mandate on redressing employees’ experience?
It is a huge opportunity for the HR fraternity. As HR practitioners we are closer to the pulse of the employees. Therefore, our function can play the role of being the chief architect when it comes to designing and curating EX. As HR professionals, we are typically well-versed in crafting an ideal organizational design correlating with the business model of how we serve our customers. If we can infuse design thinking and create personas mirroring the job roles; we can start to outline the overall work experience. Then we get closer to the EX creation journey. This needs to be based on data, aggregation of several qualitative inputs, seeing patterns, correlations, etc, and making decisions on the choice and appropriate use of technology.
Can you give us an overview of how service providers are innovating to help organizations meet the shifting expectations of enterprises including fixing the broken EX equation?
It is massive! With more avenues for creating feedback, there’s also an increasing need to address those inputs coming in. Giving instant responses and solutions to avoid delays that can result in poor experience is a big challenge. And it is again all about data. When you get to aggregate, analyze, and sequence the data into actions it further enhances the EX. So, we need simple and sensible tools to manage this, and as much as possible it needs to be self-serving.
What are the triggers to this rising focus on employee experience? Is it primarily because of the upcoming war on talent?
War on talent will always be a reason. I don't see that going away; attracting the right people is only going to get more challenging. A well-designed EX mirroring the purpose and the unique fabric of the organization will help immensely to attract the right talents. Now beyond attraction and retention, I see that companies are increasingly beginning to focus on the holistic well-being and upliftment of the employees. There’s a clear realization that when employees at large are happier the company is set to perform better. And focus on EX helps to create a happy work environment.
How are organizations measuring the impact of their employee experience programs? What all metrics do they follow? How do you devise your EX programs?
I think we are all rapidly learning and advancing in this area. At The Adecco Group, we put a lot of emphasis on designing the experience of our employees based on the principles of our New World of Work philosophy. This structurally embodies the elements around hybrid & agile working, smart planning, well-being along with delivering results. We have defined the New World of Work commitments and created a universal framework for the company. Each pillar has examples, actions, and metrics.