AirAsia India’s CHRO on getting hybrid work right
The pandemic has brought on a range of changes in work paradigms, including new ways to recruit, engage, and retain workers while providing them with the value and purpose they now expect. For companies to compete for talent, they must find flexible solutions that help all workers.
To find out more on this, we have a freewheeling conversation with Anjali Chatterjee, Chief Human Resources Officer at AirAsia India. Anjali is a global talent management professional with over 30 years of experience and her key focus is to facilitate the creation and deployment of effective people strategy in line with business strategy. She has earlier worked in companies including Tata Communications, LG Electronics, Jet Airways, etc.
Here are the edited excerpts.
There are companies going all-remote and there are organisations betting big on their hybrid plans. How do you see these new modes of work shaping the future of work?
After years of all of us working from an office set-up, we suddenly transitioned to Work From Home (WFH) due to the pandemic, and WFH had its positives and also its own challenges from an individual and organisational point of view. Human beings, at their core, are social creatures, and at work, it is always more engaging to collaborate. So, while many organisations are going fully remote, I personally think that the hybrid model is here to stay. This gives people the flexibility they want along with corporate social interactions. For organisations, it gives them the opportunity to further focus on engagement and well-being while providing flexibility; and to provide a work environment that is supportive, productive, and flexible. This also helps us better manage our environmental impact and align with the organisation's sustainability goals.
The hybrid work style that most organisations have adopted is fraught with challenges, including engagement and trust issues. What according to you are the key questions that leaders need to address to make the hybrid model work for everyone?
The key questions to making hybrid models work for employees and organisations are:
- How well are people managers prepared to manage work and productivity and engagement in this hybrid model?
- Do managers possess the skills to manage a workforce?
- Can they build trust and inclusion?
- Can they communicate well?
- Can they drive focus, accountability, and productivity?
- Can they continue to maintain or further create a strong culture of creativity and innovation?
- Can they move from the culture of counting the number of hours in the office to an outcome-driven and high-performance culture?
People are quitting at record levels, according to a Mckinsey report on the great attrition. In India, more than 60% of respondents expressed a desire to leave their current posts. Is India ready for this?
No one can ever be ready for this great attrition. The pandemic has made people rethink their priorities. No longer are they willing to burn their candles at both ends and work very long hours. They are rethinking their goals and aspirations and are looking for better benefits, flexibility, and well-being for themselves and their family.
So, how are you attracting and retaining talent at AirAsia India?
We continue to focus on our culture while making it fun and very engaging. At the same time, the focus on health and wellness continues to rise; and of course, we have like any other organisation started on a flexible culture while continuing to focus on productivity; which will help us in our talent attraction and retention.
What has changed in AirAsia India over the last two years of disruption in terms of talent management, EVP and business priority?
I will divide this into two parts:
1. Bringing in a higher level of empathy and "humaneness" in our interactions with all the people around us. The last two years have been a lesson in understanding that we are emotional human beings at our core and look for kindness and empathy from all people around us, both personally and professionally. I really feel the change in myself and all my colleagues.
2. There has been a huge jump in adoption of technology—which helps us plan our personal and professional lives in a much more efficient way, giving us time for other important things, be it personal wellness or professional development
How do you raise this level of empathy and humanness as a senior HR leader? How do you measure progress?
This question is close to my heart and I have been working on further improving my level of empathy as a leader.
I tried many ways, but what worked for me is reverse mentoring. I get my team members, including skip levels, to give me feedback on a regular basis. More importantly, when they do feel I need to show more empathy at that particular time or during that meeting they just nudge me via a message or via sign language which I immediately pick up. This has helped me immensely and again via feedback I get to know if I am improving.
What skills should HR leaders equip themselves with? What are the top areas that HR needs to focus on?
- Business & Commercial Acumen
- Understanding finance and financial structures and how business is done
- Ability to work with key stakeholders, i.e., customers, shareholders, and senior management and boards
- In-depth knowledge of data and analytics; how to make data-driven business decisions.
- Understanding the future of technology and bringing in technology solutions to support business success
Where do you see HR functioning five years down the line? What would be their key focus areas?
HR roles will become very diversified and there will be an emerging class of specialists to support business success. A lot of standard processes will be outsourced. Some roles I can visualise in the immediate future are Head Benefits, Head Data Analytics, Chief Wellness & Happiness Officer, Head of Skills & Talent Development, Employee Relationship Manager (like we have CRM in Marketing), and HCM Digital Director. The key focus areas will move to business success rather than just HR alone. HR heads will be asked to contribute to the business in this new, highly technological, and ever-transforming business world
What’s your leadership style? Has anything changed about it in the last two years?
I am listening to employees and taking more notes—and reverting at the right time. Have developed a greater sense of compassion and empathy by prioritising humility and respect for everyone. Well-leadership styles do certainly change as our environment changes and we also evolve with time; and the last 2 years have made me into a "Servant Leader," wherein I am putting the needs of others first and working towards enriching them, while at the same time being purposeful and focussing on business goals