Andy Ponneri is Senior Vice President and Business Leader for Synchrony in India. A seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience, Andy began his career with Ram Kaashyap Investments Limited in Hyderabad, India, as a Management Trainee in 1994. He later joined GECIS (a financial services unit of the American multinational conglomerate GE) as a Process Associate. At GE, Andy was a part of the pilot team which initiated the Call Center business in India. He has grown his career by taking on critical and broadening experiences while continuing to deliver a strong performance. Known for his caring leadership style, Andy believes that “Happy people make great workplaces.”
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, he shares how Synchrony prioritises employee flexibility and choice through its talent management strategies that are ready to balance employee needs and the need for business growth and success.
Here are some excerpts.
What emerging talent trends have redefined Synchrony’s people strategies and policies?
We had seen that before the pandemic, the work hours were limited to the 9 to 5 routine, but during and post-pandemic, we found that employees have gotten increasingly used to the flexible ways of working. Flexibility also allowed them the opportunity to put more of their life into the work they do as they got to spend more time with their families. So, inevitably, employee flexibility and choice became two driving factors, and we had to incorporate that into the business strategy as well. After all, we attempted to balance meeting employee needs while ensuring the business continues to be successful.
As a result, post this transition, we have declared ‘New Way of Working’, which was all about ensuring a set-up where everyone had the freedom to work from home. Now, we’re also setting up our regional engagement hubs across India which we have divided into five regions: north, south, east, west and central. The intention is to try and get people to meet wherever they are and get the flavour of the work culture of Synchrony.
As employee experience becomes synonymous with talent management today, what are your key focus areas when redesigning employee experience for the new world of work?
We started to change a lot of our employee policies since the onset of the pandemic, and one of the things we focused a lot on is our employee wellbeing, both mentally and physically. Even though we did lose some of our team members to the pandemic, what I loved about our company was how driven we were to go out of our way to help our people in need, be it through giving off-days, financial support or strengthening our connections with them as we all went through this challenging time experiencing several difficult situations. In other countries, we have seen salaries cut, and we never did any of that because our focus was always the well-being of our people.
But a burning question today is, ‘How do we stay in touch with the employee experience?’ We have had to ensure that a new joiner who has never experienced our work culture can do so virtually. We have an in-house app that has facilitated this in some ways by offering support to our people. However, we’re still figuring out how to showcase our values and empower employees to experience moments of truth, to see what is written on paper come to light. We as individuals are trying to emulate and distribute value, and we are assessing employee feedback to continuously improve and reinvent our strategies; it is indeed a constant state of evolution.
To extend the conversation around employee experience and zero in on diversity and inclusion, how is Synchrony setting out on its DEI agenda?
For me, the proof of the pudding when it comes to the DEI policies are the stories I come across and the real impact on the ground. At Synchrony, we want to welcome people regardless of where they come from; some of the interesting work we have done is in hiring veterans and empowering them to support their families even after their years of service.
Another successful tangent has been in the arena of women's diversity. Reports have shown how the participation of the women workforce in India is even lower than that in Bangladesh. As part of our DE&I agenda, we are currently at a 49% women diversity, with over 105 PwD employees and 40+ veterans and family members of veterans. Increasing access to opportunities for marginalised communities is imperative, and so much of that starts with our hiring strategies.
As workplaces become more hybrid, what will be the role of coworking spaces in building and sustaining employee connections and engagement?
After listening to our employees, we initiated these regional engagement hubs where they can connect and engage with each other. This is truly a test to see how it will work and what will be its impact on strengthening the work culture of Synchrony. We cannot really underestimate the impact these engagement hubs have on building connections and driving engagement in a set-up that is primarily remote. By taking the initiative to make these facilities available and accessible to our people, we’re also aligning with the need to ensure employee choice and flexibility in our talent strategies.
Finally, what would be a word of advice or lessons you learned in leading talent management that you would like to share with our community?
As leaders, we need to be ready to align and manage new employee expectations by listening to what they have to say. Again, technology allows us plenty of opportunities to pick up on critical insights that can form the bedrock of creating and testing policies. We are always on the lookout for implementing best practices, which is possible when we pay attention to the employee voice and see the impact on the work culture and the workforce.