Siddharth Vishwanath is an experienced HR professional with over 13 years of experience across retail, ecommerce, automotive, media and IT domains. He is presently Head - Human Resources at Zivame.
Prior to Zivame, Siddharth led the human resources function for lifestyle brand The Arvind Store and Renault India. While he started his career as an engineer with TCS, and then Amdocs, Siddharth transitioned to the HR domain at Sony Entertainment.
In this exclusive interview with People Matters, Siddharth talks about balancing empathy and productivity, making workforce wellness sustainable, the impact of the pandemic on Zivame’s talent management strategy and shares some of his biggest learnings, consequent to switching industries.
You have a diverse industry experience across retail, ecommerce, automotive, media and IT sectors. What were some of your biggest learnings as you switched industries?
Every organization is different and from my experiences across the most diverse industries, some of my learnings are:
- People make businesses: I guess this one’s a cliché, but since you asked: Organizations that don’t put people first genuinely will always lag from those that do; irrespective of the industry
- One size doesn’t fit all: Fundamentals of business remain more or less same across organizations and across industries. The context changes with differences in size of the business, maturity as a business or even perhaps maturity as an industry. Our role as HR leaders is to understand this context and set people practices that are relevant. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work. What may be best practice somewhere may be infeasible somewhere else.
- Leadership matters: An organization’s success is directly proportional to its culture which is in turn directly proportional to the maturity of the leader(s) at the top.
An organization’s success is directly proportional to its culture which is in turn directly proportional to the maturity of the leader(s) at the top.
As a people leader, what are some of the biggest dilemmas you face today? How are you tackling them?
In my opinion, most of the challenges that I face stem from the pros and cons that come along with having 3 or 4 different generations working together towards a common goal. While this generational diversity certainly has its pros with respect to diverse perspectives, diversity in experiences, education, niche skills, and agility, it also brings with itself the complexity of different expectations from the business, from the leadership team, from peers and from teams. It’s the fine balance between managing these at a new-age workplace that offer the biggest dilemmas and in my humble opinion, some of the finest challenges.
Have the present circumstances triggered major shifts in your talent management strategy? What are some of your key priorities?
At Zivame, we’ve always focussed on attracting, growing and retaining talent that are not only suitable for the jobs that they’re in (or are being hired for), but are capable and available to grow at the rocket-paced growth journey that we’re on. One of my main roles is also making sure that people who come into the organization also align with who we are as an organization and as a culture; a major parameter in our growth. We also look for a long-term alignment of our people’s journeys with the organization’s missions. These show up in various parts of our talent management strategy.
So, I think the present circumstances have not triggered any major shifts in our talent management strategy. If anything, it’s only cemented our ways.
How are you working towards striking a balance between productivity and empathy?
A fine question! As I mentioned in my previous response, Leadership really matters!
I think we might be looking at it differently, productivity and empathy don’t have to be opposites. In my experience over the past year and a half, empathy can drive productivity.
This is a mindset shift that has to come from the top. The people running the organization have to align that their people are the ones that are responsible for the success of the organization. And then they have to walk to talk in terms of policy making and operations.
If done genuinely, it’s a matter of time before the organization starts responding positively towards making sure that the organization that cares for them must be cared for; genuinely.
The ongoing crisis has caused a severe impact on employee well-being, for those in isolation as well as those residing with families. What can employers do differently to bring about a meaningful and sustainable shift in the wellness quotient?
Wellness quotient, if driven as a metric only by management, is bound to fail. This is the time to start infusing wellness as a part of the organizational fabric, its culture. Over communicate, educate, take a dipstick, plan and act till the very last level of the organization.
Make wellness every manager’s responsibility for their teams and recognize the ones that do it best. It’s the only sustainable way of doing it.
Also, while we focus on and put things in place for the physical well-being of our teams, I think that’s only half the job done. India Inc needs to step up and acknowledge that the most vulnerable of our teams at these challenging times need help with mental well-being. It’s time to stop providing lip service to mental wellness and start by first educating ourselves and our teams about what it really is. Tell people what it looks like, how to identify symptoms, where to seek help and that it’s okay. I think this is where the shift really needs to happen.
If you could give one piece of advice to leaders today, who are struggling to cope and support their workforce in these times, what would that be?
I’m not a pessimist, but I think this is here to stay. This is our new world and our new way of life. If we don’t stop seeing our role as a band-aid for the short term, I think we’ll continue to struggle to cope and support our teams.
It’s when you see it from the here-to-stay filter, your decisions would probably look different, your policies would need to change overnight. Health and wellness (holistically) will start finding its way into your budgets; not as a cost but as an investment.
Most questions in interview conversations that I have lately are not about how well the organization is doing or how much money one can expect. They are about what the organization did to and for its people when we were all in the unknown. You’ve probably asked or have been asked this question too. Think about it.