The pace of change amid the pandemic has been incredible and it has accelerated the transformation journey for all. While the organizations have to transform as per the new reality of work, job security, personal health, finances, and learning has become some important talent challenges to cater to.
In a recent interaction with People Matters, Ranjan Sarkar, CHRO at Exide Industries Limited discusses how the pandemic has created an opportunity to introduce and accelerate process and behavior oriented changes in the organization. He also shares how Exide is coping up with the new reality of work.
How has the current global health crisis impacted the industry and hence the business and talent priorities for Exide?
Exide has withheld many crises and changes in the past before COVID-19. From the time when liberalization was implemented to the industrial revolution, in the history of 70 years as a business and organization Exide has survived many storms and moved in tune with time.
Earlier Exide was a battery company but now we have repositioned ourselves as energy storage. With consumer brand and timely adoption of technology Exide has strived to remain ahead of the curve. In the past years the manufacturing sector has lost lots of talent to the new age sector, like ecommerce and other emerging digital companies and startups. But now we are observing a comeback of talent as they look for more stability and job security.
Energy sector is becoming a sunrise sector, some experts think it could be the next telecom sector of India, as the demand for energy has increased tremendously. Particularly cleaner energy is the talk of every town. Energy has three value chains, energy generation, energy storage, and energy distribution. So we are in the storage space demand for which has increased both among the other industries and households.
In the post COVID world there will be a lot of protectionism all over the world. So international technology transfer will also get a little tighter. And for India to become a manufacturing powerhouse all the companies in the industry have to enhance their core technical teams. Developing specialists will be critical. Secondly digital transformation will be key for the sales and distribution model, and also the entire organizational model. How we engage with both consumers and employees more digitally will be essential.
Sustainability and risk management is another key focus area for companies in the present and the future work. For well established companies like Exide we were better positioned to cope with the crisis. However, to maintain this momentum, the focus has to be on developing crisis-proof processes and being agile to adapt the change
How are you operating in the new reality of work? What are some new ways of working you have adopted amid the pandemic and/or are looking to adopt?
There are three parts to the organization, one is manufacturing, which is completely brick and mortar. This can't be replaced with a virtual environment as you need factories and machines. So in factories we have people working but the way we work has changed in the sense that we are now particular about hygiene and safety to an obsessive level. Also we have people coming in by rotation.
For the other aspect, the sales and supply organizations, we have an establishment distribution network. This has enabled the employees to manage all the work through phone calls and Zoom calls.
The challenge for us wasn't that employees are at home but that the shops are not open. The first month was hence challenging, although we had some orders coming in online, however battery being a semi essential product the demand was not much. Once the situation got better and lockdown eased managing work became easier as we have established bonds among the entire network.
Then we have the leadership team also coming to the office currently for urgent work, or to access urgent files and documents. However, we manage who comes when, and we operate in staggered hours.
While working from home, what we realized was that there was a spurt in meetings and people are now getting fed up. So we took a step to cut down on unnecessary meetings. And indeed COVID taught us to have only relevant meetings. Hence we made our work from home policy keeping in mind the needs and challenges of the employees.
We don't allow calling employees outside business hours and especially keeping a meeting after working hours. Beyond 10 to 6 managers can't ask colleagues to join them for meetings. We need to respect the home boundaries of employees and hence we become more flexible in terms of whether or not the employees want to switch on the camera or take a lunch break.
These are small things but these are the moments that matter and make all the difference in the employee experience.
Has the pandemic accelerated your digital transformation journey? If yes, share how? Which of the HR processes has seen more digitization in recent months?
An IT company would have its normal culture of work even amid COVID but for a brick and mortar company like us it wasn't the same. While we had already been on our digitalization journey the pandemic further accelerated the behavioural change towards it that would have been much slower otherwise.
For instance we have been doing training in classroom format but now we are shifting to digital interfaces and platforms. The adaptability quotient in an ideal situation in a brick and mortar company could have been slower but presently it has been faster.
The pandemic is hence being seen as an opportunity to introduce and fast-track changes.
Workplace safety and hygiene practices have been increased five fold. We now have the culture of safety first. And HR is here playing a strong role. To help them understand and navigate when they are not well, we provide medical consultation to employees via a third party client. Through the app named Mitra, employees can reach out to a panel of doctors and seek advice. The process from counselling to treatment is end to end managed through the app.
Also we have brought in more flexibility to our existing HR policies like leave management, and benefits among other things. We no longer have standard HR policies, we encourage customisation and localisation as per the needs of the employees.
Then keeping in mind that social interaction is missing we have introduced a digitally well connected forum called JAM, which is like an internal Exide Facebook to enable employees to engage with each other and experience social interaction close to how they would when they could come to the physical space of work. It is like an internal community bringing employees together and closer virtually.
As the virtual way of working is here to stay it is essential to create platforms and solutions that enable more social interaction, collaboration, and keep the employees together.
What are some of the people and work trends you think will either stay or emerge even beyond the COVID-19 era? What implications does it have on the role of HR?
Stability will become a key job proposition factor. People will want to know about the financial strength of the company to see how well positioned is the company to face a crisis like the pandemic in the future. Companies policies beyond the culture will become a key focus for candidates when they choose to join a company. This is where the role of HR will come in: how will they ensure that the leaders and the entire company demonstrates the correct values, and strengths of the business.
The virtual method of working is also here to stay. Hence it can be better time the need for change management has become prevalent now. And HR heads have to drive and lead the change management.
HR teams will also play a key role in designing communication plans. Going forward communication will be key and a specialist will be required to ensure that right messages are expressed and delivered effectively, whether internally or externally. HR leaders have to become communication specialists.
Lastly, a key focus area for HR leaders would be talent mapping as businesses undergo transformation. What are the key skills which will be required, how will the demand for roles change, how to fill the new and existing roles, how to develop or recruit talent and strengthen the people quotient to help implement a successful transformation. This will also include developing and managing more specialists as businesses look to accelerate their growth journeys and emerge stronger from the crisis.
CEOs will also expect the HR leaders to speak the language of business and transformation and be the leaders of change. While HR professionals bring in the people perspective to the table, being mindful of the need of the business and striking a balance between the two will be key.