Article: HR leaders need to lead with a HEART: Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India


HR leaders need to lead with a HEART: Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India

“HR leaders need to lead with a HEART – Humility, Empathy, Agility, Reflective and Transformational,” shares Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India, in a recent interview with People Matters.
HR leaders need to lead with a HEART: Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India

In April 2020, when the lockdown had just begun in India, Nielsen slashed its 2020 growth outlook for India’s fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector to 5-6 percent from its earlier projection of 9 to 10 percent. The market researcher said that long-term effects of the pandemic will have widespread impact in the months to come. 

The pandemic impacted each sector in unique and unimaginable ways and FMCG is no different. In a recent interaction, we discuss the impact of the pandemic on business and talent strategies with Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India. She also talks about the changing role of HR. 

How has the current global health crisis impacted your business priorities and people strategies?

COVID-19 has impacted each country, each society, each industry in different ways. All businesses have been challenged. The overall FMCG market growth will shrink, according to Nielsen, as on one hand, the lockdown has crippled demand and disrupted trade channels, while on the other, consumers are tending to save and spend more money on home items like dishwashers, floor mops and other home appliances. 

Spends will be more on selected discretionary items. Rural sector is less challenged and for many companies’ growth is being driven by rural markets. Like any other industry we were challenged with the severity of the lockdown – the backend supply chain was disrupted with restrictions on starting operations, transporting raw materials or finished products. Equally the frontend was impacted with closures of distributors and retailers. All this coupled with the concern on safety and social distancing protocols.

For us, our first priority continues to be the safety of our people and our ecosystem partners. Our philosophy has been simple – “Family hain toh hum hai” and with this at the heart of it , we focused not just on the safety aspect but also health and wellbeing of employees, their families and our extended partners.

Every business needs a survival plan followed by a growth plan. This crisis has also allowed us to reflect on how we operate, challenge existing norms, evaluate and leverage different partnerships which is key to drive future growth and become far more agile and quicker in decision making.

What are some of the key people challenges you face right now and how are you dealing with them?

No one has experienced the current context, there is no playbook, there is no precedence.

People are in a state of shock and are apprehensive about what’s happening. Employees want to be safe and also want safety in their jobs and companies. They have a strong need for more information and engagement. We need to reassure them. This involves countless team connects and one on one sessions.

Employee listening has been very powerful and has allowed us to know what’s on people's mind, what is creating anxiety and how we can support them. Building trust in the company is the one thing that I am driving. 

People will trust you if you listen to them earnestly and with empathy, if you are honest and transparent with them and if you show it through real actions and by doing the right things.

Not everyone has all the answers and it's ok to acknowledge and be honest about it. Today leaders are learning, employees are learning.

Do you think that post pandemic trends like remote working, flexi hours become a common trend? What other trends at work, do you think are here to stay?

WFH can happen now - this itself has been a big concept from COVID-19. Each company will determine which function and how many people can work from home. PepsiCo India has always been an employee friendly company and we have innovated many new concepts in the past like location free roles, remote learning and even virtual hiring. Transitioning to a new way of working therefore was very seamless for us.

I think the purpose of office will change and this will be the biggest cultural shift. People will come to the office to connect, ideate and collaborate. 

Meetings will become much sharper now. Speed will pick up significantly and decision making will be different. I think the way information will be presented will also change.

How do you think digital transformation will be impacted?

Digital is the de facto winner in the last five months. Every company will have a digital business model. This means a digital mindset and digital capabilities. In some cases, we need to look at our old strength of distribution and digitize it. We need to take our brands digital. We need to take our consumer engagement digital. Employee experience will also be more digital. 

How are you preparing your employees for this new reality of work?

I think it's important to prepare employees as we move towards a blended or a hybrid WFH model. We need to signal that physical presence at work is not the most important thing. 

Performance measures will be output driven. We need to be engaged as leaders and be energetic. 

Communication frequency has to go up from leaders. Softer skills of trust and empathy are going to be critical.

How is the role of HR Changing with the pandemic? What do you think are the core competencies the HR of the present and the future need to build?

HR needs to address concerns and worries first. Secondly, HR has to be an active business partner. It should align the structure to the new business strategy and define the new capabilities required to support and drive growth. Thirdly HR has to be proactive and speed of decision and resolution will have to be  there. 

Lastly, HR will have to develop new norms or principles since this crisis situation is unprecedented and there is no existing policy or manual to tackle such situations. HR leaders need to lead with a HEART – Humility, Empathy, Agility, Reflective and Transformational. These are going to be key for today and tomorrow.

How are you ensuring that you keep calm, sail through and help others also in these tough times? Share your tips.

I look at it with three different lenses – as a company employee, as a homemaker and as a mother. As the CHRO, I have tried to connect as much as I can and my calendar keeps overflowing everyday. I recognized it's so important to have high quality interactions and bring energy to every meeting. A full calendar challenges my other roles. I’ve tried to balance it by spending quality time with my 13 year old daughter.

We have watched Netflix series together, cooked and I have taught her how to bake. I have been practicing yoga in the morning which I must say has helped me stay calm and collected. This situation has helped me unlock my potential to do so many things, I wasn’t even aware I could do. 

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Topics: Leadership, #COVID-19

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