K.S.Harish is Head of HR for the Country Group South Asia for Bayer. In his current role, he handles the HR function for India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, overseeing around 5000 employees. He has over 27 years’ of experience spanning across industries like Pharmaceuticals, FMCG, Engineering, Chemicals and Technology.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, he talks about his career journey, the changing face of leadership and shifting ways to develop and foster young leaders.
1. You’ve had a career of over 20 years in human resources. When you reflect back on your own journey, what has been some of your best leadership lessons?
My learnings have been very basic:
- Keep it simple (and I still struggle with this)
- Trust is fundamental for leadership
- Walk the talk
- It’s the team that achieves everything
- Be grateful and express your gratitude!
2. The Global Leadership Forecast says that the threat of digital disruption is transforming leadership at every level. The survey also identifies digital leadership skills as a critical focus area. How is Bayer enabling this?
At Bayer, we understand the need to become more agile and innovative. To drive a focused transformation of the company, Bayer has launched a strategic initiative called ‘Advancing Digital’. This aims to digitalize both the customer experience and internal processes as well as develop new business models. As part of this digital transformation journey, we have created a digital agenda and have identified certain enablers that accelerate change.
Digital leapfrogging is a key enabler of our vision.
To form a digitally skilled workforce with a customer-centric and entrepreneurial mindset, feeling inspired and empowered, we have also introduced ‘Reverse Mentoring’. It refers to a unique development opportunity in which senior employees are matched with and mentored by younger colleagues on topics such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality Virtual Reality, Chat Bot, social media, and current trends.
I am also a mentee in this program and am benefitting by being mentored by digital natives. It not only helps us in transforming the mindset, but also enhances our customer focus by introducing new business models. In addition to this, we have also introduced several web-based learning modules for the leadership to further enhance their digital skills and leadership capabilities in the digital world.
Bayer’s global ‘Digital Innovation Award’ recognizes cross-functional, cross-divisional and cross-country teams who develop digital innovations that address customers’ needs or enhance the way we work. In India, we have introduced various digital projects and an example of an award winning project is the ‘Flypol 1.0’ which recently won the global recognition. The project is the first ever attempt to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Drones) with rice plants to aid pollination for Hybrid seed production.
3. In the last decade, there has been a greater focus on “diversity”. What do you think companies should do to ensure that there is enough diversity at the leadership level?
Diversity is a fact and inclusion is an act! It is important to focus on inclusion for diversity to thrive. Today, we are in an era where mixed generations are working side by side. Studies show that when businesses fully embrace inclusion and diversity, they perform much better in the marketplace and provide a competitive advantage.
I believe that having top-level buy-in and role modelling is critical. Organizations must create an environment that allows people to bring their whole, true selves to work and understand they can climb the career ladder internally. Basically, imbibing a sense of belonging. One of the questions we ask in our surveys is “Do I see someone in the leadership team with whom I can relate to?” Thus, our leadership team composition aims for diversity and we are on the journey.
Our accelerated leadership program – My Growth My Life (MGML) – aims at grooming internal talent for leadership positions in the organization. It reinforces our talent management philosophy of providing learning and growth opportunities. Over a period of one year, the MGML participants undergo various classroom sessions designed to hone self-leadership, team leadership and social leadership. They are also presented with opportunities to interact and learn from senior leadership team discovering their journeys of successes and failures; leaders learn from leaders! Through this program, we aim to ensure balanced gender participation.
Fostering diversity of thought and innovation is a central aspect to ensuring enough diversity at the leadership level. At Bayer, we have a platform named ‘InfinitUS’ which is an employee community platform to work on various organizational topics. Any employee, across functions and locations can join the community to work on topics of their interest. This community leverages on the collective contribution of ideas and consists of members who are passionate and motivated about a topic. The team is driven by a shared vision, is respectful of diverse views and ideas and treat all as equals. Each community is mentored by a Sponsor from the country leadership team making it a very comprehensive community. Leaders lead without titles!
4. A do-it-yourself-approach or a self-study approach to leadership development is not going to be enough, according to research studies. How should talent leaders plan to enable their future leaders?
I have great respect for self-made leaders. I have seen several exceptional leaders in my career journey who had their own brand of leadership, self-studied through observations and experiences and they were awesome!
As we can see today, talent gets promoted to leadership levels much earlier and, therefore, it’s helpful to support leaders with coaching and leadership feedback. Leaders can seek frequent feedbacks to engage in honest developmental conversations with their teams and use coaching options for leaders.
Another tool is to be an observer in the Talent Development Centres. These can provide a good learning opportunity for the leaders. It also helps them to actually see how others decide and act in certain situations and then play it in their own mind as how they would handle the cases.
The 70-20-10 principle is also a great concept wherein 70% of an employee’s learning is on-the-job and experience-based, 20% comes from coaching and 10% is the result of formal training and reading. Hence, short-term assignments offered to talent pool aim at providing them with experiential learning and prepare them for future roles. Senior leaders and emerging senior leaders are encouraged to participate in Company sponsored courses with world renowned universities that bring in external world perspectives.
5. With a growing crop of young leaders, what are some of the key challenges that you see in developing leaders?
There is a need for greater emphasis on emotional intelligence, coaching teams through failure, learning agility and leading through change. The digital environment too poses several new opportunities for leaders to inspire and support the success of their teams.
Societal impact is a very important leadership trait and we expect our leaders to not only have a position on various societal issues but also to play an influential role by expressing their views at various forums, digital and non-digital, with confidence and sensitivity.
6. What are your suggestions on architecting a culture of leadership? How does Bayer encourage a culture of leadership?
Culture is an integral factor in the company’s success and values are key to this. Leaders develop and promote the culture that reflect the values of the company.
Instituting leadership as a core expectation at all levels is a prerogative; but as always, it must begin at the top. The company’s reward programs must reflect this expectation and deliver rewards, not only on results, but also on behavior and conduct. Companies also institutionalize awards for extraordinary conduct of employees around their values. Showcasing these stories are highly helpful in sharing with employees what behavior the company really expects and values. And as I was recently discussing with an industry colleague who pointed out that it’s equally important to qualify and showcase stories what the company will not tolerate. The stories where the leaders acted swiftly, strongly and fairly against negative conduct are most important to set the culture.
The Bayer values are LIFE : which stands for Leadership, Integrity, Flexibility and Efficiency. We have 4 Focus Behaviors derived from the LIFE values: Customer Focus, Experimentation, Trust and Collaboration and around them we build our culture.
At Bayer, LIFE values are integrated with our Performance Management approach and also form the basis for feedback, development and growth in the company.
Bayer’s LIFE Awards are presented to colleagues at Global and Country levels. It recognizes individuals who have excelled by living our LIFE values. Such winning stories are shared within the organisation to inspire and showcase how our leaders have taken courageous decisions, thought and acted with the customer in mind, failed but learnt quickly, have been open to experimentation, have championed causes and created societal impact etc.
At Bayer, we encourage volunteering and social leadership though our Bayer Volunteering Program and recognize the most innovative voluntary projects as “Role Models” and grant of up to € 5,000 is provided.
I would like to end by saying - Feedback is the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champion leaders! We encourage and enable leaders to learn and grow!