If 2020 was challenging, 2021 seems hopeful; at least the world would like to believe so. The “new normal” is settling in and remote working has found footing. From here on, the journey of adaptability begins. Organizations, leaders, and teams are finding new ways of collaborating, communicating, and working efficiently together in the new setup. This is the time to connect, build trust, mentor, cultivate teams, build camaraderie, and share knowledge.
Continuing with our endeavor to provide actionable insights to our community, People Matters in partnership with Randstad India hosted the first panel session from The workplace dialogue series on the topic - A Leadership Dialogue on the S.E.P equation: Safety (emotional & physical) + Engagement = Productivity recently.
The panel was moderated by Paul Dupuis who is currently the Chairman & CEO of Randstad Japan. We hosted some renowned industry leaders like Dharmender Kapoor, MD & CEO, Birlasoft; Poonam Narang, Head of HR, Emerging Markets at Dr. Reddy's Laboratories; Malabika Bose, HR Head, RR Kabel Limited and Smita Pandit Chakraborty, Managing Director, Phoenix Conveyor Belt India Pvt. Ltd.
You can watch the session below in case you missed it
Here are excerpts from the session-
Learnings from the pandemic
According to a Deloitte report titled ‘Leadership in the times of COVID-19’, one of the most fundamental asks from leaders has been to act from ‘their heart.’ As the pandemic started to make its presence felt, we saw overwhelming evidence of leaders recognising and empathising with the human side of the upheaval. It was evident that great leaders prioritised people over business. One key learning for Paul was that the CHRO/Head HR became the most important person in the room, perhaps more than the CEO. Randstad was constantly looking for answers from the CHRO, and this is where the S.E.P. model was born.
For Randstad, physical safety was more important. They soon realised that it will be a marathon and not a sprint. The transition from not just physical safety but emotional and wellbeing safety happened quickly. Secondly, engagement became even more crucial. Paul shared that they didn’t look at technology as a way to engage with employees. Technology was always seen as a medium of work but now it plays a major role in maintaining the touch.
Finally, productivity needed to be looked at from a different angle. The pandemic made us rethink how businesses can look at productivity and churn out various methods to cater to the sustainability aspect.
Crisis is a true test of leadership. For Dharmender Kapoor, in the service industry, putting people-first became really important. It also made them experiment with their thought processes. The acceptance of WFH and trusting that there is no need of micro-management to drive better results and productivity was one of his biggest learnings. Meanwhile, Poonam Narang’s top two picks were developing empathy as the situation demanded enhanced expectations from the organization and its leadership and ensuring business continuity and keeping a close check on the partners for adequate supplies of equipment.
Catering to the manufacturing industry, Smita Pandit’s top learnings of COVID-19 was to convey solutions belonging to continental which involved safety for the masses and keeping up with the best practices of agility and resilience along the four values which the company abides by. Malabika Bose added her own set of experiences which were about enforced agility and communication, which became very crucial for managing the employees and nudging them with right information and awareness.
Employee safety and well-being
A recent report highlighted that as organisations begin the recovery process, leaders will need to stay committed to the principles of empathy and wellbeing of the employees. We are seeing that as we start to inch closer to this idea of reopening offices, there is a large percentage of people that simply don't want to go back to the office partly because they are afraid. One thing that has really stood out during this pandemic has been the need for keeping the human touch intact and leading with empathy. The role of a leader becomes really important in balancing this.
Dharmender shared how empathy and compassion in leaders takes the centre stage. The importance of continuous communication with the employees either scheduled or impromptu makes them feel supported. Creating a COVID response team was the need of the hour which ensured that employees are being provided with whatever help they need. The role that leadership had to play was to really pull everyone out of the mess that we all were going through. Similarly, at Dr. Reddy's Poonam revealed that state captains were appointed in each state and whatsapp groups to cater to the immediate needs of anyone.
90% CXOs say the workforce is putting in more working hours and there has been significantly less absenteeism, during the crisis. 72% CXOs also believe that the role of the team lead is going to be the most important in leading the organisation through the change, and that their managers are stepping up to the task. Paul added that the frontline workers’ job becomes supercritical during such times.
There is another report by Deloitte titled ‘Productivity Management while Working Remotely’ which states that in order to effectively manage productivity in your organisation, leaders must embrace virtual working as the new normal and redefine what productivity looks like in this environment. In most cases, productivity does not mean working longer hours – it’s about finding ways to produce greater value in the same amount of time. The processes and policies will completely become irrelevant once the work style changes.
As a leader, how important does it become to strike the right balance between ensuring business continuity and managing employee experience and engagement? What impact does it have on productivity? For CEOs, as per Dharmender, the trust-based management helps ensure the key to productivity rather than micro-managing people. Servant leadership became far more important than any other form of leadership. It was not to question their existing employees but to help and support them in any form they could during such a situation. Productivity was not just about delivering what was required but also prioritizing the quality of work and needs, which could actually happen only when we are agile and flexible.
Paul revealed that when the crisis started, his leadership style changed from a paced leader to a leader who fit himself in a frame with his calendars blocked with meetings. In order to move into the future, where micromanaging employees is not fruitful, Malabika shared that leadership has developed trust and empathy rightly now. A sense of purpose is felt among members and why a certain thing is being done, helps everyone be on the same page. Making the employees feel involved and included also helps ensure transparency of thoughts and business plans.
We all learn from our past experiences and leaders also keep on experimenting with new and innovative ways to keep their employees on the same page. Smita talked about how the future will be hybrid. The tools and technologies are really helping us to save a lot of time. Several truths about living for the moment. Thinking about the big picture is a moment that we all must focus on. The business outlook should also be looked at with a sense of flexibility and making space for more alternatives which will be beneficial for all of us.
As per Poonam, the traditional norm of measuring productivity with the physical workplace needs to be thrown out of the window, said Poonam. The last 18 months, across sectors and organizations, people have delivered out of their way. The assumption of the need of human intervention where every role requires a human touch doesn’t hold relevance now. It all depends on the way we would want to construct the workplace.
Paul aptly concluded that the future workplace is not where we show up to work but it is the place where we go to collaborate, innovate and celebrate; work can then be done from anywhere.
Watch the full conversation here.