Article: Dream Sports' CHRO on talent, skilling and well-being

Skilling

Dream Sports' CHRO on talent, skilling and well-being

Dream Sports' CHRO Kevin Freitas talks to People Matters about how the company is prioritizing well-being and skilling in the new flow of work, and sheds light on what the company is looking for in top talent as it hunts for 200 new Sportans.
Dream Sports' CHRO on talent, skilling and well-being

Kevin Freitas is currently serving as the Chief Human Resources Officer at Dream Sports, among India's leading sports technology firms.

Kevin’s professional background includes more than a decade of business, consulting, and human resources experience with technology companies. He enjoys coaching and partnering with senior leaders to lead business, culture and organizational transformations.

Kevin began his career with Procter & Gamble in 2000, and went on to serve in consulting and multiple HR roles across leading firms in the likes of HayGoup, Flipkart, InMobi and now Dream Sports. At InMobi, Kevin was the HR Leader for the company’s sales organization across China, Japan, Asia-Pacific and India. He also led specialist functions like Culture, Learning, Engagement, Recruitment and Employer Branding. Prior to InMobi, Kevin led the HR functions of Compensation & Benefits, HR Shared Services, Engagement and Performance Management at Flipkart.com. 

In conversation with People Matters, Kevin talks about viewing empathy as a business skill,  embedding well-being in the flow of work and Dream Sport’s ‘Learning Wallet’.

There is a significant and continuous rise in employees experiencing stress and burnout across the globe. How is Dream Sports embedding employee well-being in the flow of work?

Dream Sports is a highly culture-driven company that fosters an employee-focused,  transparent, in-person and open culture. We follow our five culture pillars ‘DO-PUT’ that stands for Data-obsessed, Ownership, High performance, User first, and Transparency, and we keep encouraging Sportans (our employees) to DO PUT our culture first. On our journey over the years, we have realized that culture is the only thing that scales with an organization.

At Dream Sports, we believe that if our Sportans feel included and are welcomed to be themselves at the workplace, we can automatically reduce the level of stress or burnout that they may face.

Some of our organization-wide cultural practices that enable Sportans to perform their best stress-free are the hyper-experimentation based HEAL (Hypothesis, Experiment, Analysis and Learning) under which, Sportans are encouraged to experiment, fail fast, learn fast and move forward.

We motivate them to share their thoughts and feedback instead of following the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). We also implement collective decision making and changes based on discussions, surveys and feedback from all Sportans. 

Besides our focus on culture, we also encourage our Sportans to pursue their dreams and goals beyond their work commitments, especially in a city like Mumbai that has so much to offer its residents. Our wide array of offerings include unlimited leaves, ESOPs grants, conveyance, gym membership, exceptional health and wellness benefits for Sportans and their families, international offsite, etc, Some of our unmatched benefits include: Competitive remuneration packages, opportunity to work in an exciting and fast-growing sector, opportunity to work with the latest tech stack, the Dream Sports Stadium, proximity to the Stadium, Learning wallet, and Relocation benefits. 

Additionally, there are notable employee engagement initiatives such as internal contests to test sports knowledge, opportunity to join exclusive sessions and clubs, monthly experience vouchers for employees and their loved ones, one-on-one sessions with physiotherapists, in-house massage sessions twice a week with a professional masseuse, access to healthy meals throughout the day, opportunity to meet and greet sports stars, and the opportunity to avail exclusive match tickets. 

With so much focus on strengthening collaboration and connection for a distributed workforce working through a crisis, how can organizations enhance emotional intelligence and psychological safety at the workplace? 

Nobody was prepared for the scale and impact of the ongoing pandemic. Everyone has been affected by it in some form or another.

We want our Sportans to prioritize their health and safety without worrying about their work or job security.

To ensure the well-being of our Sportans we took several actions last year and initiated new programs to battle the evolving challenges the Sportans might be facing through this health crisis.

We launched a Rapid COVID Resource Channel for immediate help that addressed the needs of Sportans at home to get medical help or hospitalization. For overall personalized and accessible physical and mental healthcare, we have partnered with ‘Visit’ and ‘Santulan’ for free, confidential consultations, health check-ups and counselling. Unlimited leaves were introduced, so employees can take as much time off as required to care for themselves and their families. We also launched a free vaccination drive for all employees and their families residing across the country. These are all in addition to our regular internal initiatives to provide coping mechanisms to Sportans, enhance team bonding and help them to create a positive mindset amidst the gloom, weekly AMA sessions that provided timely and transparent information, fun contests and quizzes that brought teams together outside of their regular work, 90 mins of compulsory lunch break that have now been turned in to three hours of no-meeting zones every workday and occasional surprise gifts for all Sportans and their families. 

Due to the pandemic and work-from-home situation, in-person collaborations and discussions are difficult. We quickly adapted and changed to more systemic and process-oriented formats like meetings over video calls, proper software to track and manage team tasks remotely and so on. 

We are now preparing for the Sportans to return to the Stadium. For this, we have enhanced our benefits for their convenience such as relocation and proximity to the Stadium benefits.

While most of us are working remotely, few of our fully vaccinated team members have already started working from the Stadium voluntarily. To ensure everyone’s safety and well-being, we are following all COVID-19 protocols and precautionary measures, and have arranged for Sportans to get compulsory antigen tests done as they enter the Stadium. 

What does the DEI landscape look like in the sports tech industry? What efforts are you seeing across the industry to boost opportunity access for underrepresented communities?

Both sports and technology industries have been traditionally male-dominated. However, in recent years, we have seen a huge shift globally and in India. From pay parity and pay equity to affirmative hiring to representation on the Board to sensitivity training, there have been many noteworthy initiatives that are creating an impact across the globe.

At Dream Sports, we have seen a synergistic shift in the number of female Sportans. Around five years back we had about 95% men as employees and today we have 19% women - out of the 800 Sportans, we have over 140 women in our team.

What are the top challenges that organizations today face in terms of upskilling the workforce for the new digital reality of work? How can they overcome these challenges?

The overall tech industry in India as well as globally is evolving at a fast pace and this has led to a scarcity of talent at par with the latest skill requirements in tech. While this gap could be filled with young tech professionals to a certain degree, experience in solving technical challenges has equal, if not more weightage.

Thus, having the right balance in terms of expertise and experience in addition to the keenness of learning and experimenting is highly sought after, especially for our brands like Dream11, where we work on a large user scale of 110+ million and have to process and analyze high volumes of data, concurrencies and requests per minute. This scale is among the highest in the industry and most people who join us haven't experienced it earlier. 

While this is of course a value proposition for our talent, we also enable them to learn and upskill on the job through training, and our ‘Learning Wallet’ benefit. We believe that Dream Sports is a great place for on-the-job learning, and this needs to be supplemented by the pursuit of learning new concepts that every Sportan can apply at work. Sportans can avail of this benefit for every financial year of which Dream Sports will bear 80% of the costs.

Our Learning Wallet allows Sportans to take charge of their own learning, both in and outside of their job profiles, to enhance their knowledge, work in great synergy with other clubs (departments) and excel in their careers!

They may take up any development program(s), training/certification program(s), seminars, books, ebooks, webinars or any other learning initiative. The learning wallet benefit includes all expenses related to the Sportans’ learning initiative, including but not limited to their travel and accommodation, along with the tickets for conferences, workshops, seminars, etc.

This year, some of our talented engineers will be travelling to London for the prestigious Functional Scala 2021 where they will get to explore more about the programming language and learn from seasoned professionals. 

Recently, we have doubled down on our campus hirings especially from the IITs and NIITs. This has worked out really well, owing to their phenomenal aptitude to adapt and learn. 

Which skills and capabilities are a priority for Dream Sports as the workforce gears up to navigate challenges through a rapidly changing business and workplace climate?

We look forward to working with professionals who design innovative solutions keeping users first. Data scientists, business analysts and data engineers form the core data club that fuels decision making at Dream Sports. We are expanding our talent pool and would love to meet professionals with experience in data warehousing, Big Data architecture, ML systems design, distributed systems, experimentation and Product Analytics, predictive algorithms, descriptive and diagnostic analytics, and research sciences like reinforcement learning, causal inference modelling.

In the following 15 months, Dream Sports plans to hire 200 employees for our core teams in tech, product and design.

We are always on the lookout for top talent with a passion for sports, a data-driven mindset, and a desire to help us construct the most cutting-edge cross-platform products at scale. 

How different is it to lead the HR function in a sports tech industry vs the many industries you have worked in including consumer goods, consulting, IT, financial services, marketing? How did the last 16 months impact your approach as a leader?

Sports technology is a new, exciting and rapidly growing sector with a lot of opportunities and Dream Sports provides the perfect combination of sports and tech like no other in India. Inspired by the spirit of sports teams and leagues, and our vision to Make Sports Better, we have tried to establish and implement work culture and core values that would make us a great sports team.  In my experience over the years, I have realized that:

  • Culture is the king: It’s important to develop core values and make them part of every organizational practice, including HR. We have made DO-PUT a part of our recruitment strategy and our employer brand effectively supports this as well, as we consider this the strength of our brand
  • Performance management is the key: Just as professional athletes work towards improving their performance, we have set up a sophisticated internal system to help Sportans map and improve their performance with quarterly 360-degree feedback, surveys, aptitude analysis, learning and training opportunities, etc.
  • Balancing match season and downtime is necessary: Just like sports players and athletes enjoy their off-season time to focus on their other non-professional goals, organizations need to help employees strike the right work-life balance as well. 

If you could advise talent and business leaders to start, stop and continue one workplace mindset or even initiative, what would that be?

Start...Viewing empathy as a business skill. Organizations need to start giving greater importance to empathy for overall employee wellness and organizational health.

Stop...Believing that we need to go back to the “old normal”. The new normal is the new reality and it will continue to evolve.

Continue...Investing in upskilling the workforce for market relevance and business continuity.

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Topics: Skilling, Technology, #TheSkillsConundrum

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