Article (June-2018)


Expose, Establish and Encourage

Harjeet Khanduja

Designation : -   Vice President HR

Organization : -  Reliance Jio Infocomm, Mumbai


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How do you define culture of excellence in today's business world where it seems to be captured and governed by digital technology?
HK Interestingly, the definition of culture has not changed. Culture still stands for how we think, act and interact. It is true that lately, businesses have developed a taste for Digital Technology. This is because Digital Technology offers affordable real-time information exchange from anywhere. Businesses were waiting for this to happen for quite some time.
Digital Technology not only made the existing processes efficient but also opened endless opportunities. The organizations which leveraged these digital capabilities to solve problems and create solutions were received well by the customers. Customers changed their habits for such organizations, be it Ola, Uber, Amazon, Flipkart, BookMyShow or Swiggy.
The success of these organizations has made digital technology contagious. Everyone wants to go digital. However, an important point to remember is that digital technology in itself can't do any good. It can only help in implementing your vision for your customers. Hence, a culture of excellence requires nothing but passion to solve problems for customers.
The heart of the business world has not changed. It is still the customer. It might look like technology obsession from outside, but the digital technology framework is still built around the customer.
What are the key characteristics of the new-age culture of excellence at work place?
HK The new-age culture of excellence is very sensitive to various socio economic factors. These factors have been silently changing behaviours of people in the society. Organizations which have captured the essence of this change and adjusted their organization cultures accordingly are better equipped to create a culture of excellence. Key factors include :
1. Agility : nfluencing factor - Fast Food (Pizza, McDonalds)
Excellence is most often misunderstood as perfection. In the business world, agility has become a new standard for excellence. Customers don't ask for perfection, because the standard for perfection changes every day. Instead, Customers look forward to a near perfect solution that is delivered quickly.
2. Communication : Influencing factor - Whatsapp
Communication habits have changed. Verbal communication has taken a backseat as you can only have one conversation at a time and you can't speak all the time. Memos and emails are perceived bureaucratic and outdated with inbuilt delays and undercurrents. Instant messaging tools and group chats have become a new norm.
3. Empowerment : Influencing factor - Movies
Movies are reflection of society and they change society as well. There was an age of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. That was the culture of "taking permission". Then came the age of Jab We Met. The culture changed to "we will decide and then regularize". This is the time of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. The culture has changed to "Not even asking for permission".
4. Self-Competition : Influencing factor - Games
The new age games are shaping an important aspect of new age culture. These games have brought a concept of self-competition. Keep playing and beat your own record rather than competing with someone else. This concept saves demotivation of half the workforce. Everyone competes against oneself and improves the overall effectiveness of the organization.
5. Experimentation : Influencing factor - Pizza, Subway
Experimentation is about making choices in a controlled environment. Organizations which are able to offer choices to their employees to experiment and learn from their shortcomings and failures stand a better chance of nurturing excellence.
How managers should manage the change and instil culture of excellence in approach and attitude of new-age workforce?
HK The question is twisted. There is more need for Managers to make changes to their approach and attitude. Only then will they be able to tap into the potential of the new generation workforce. The people who have grown in the digital age have a better problem solving approach than the previous generation. Here are some of my recommendations for managers.
1. Listen
In this age, those who listen will survive. The new-age workforce has seen the world with different eyes. They can quickly redesign the processes in much more efficient manner because they don't carry baggage of past. Those who listen to their ideas will be able create more value for their customers.
2. Sensitize
To channelize the energy of the new-age workforce, it is imperative to expose them to the customers. They must understand the purpose of the business and how their work impacts the customer. This context improves the effectiveness of the new age workforce.
3. Guide and Empower
All your new generation workforce needs is direction. All you need to ensure is that they don't hurt themselves or the interests of the organization in their flow of work. For this, they need to understand the design principles of what they are doing. After that, empower them to reach the given goal, finding their own path.
4. Allow them to fail
Give a safe environment for them to fail. Let them learn from their mistakes. Discuss mistakes so that all can learn from each other's mistake.
5. Review
This is the most difficult part. Reviewing the progress of work on an hourly, daily and weekly basis sets mechanism to bring clarity to everyone. This contributes in building agility of the organization.
What are the challenges likely to be encountered in developing and sustaining the culture of excellence?
HK Roads come with roadblocks. Roadblocks are signals to slow down to avoid likely accidents. The major challenges in developing and sustaining a culture of excellence are :
1. Emotions
The culture of excellence is fragile. You cannot afford to let loose your emotion for any reason whatsoever. The moment your emotions are rolling on the floor, half the people pack up mentally. Bringing them back to contribute positively is a herculean task.
2. Catching up
Agility comes with its own problems. When things move fast, some people are left out. You need regular reviews to make sure that the information is reaching the right people and work is being done as needed. Any leniency towards this ends up in communication gaps, leading to failures.
3. Control
Pizza guys empower you to decide toppings for your own pizza. You may choose base size as well. However you can't change the base. Choices are controlled. In the same manner, it is important to define choices carefully, instead of opening the whole kitchen for the people.
In the current scenario how do you suggest developing a culture of excellence?
HK There are three mantras to develop the culture of excellence - Expose, Establish and Encourage
1. Expose 
Expose the managers and employees to customers. Everyone must understand the reason of their own existence. How the work of each individual contributes to serving the customer sets the culture of excellence. This is better than writing vision and mission on the walls. Secondly, expose the managers and employees to the best in the world. When people see possibilities, they start thinking how they can also make the difference.
2. Establish
Establishing standards is an essential for establishing culture of excellence. Managers and employees should be able to see how they are performing on a real-time basis. These parameters, if possible, should be direct feedback from the customers or the parameters that affect customer experience. Establish a growth path of people based on the standards of performance.
3. Encourage 
Encourage dialogue so that people can discuss any problem or solution. Encourage people so that they don't fear to fail. Encourage people to experiment and come up with better ways of working instead of following a given process.
What is the role of HR in setting organisational expectations for excellence?
HK Where the mind is without fear and head is held high. This line by Rabindranath Tagore defines the role of HR in excellence culture. Every individual must be respected and should be able to speak without fear.
HR is the custodian of the excellence culture. HR has a job to ensure that everyone understands the business, customer expectations, organization expectations, their respective roles and how they contribute. HR must clarify doubts, help managers set performance standards and neutralize micro cultures.
But that's not it. The most important role of HR is to ensure that Business Heads and Managers take responsibility for their people and not leave that to HR.