Article: Empathy is the starting point to build trust: Virendra Shelar, OMRON

Leadership

Empathy is the starting point to build trust: Virendra Shelar, OMRON

Virendra Shelar, Executive Officer, President, OMRON Management Centre of Asia Pacific, and General Manager, Global Human Resources Strategy Department, spoke to People Matters about how OMRON is enabling empathy, inclusion and digitization in a post-COVID workplace.
Empathy is the starting point to build trust: Virendra Shelar, OMRON

Virendra Shelar is the Executive Officer, President, of OMRON Management Centre of Asia Pacific, and General Manager, Global Human Resources Strategy Department at OMRON. 

Shelar has over 20 years of experience in leadership development, talent management, competency assessment and business performance management.

Shelar joined OMRON in 2014, as General Manager – HR. Prior to joining OMRON, he led learning & organizational development initiatives for companies like International Rectifiers, Schneider Electric and Sony Electronics across Asia.

In conversation with People Matters, Shelar shed light on how OMRON’s value of “Respect for All’ is driving its people practices, building inclusive behaviours in a remote working setup, and advised leaders on how to enhance experience and scale capabilities in the new world of work.

Here are excerpts from the interaction.

What were some of your biggest learnings as a leader over the last 15 months? 

The last fifteen months have strongly brought forth the realization that the world is not linear. There is no rule book to define and control the business dynamics. The onslaught of the pandemic and the way it spread & its effect evolved across the globe as well as diverse economies is the best example of such a scenario. Only agile and truly progressive organizations can survive such dynamic turbulence. This is one of the significant learnings for me as a business & HR leader.

Also, as an HR leader, I have always believed in the development of Human Capital no matter what the situations are in the business environment. The last 15 months have further strengthened this recognition. Human resources are one of the best assets for an organization to sail through a crisis. The bottom line of any organization is determined by the capability and engagement of its Human Capital. Hence, they must never think of discontinuing their initiatives for development of Human Capital when they find themselves in a difficult situation. An investment made in betterment of human resources goes a long way in strengthening the future of an organization in terms of agility and its preparedness to tackle more crisis in the future. For example, during this crisis we focused on skills development using virtual platforms. This has helped us to train more people across the business through short virtual learning sessions. 

Another insight that the pandemic has brought up is the importance of a strong successor pool. As indicated, the business environment keeps changing continuously and hence having the right talent with the right capability in the right position at the right time would help the organization manage these changing situations well.

Finally, on a more personal note, I learned that during crises, the leader must lead from the front and make decisions based on values and principles. This has been OMRON’s driving force in the past to overcome challenges. We continue to pursue it and will do so in future also to emerge better and stronger.

Several focus areas including experience, empathy, well-being, inclusion and belonging came to the fore post the shift to remote work. How did OMRON adapt to this shift?

Driven by ORMON’s Value – “Respect for All”, we put in our best efforts to adapt to the shift by deploying a “3R” (REVIEW, RENEW & REFRESH) approach last year.

It consists of :

  • Reviewing our existing practices – whether they are in sync with the changing times 
  • Renewing the initiatives that we must continue irrespective of what the world or business environment looks like , and 
  • Refreshing the practices & policies via bringing in changes in the form of optimization and value-addition 

This helped us develop new agility for the organization. Health & safety of our employees became the topmost priority. We did everything to ensure all our employees stay safe. For some aspects, like hybrid work arrangement, there were no defined policies and we made quick decisions driven by what is right for the employees and their families. Alongside, we continued to implement various virtual initiatives for development of Human Capital which included project assignments, job rotations, training, coaching, employee engagement surveys and most importantly two-way, more frequent communication & wellness orientations with all of them to take care of their mental well-being.

We know that the pandemic situation still remains uncertain and so this year our team has also embraced  the “3C” (Communicate, Collaborate & Challenge) 

approach.

Communicate more is our direction to the entire team as we have been working from home for a long time. It could make employees feel disconnected and lonelier than we think. The best way is to start more casual conversations than before.

Collaboration on projects helps them interact with each other and keep the mind engaged. It also helps to create more value for the business. Our team has done complex project implementations virtually this year. One of them is GHRMS (Global Human Resource Management System) implementation across APAC and Americas all done through virtual collaboration.

Challenging ourselves is one of the values of OMRON. We continue to challenge the status quo by asking what is important for our employees & business. This year we are challenging ourselves to create a new “Workstyle” for everyone. We are investing in designing a new office that would create more opportunity to communicate and collaborate as employees start returning to the office. Work from home may become default and we will have a CoCo Office (Communication and Collaboration). With no dedicated seats even for senior management, we are challenging ourselves to prepare for the future.

How is OMRON working towards creating awareness around inclusive behaviours in a remote and/ or hybrid setup?  

“Respect for All” is a key value of OMRON, where encouraging everyone’s potential is integrated in the work culture since the beginning. We have multiple dialogues every year about practicing the OMRON principles in our daily lives. Every year we request all employees globally to take time and reflect upon their behavior. The topic for this year was “Respect for All.” It helps us to create awareness among employees at all levels about various aspects of diversity and inclusion. 

We conduct an Employee Engagement Survey “VOICE” every 2 years to understand the sentiments of our employees. Diversity and Inclusion is one of the categories where we have seen 7 points increase compared to our previous result (71 for FY20 vs 64 for FY18). We implement actions based on feedback from employees globally and have seen significant improvement in all categories across the organization. OMRON is also developing the Global HR strategy for the next 10 years and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is an important area of focus for us. 

We do observe that employees start feeling more isolated and lonelier after prolonged work-from-home. It creates stress and mental fatigue which leads to miscommunication & perceived aggression.

Companies start observing that once a sense of connection and team spirit is lost and employees start feeling more disengaged. Their quality of work suffers and they start looking for change.  Hence, keeping employees fully engaged is going to be one of the next key challenges for management.

We have started the conversation about “Psychologically Safety” in the workplace to create a safe environment for everyone. This helps employees raise their concerns openly and let their feelings known to management without any fear. We have also started having virtual sessions by experts on managing stress and working effectively in a virtual environment to support our employees. 

How crucial is it for leaders to focus on workplace empathy today? 

It is one of the essential elements for leaders to follow in order to foster employees who further drive management and business. Business leaders need team members who look at society from a future-oriented perspective, who always think and act in pursuit of the true issues, who declare and pursue high goals, and who act with integrity at all times, no matter what the business environment. And they can only do so when the leader empathizes & resonates with them. By using empathy and understanding the mindset of team members, a leader is able to determine their pain points and weaknesses and work together with them to raise their capabilities and bring in improvement points. It is one of the most desirable traits for successful teamwork.

Also, it’s of utmost importance for leaders to be successful especially when we all are working remotely. Leaders must understand the work environment is very different compared to an office. Being away on a virtual chat does not mean the employee is not working. It could be that they are talking to a key customer on the phone, preparing for the next call or taking time to strategize.

Leaders must have more trust in their teams now than ever before and empathy is the starting point to build that trust.  

Digital solutions have been core to enabling employee connect and communication through the last 15 months. What has OMRON's approach been towards adoption of digital tools? 

As an organization, we strongly believe in the capabilities of digitalization to bring in significant long-term changes in the HR landscape. The last 15 months have seen great development and progress in this regard. One of the biggest milestones or I would say transformations that we have achieved vis utilization of digital technology in this duration is the rollout of our new Global Human Resource Management System (GHRMS). 

It’s a powerful digital tool to bring a change from the current unintegrated and individualized HR practices in every region to an autonomous and forward-looking growth engine that enables proactive action for future HR strategy. We call it “One SYSTEM, Infinite Success” as it signifies creation of one route stretching beyond borders of regions and businesses of OMRON to stimulate growth of the organization as a whole. 

Comprising various modules, like Employee Central, Performance and Goal Management, Recruitment Management, Succession Planning, Learning Management System, and Career Development Planning, it has digitized common best practices, enhanced the overall user experiences on HR processes, and united the HR functions globally to work more collaboratively and effectively.

We have also embarked on a Digital Transformation (DX) journey. This is to ensure all our processes are digitized to make remote working possible. Robotic Process Automation, Contract Lifecycle Management and Digital Signatures are just a few starting projects that are progressing well across APAC.

If you could offer one piece of advice for leaders in the new world of work, to enhance experience, accelerate inclusion and scale capabilities, what would that be?

No one knows what’s coming next and there are high chances that we’ll not have any past experience to rely on. So, prepare for the future with what you know & where you are.

Please don’t wait for things to become normal, just continue to move forward by adopting the situation as it evolves.

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Topics: Leadership, Culture, #TheGreatTalentWar

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