What began as a disease in one part of the world has now become the single most factor to have changed the world forever. Organizations have catapulted dramatically over this one year of the COVID-19 pandemic in innovation, tech-implementation, and adaptation. Whether some of these organisations had already embarked on the journey, or were planning to, the recent developments have certainly given a push that was much needed. So, what were some of the biggest lessons learnt in this first year of the pandemic, and would the second year look like?
In this exclusive interview, we talk to Rajesh Srivastava, Chief Human Resources Officer, Capital Foods Private Limited on some of the biggest shifts he has observed in organizations in 2020 and what overarching trends does he see in 2021 as far as HR and the world of work is concerned.
A seasoned HR professional, Rajesh has worked in diverse industries ranging from manufacturing, FMCG to financial services. In his career of over two decades, he has built diverse teams and established robust practices in the areas of organization design, capability building, talent development, change management. and organization restructuring.
At Capital Foods, the parent company of Ching’s Secret and Smith & Jones brands, Rajesh’s prime responsibility includes building a healthy culture, enhancing employer brand quotient, and partnering business transformation. Prior to joining the FMCG company, he has been associated with one of the largest conglomerates of India, the Aditya Birla Group. His last role was the Joint President, Group Human Resources, Aditya Birla Management Corporation. Rajesh has also mentored HR Professionals and Organizational Leaders in advanced position readiness and business acumen.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Q1. What are some of the biggest shifts you have seen across organizations in 2020?
Virtual working has changed the traditional model of work and pushed organizations to rethink their employee culture. This led to a shift towards a focus on productivity over the number of work hours. Incidentally, as teams worked from the comfort of their homes, we also noted that the performance had remained consistent and even improved in some areas.
Another change is the decline in hierarchical organizational structures. As organizations kept pace with the changes and worked across different locations, employees needed to increase their individual decision making. This reduced micro-management and increased ownership, making organizations leaner and more agile.
Q2. As we navigate through the next normal, what have been some ways you have adapted to this time of tremendous change?
We have always believed that a strong team will be the backbone of a business, especially in challenging times. With this as our North Star, every decision that we took at Capital Foods focused on deepening our relationship with employees and maintaining our strong culture.
We looked at three areas. Firstly, we prioritized our employees’ health and happiness. To translate this into practice, we provided every comfort to our teams like technical support for adapting to virtual work and COVID-19 coverage in Mediclaim policies.
Secondly, we widened our initiatives to include every member of our extended team: distribution partners, retailers, and contractual staff. We ensured that each member received ample opportunity to continue their relationship with us conveniently. This created advocates beyond our immediate organization.
Finally, we focused on creating a shared sense of purpose instead of measuring performance. We drove each team member with a sense of contributing to the nation by supplying as much as we could during the difficult periods. The war cry was “no empty shelves”. What we saw was incredible – every team member came forward voluntarily to support the cause.
According to an employee survey we conducted, 97% of our team felt a sense of belonging towards the organization. Though the times have been challenging, we have in fact come out of it closer, stronger, and more adaptive to change.
Q3. Looking ahead, what do you think the workplace of the post-COVID-19 future will look like?
The office of the future will integrate wellness into every aspect – right from ergonomics to operating processes. For the next few years, we will see a hybrid model with the best of virtual working and in-person interactions. We are already integrating this philosophy in our work. We recently took a team of 100 employees for a basecamp in Goa, which included team building, networking, and induction activities. In the future, offices might act as social hubs. People may not be coming to the office to do work, but they could come to meet their teams/colleagues.
Q4. How do you create enough leadership bandwidth to think ahead?
Two aspects helped our leadership team through the last few months: planning early and leveraging a sense of collective responsibility. Even before the pandemic hit India, we pulled our leadership team together and created a plan of action, including worst-case scenarios and contingencies. This helped us stay focused on our goals during the early stages of the lockdown and freed up time for our leaders to plan further. Throughout, we asked ourselves - “how can we maintain current growth and look beyond” instead of focusing on reducing costs.
The key to increasing leadership capability lies in transparent communication and remaining connected with people. Each person is valued as an important resource having the best interest of the organization.
Q5. What are some leadership lessons taught by COVID-19?
Leaders must be seen leading from the front in the time of crisis, through frequent, constant, and maybe even over-communication sometimes. We heard that some of our frontline team members were worried about their job security and salary. Within 24 hours, we organized a call with the entire workforce and reassured them regarding their apprehensions. Similarly, we reached out to all our channel partners and networks and informed them that we would remain operational and support them.
Over the last few months, I was reminded of a traditional belief that our forefathers had: behavior and attitude make effective leaders, not the designation. As we switched to virtual work and lost out on in-person interactions, leaders had to focus on getting the basics right: good guidance, an empathetic approach, and transparency in communication. For a leader today, building trust will influence the team more than relying on any other aspect.
Q6. What do you think are going to be overarching trends in 2021 as far as HR and the world of work is concerned?
2021 will be an interesting year of transition. Job design, employment laws, leave policy, working hours are all likely to change. We could migrate to an outcome-based model of work focused on building employer advocacy.
Innovation in recruitment and career progression initiatives will be necessary. One of the ways we already started this in our organization is by launching a unique initiative called Udaan. Through this, we are helping our high-performing, off-roll employees progress onto on-roll.
A crucial lesson the pandemic has taught us all is the need to be adaptable and positive as we leverage human resources for business growth. No new normal is likely to either remain new or normal for a long time – and we all will need to accept that and not just survive this but also thrive in this.