Article: OYO's CHRO on leading with empathy and resilience


OYO's CHRO on leading with empathy and resilience

In an interaction with People Matters, Dinesh Ramamurthi, CHRO - OYO Hotels & Homes, shares his thoughts on key things leaders need to follow to manage a crisis like the one the world is going through.
OYO's CHRO on leading with empathy and resilience

The hospitality industry is under a major mayhem, owing to COVID-19. Significant layoffs, salary cuts, leave without pay have become standard actions in the last four months. One of India's largest hotel chains is headed in the same direction. In an interaction with People Matters, Dinesh Ramamurthi, CHRO - OYO Hotels & Homes shares his thoughts on key things leaders need to follow to manage such a crisis. 

You have sent some of your employees on leave with limited benefits. What are these benefits? How much do you think would these benefits help an employee in running a household during these times?

The hospitality industry has been deeply impacted because of the lockdown and travel restrictions. We continue to stand by our commitment to minimizing job losses despite a deep impact on the business and have announced the onset of voluntary leaves with limited benefits (LwLB) for a certain number of employees in India, effective May 4, 2020. This is a part of the global exercise announced by the Founder & CEO on April 8. At that time, we had confirmed that there will be no furloughs/leaves related actions in India until the 21-day lockdown ends. 

While we have taken this hard decision, we have ensured that those going on this leave will avail benefits such as the continuation of medical insurance and parental insurance, school fee reimbursement and ex-gratia support. In addition, for our colleagues on LwLB, in case there is an unforeseen medical emergency, we will support them beyond the insured amounts if the need so arises. Under insurance, an employee's Corporate Mediclaim Policy, Personal Accident & Term Insurance will all keep continuing during the LwLB period and their spouse and kids will also be covered as well in case they have been enrolled.

While there is a 4-month timeline to the steps mentioned by OYO's South Asia CEO Rohit Kapoor, if the business revives anytime sooner than that, would you be looking at a course-correction or retracting these measures?

Currently, the situation is dynamic and evolving as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic. These are unpredictable times. At this stage, the leaves with limited benefits are applicable until August 2020 and we are taking all necessary actions to mitigate COVID-19's impact and ensure long-term success and sustenance of the business. We are hopeful that as the situation begins to improve globally, we will be able to bring as many of our employees as possible, back to full-time work at OYO.

How have the employees reacted to this decision? Are they miffed? Have they asked the management to review their decision?

Our priority has always been to be empathetic and compassionate, especially in the execution of such decisions. At every stage, we've ensured transparent communication and the message was communicated to all employees through a town hall. This was followed by several team-level town halls by various OYO leaders. Keeping the circumstances in mind, we conducted one-on-one video interactions with our impacted colleagues. These were led by 450+ panelists, who received adequate training to manage all possible scenarios. If an impacted colleague required additional discussions to get their questions answered, especially from leaders, we made provisions for that as well.

I have personally received messages from many OYOpreneurs who have stood by us and accepted these decisions and we are ever thankful for their hard work, support and perseverance in making OYO's mission a reality. 

Industry leaders are traveling the rough road in this crisis as a people leader. What are some of the key learnings you have had personally and what do you think is the best way to tackle such a situation from an HR point of view?

The coronavirus pandemic has left us with a distinctive challenge where not only we are facing unique tests but also devising solutions that stand the test of time. These are unprecedented circumstances hence standing strong with each other becomes extremely important. Some of my key learnings include: 

  • Communicate authentically
  • Do what is right by the people and the organization
  • Always be open to constructive feedback and change course quickly, stay agile
  • Be respectful and build trust by open and transparent communication
  • Exhibit resilience and ensure this is instilled in people
  • Always be available and accessible to everyone 

The company has posted a massive fall in terms of revenue and going forward the hospitality sector is not expected to perform well. How is it going to impact OYO in terms of talent management? 

COVID-19 has deeply impacted the travel and hospitality industry, and we are not immune to this. Our occupancy rates and therefore revenue has gone down significantly. We are also seeing trends of around 75% drop in occupancies in established hotel chains globally. We will continue to focus on maintaining a pool of top talent across the world to run the business and add value to the experience of our guests and asset partners through the means of technology and talent once the crisis is over.

As a leader, do you measure performances during the crisis? If yes, what are the key parameters that are considered while measuring performance?

OYO is a meritocratic organization and all of us need to maintain a strong performance orientation at all times. This further enables employees to think beyond the usual ways of working to achieve business goals. Having said that, these are highly unprecedented and difficult times and the normal target-based performance measure may undergo some changes owing to the crisis. The emphasis is also on the qualitative aspects that are linked to the core values of the company such as a bias for action, building trust during these times, being respectful and empathetic and being resilient.

Do you believe that employees should lay more emphasis on upskilling themselves, keeping in mind the future company goals & use the time to plan for the post-lockdown scenario? As the chief of people what are you doing to create a learning culture amid the crisis? 

We recognize that these are extraordinary times and this is an opportunity to completely rethink our ways of working. As things go back to normalcy, we will find us operating in and solving for a post-pandemic world and that may demand an extensive skillset. We have devised multiple strategies, including live chat rooms, online mentoring sessions, combining special projects through cross-functional teams to enhance the learning curve of all employees.

We have utilized this time to create interactive online modules that not only strengthen functional capabilities but also provide exposure to new areas to make employees ready to take on different challenges within OYO. There is a huge focus on analytics, data sciences, product and design-led thinking and softer skills such as empathy, coaching and nurturing.

Leaders are remembered by the decisions they take during a crisis. What are some of the major decisions you made recently that have kept things under control? 

We have taken necessary actions, like reducing controllable costs, voluntary salary cuts accepted by leaders, and more. Ritesh Agarwal, the Founder & CEO of OYO has decided to forego 100% of his salary for the rest of the year effective April 2020. OYO's entire executive leadership (CXOs) team, including myself, have taken a voluntary pay cut, starting at 25%, with many opting for an additional uncapped amount, and some going up to 50% to enable building the runway for the company. 

The company is taking difficult but necessary steps for India, whereby we are asking all OYOprenuers to accept a reduction in their fixed compensation by 25%, effective till July 2020 payroll. We've ensured that all other benefits remain unchanged and the action is planned in such a way that post the proposed pay cut, the fixed compensation for any employee is not less than INR 5 lakhs per annum. This ensures a sizeable percentage of our colleagues at lower pay scales see no impact.

What is that one job that is going to be critical at your group in the future? And why?

Our workforce is characterized by technical specialists like engineers, data scientists in revenue management, and commercial roles like general managers who can do multiple roles in supply, customer experience, and managing daily operations. We have enhanced our focus on customers, partners, and employees and all this will be led by an intimate understanding of and creating products that can transform experiences for each stakeholder. 

In my view, data sciences, product, design, and technology will acquire significant importance in the time to come as 'Imagineering' the future will become a core skill.

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Topics: Leadership, #COVID-19, #LeadTheWay

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