Article: Rewriting growth with a smarter HR function

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Rewriting growth with a smarter HR function

In a recent webcast, Dr Swatee Sarangi, Global Head - Learning, Leadership & Organization Development, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories and Dheeraj Kumar, Chief Advisor - HR Systems and Processes, Keka addressed how the pharma industry is overcoming pertinent people challenges with technology and enhancing decision-making capabilities of leaders with a digital mindset.
Rewriting growth with a smarter HR function

Leadership support and digital enablement are growing to become the cornerstones of crafting a seamless work environment as the workforce battles COVID-19 and continues to deliver work to their best capabilities, despite prevalent challenges. How swiftly and effectively talent and business leaders plug in these cornerstones in the evolving workplace construct will shape capabilities that ensure people and business sustainability. With the global population looking towards the pharma and healthcare sectors to help them tide out the rough waters, such capability building becomes even more crucial for these sectors.

You can view the webcast here:



In an exclusive webcast on ‘How the pharma industry is rewriting its growth story with a smarter HR function’, hosted by People Matters, in association with Keka, industry leaders Dr Swatee Sarangi, Global Head - Learning, Leadership & Organization Development, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories and Dheeraj Kumar, Chief Advisor - HR Systems and Processes, Keka shed light upon how organizations are stepping up to support employees through these overwhelming times, overcoming pertinent people challenges with technology and enhancing decision-making capabilities of leaders with a digital mindset.

Read on for highlights from the session.

Supporting employees through overwhelming circumstances

A poll question during the session revealed what employees need most today as the crisis thickens:

  • An empathetic leadership to empower you with trust and effective digital tools (46%)
  • Revamping workplace practices to adapt to the changing mode of work (25%) 
  • Skilling opportunities to build capabilities for newer roles and challenges (18%) 
  • More meaningful engagement and collaboration with colleagues (11%)

Echoing the views above, Dr Swatee Sarangi, Global Head - Learning, Leadership & Organization Development, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories said, “Clearly the ask from people is that they be cared for. They are looking at visioning with hope for the future, but at the same time they want to be equipped with the hardware required.” 

Sharing that currently 15% of his team is impacted directly because of COVID, and another 20-25% are impacted directly where someone in the family is not keeping well, Dheeraj Kumar, Chief Advisor - HR Systems and Processes, Keka, said that this is definitely a time where employees are expecting more support. “They are expecting employers and managers to understand them better, allow them flexibility. They’ll finish their work but seek flexibility in time to manage their work schedule.”

“We have spoken about flourishing and thriving in earlier times, which are very positive emotions, but today what people are experiencing is languishing. They are overwhelmed. To prevent them from being further languished, having a well thought out range of policies, practices and initiatives which are around wellness and well-being will definitely help, but that will not suffice,” suggested Swatee. 

“We will constantly have to think of different ways wherein we can make these deeper connections. We need to really think of innovative practices which could be small acts of kindness in these times. The hope quotient needs to be higher. While it’s not a one size fits all, but whatever you do, it has to be innovative, impactful and it has to be evolving in keeping with what their emotions are, and we have to be attuned to come out with those solutions which are very human centric,” she added.

Some ideas to extend greater support to employees today include:

  • Enhancing insurance covers for employees and their families
  • Plugging in emergency funds to extend financial support where needed
  • COVID care for all including those who are mildly symptomatic
  • COVID leaves to take care of self or family members 
  • COVID helpdesk to crowdsource medical resources
  • Helplines to help cope with psychological distress
  • Providing platforms through which leaders also build the connect beyond work

Overcoming people challenges across the pharma industry

While the pharma industry today feels purposeful, with the entire community looking at them for solutions, in order to ensure that there is business continuity, it takes a lot from the organization to ensure that people show up at work and the show goes on. 

Describing healthcare workers as ‘Corona warriors’ Swatee said that they are braving it all despite the challenges around them in terms of the COVID scare, and risking their own health and life to be there to keep the health quotient of others around them going. “So that takes a lot in terms of making arrangements, whether logistic, safety and making sure that employees and their families feel safe by way of leaves or care or converting facilities into COVID care facilities where people can take rest, recoup and recover. All this goes to say that you will have to take extra measures to ensure the work and the show goes on.” 

She urges HR professionals to be proactive and build that muscle in the system, to take all sorts of precautionary and preventive actions which can provide a good ecosystem where people can come to work and be productive in the work.

Swatee suggested that the effective tools today indeed are having the right skillset and technology. “What is really going to help them overcome challenges and also maximize opportunities that it brings in terms of business or growth or new levers is going to be technology.”

Reflecting on how technology came to the rescue for the pharma industry through 2020 and even now, she shared that wherever technology and digital transformation were prevalent, they were dialed up. “We tried to use and leverage technology to the extent that people vulnerabilities can be less exposed and wherever meetings could be substituted or certain tasks in terms of quality checks, controls, whatever can happen virtually and digitally, can be used to those levers.”

“Times have changed. Expectations of people have changed. The way they look at the workplace now is not how they looked at it before. If we look at something as simple as attendance, people used to use RFIDs or biometric machines, but employees don’t want to use that anymore,” noted Dheeraj. Further, in today’s context, he shared that with organizations discouraging symptomatic employees from coming to the office, companies need some sort of intelligence to track it and a lot of new technologies are emerging that enable automated screenings, sending alerts to reporting managers or employees indicating a rise in temperature and need for rest. Dheeraj advised that if we employers don’t take care of, invest in or explore such practical solutions, people will not feel safe at the workplace.

Beyond empowering and equipping employees to deal with everyday challenges, Swatee highlighted that what works need is leaders role modeling the expectations, to build that feeling of being in it together. “Having strong, honest and candid communication helps. When you think of assurance and trust, it’s that communication and seeing the credibility of that communication that will be very helpful.” Echoing Swatee, Dheeraj said that sense of purpose is very strong across the pharmaceutical industry and what they need is that the leadership is standing with them, and are willing to walk the extra mile if required. That motivates employees a great deal to do their work and move forward. 

Dialing up competencies and seamless workflows with digital 

35% of respondents of a recent poll stated that COVID-19 fast-forwarded the digital transformation of the pharma industry by more than five years. Swatee agrees. “There was a leap frog during the pandemic when we speak of digital adoption.” 

“If employees were performing certain functions in the past, today they will have to use technology to do it faster, smarter, or in a way which is better for them. In order to enable employees to use technology, employers will have to provide avenues,” said Swatee, adding that in the last one year, they have witnessed a complete surge for learning: Our appetite has really gone up and people themselves are convinced that if they have to stay relevant and do things in the current environment, they should know technology."

“If we need people to do things differently, we will have to enable them to do that,” said Swatee. 

When 30-35% of your workforce is directly affected by COVID, you cannot expect that everyone that you planned to call tomorrow or for the next shift will really be able to come, said Dheeraj. “Specifically in the pharma industry, earlier managers used to decide and inform employees of what shifts they should come in, now this is being managed with the help of technology.” Another aspect where technology is enabling better planning is leave management where employees are able to view availability of colleagues and plan their commitments accordingly.

Beyond the prevalent situation, Dheeraj threw light upon how an organization that was looking to bring down cost of attrition was able to leverage productivity tools, recruitment tools and HRMS tools to gather data and insights on decision making around hiring, thereby reducing cost of hire, and increasing retention as well as productivity. 

When executing digital transformation, Swatee believes that transformation is less about digital and more about people and culture. She suggests, “If we address this people and culture issue in transformation, I think the digital transformation battle is won. And all those industries who have been able to take to digital transformation with ease are the ones who have focused on the people and culture levers.” 

While purposeful engagement has been the sentiment across the pharma industry, a digitally enabled work environment has sure empowered employees to be more productive with an accompanying sense of safety. 

Digitally equipping leaders for smarter decision-making 

Amid the overwhelming reality of today, leadership plays an even more crucial role than it did in 2020. While 2020 remained about business sustainability and people safety, the recent weeks have demanded of leaders and organizations to step up and support the workforce by going the extra mile. 

Emphasizing the relevance, need and benefits of leveraging data for smarter decision-making, Swatee said, “When we talk about decision-making, it is no longer going to be reactive decision making. And if you are in a position to decide what is happening around you in a better manner, then your ability to make sense of the data needs to be much sharper. Your decision making has to be very predictive, you will have to look at what has been the trend in the past, maybe even look at the forces of volatility, and try to make sense of all the multiple factors in the best possible manner.”

She encouraged enabling digital fitness among leaders, by ensuring they have a digital mindset.

“When we say digital mindset, they should be able to make sense of what or where digital levers can be used, and data can be a good base for decision-making.”

However, she added, softer aspects such as sensitivity, empathy, creativity, innovation, also need to be factored in. It has to be a blend of both which will enable them to understand, diagnose the context and take the right decision. 

Beyond factoring in both the leading and the lag indicators when consolidating people data, Swatee emphasized the need to focus on execution. “The mistake that we often make is that we create a lot of new things but we don’t create an ecosystem or enablers to help sustain them. So, when we plan for new processes, we will also have to think through what will be the ecosystem that will be required to help sustain the change scenario.” If we don’t do that, she cautioned, we might introduce a lot of new processes in the name of technology, but they will just be like a technology bandwagon, and after a while it will fizzle off because people will then again go back to old ways. 

The road to a sustainable digital shift  

Swatee urged leaders to be authentic in communication about the existing competitive and complex times, and the need to rise to the occasion.

“Being authentic about why we are doing it and also the fact that it is not a fad, but it’s a choice that we are making because it’s the only way to go, if you put it that way, people will see value in it. The moment they see value in it, they will see the pull in it and realize that everyone is in it together.” 

To further bring down resistance, she recommends leveraging change ambassadors. “Some of them will take some more time because outliers are always there. Getting the outliers into the fold becomes easy when you have change ambassadors, digital ambassadors, who see the value in it. They become your change champions, who help build that ecosystem wherein change can flourish and transformations can last. “

With employees and leaders in need for each other to rise to the occasion, trust and effective tools go a long way to enable the creation of an ecosystem where people safety, productivity and organizational growth can be sustained. With the prevailing challenges here to stay for time unknown, empowering teams with smart tools for effective planning will be critical to equipping the workforce with the needed support to function safely and seamlessly through these disruptive times.

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Topics: HR Technology, Leadership

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