Article (March-2019)


HR has to be a change instrument

Lopamudra Banerjee

Designation : -   Head - Human Resources

Organization : -  Carrier Midea India & Deputy Director SE Asia


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Do you think that developing and maintaining a high performance culture is practically possible and easy in organisations or it is merely a buzzword far away from reality and difficult to achieve?
LB Culture is primarily those beliefs and behaviours that define a company's interactions within the organization as well as its responses to its external environment. It is primarily determined in the context of the organisation's business and the philosophy it adopts in motivating and driving its people in order to achieve its strategic goals. A high performance culture is one where the employees at all levels of the organization are able to adapt themselves and business strategies to changes in business patterns to drive better outcomes. This is not easy by any means requiring an alignment of business objectives across all levels of the organization. It is definitely achievable as long as the organization understands that it is a people-driven exercise, requiring thoughtful leadership, well defined and strong values & clear narratives along with supporting mechanisms such as collaboration tools and internal training.

Shared vision and values, high levels of communication and design of an effective management system for communicating business strategy are some key elements in driving a high performance culture. A strong commitment to employee growth and a merit based performance management system which is transparent and fair in the manner in which it is utilised is also a key driver for developing a high performing culture. Organisations which allow taking risks and tolerate some amount of failure create a conducive environment for this.

What should be the key initiatives for creating high performance culture in your view and how do you define them?
LB Articulating a compelling story based on a well defined value system; clear communication of the organization's core values, leadership which exemplifies those values and projects itself as a role model; training programs for skill building; and formal changes to processes, systems to support those initiatives, backed by incentives that encourage employees to adopt and participate in those initiatives are some of the key pillars supporting a high performance culture. Executing programs to provide a coherent experience for employees that minimizes confusion will help accelerate the creation of a high performance culture.

As a first step it is critical to define behaviours in the organisation which unlock business performance. There needs to be clear communication at all levels so that employees can understand what is expected of them and how they can best align their expectations with the company's business objectives, how they present themselves in their everyday work context. Typically mindsets drive workplace behaviours. While these attitudes originate away from work, the work environment has a profound effect on shaping beliefs and values. Everything from how performance reviews are conducted to how meetings are run sends a signal about the "right way" to think and behave.

High performance cultures are typically collaborative. Collaboration is critical in tearing down the silos which makes functioning inefficient. Designing a reward and recognition system which promotes this is critical in reinforcing high performance. Building a powerful communication infrastructure on the foundation of transparency is the key. Communication must flow to and from all directions in order to create a high performing culture.
In this complex process, what challenges and issues do you expect HR should be ready to address?
LB In today's volatile business environment, organisations rarely take time to pause and think. HR can play a critical role in helping Organizations to stop from time-to-time and think critically and clearly of the organization's basic philosophy and outlook - to appraise current processes and behaviours that affect its employees and management. This will help the organisations to identify where change is required, how those changes are to be communicated and implemented, what motivates and drives its people - all with the overall objective of keeping the organization focused on its strategic objectives, ensuring it stays competitive in an increasingly challenging market and continues to drive desired results.

The ability to include all stakeholders in the conversation is a key challenge - HR has to act as the bridge between the management and all of its stakeholders and ensure that there is trust and transparency at all levels. In the rush to drive a certain culture, it is possible that some key stakeholders are overlooked.

The ability to persuade and motivate employees to unlearn existing behaviours and practices that are no longer serving the organization's success is must. Though admittedly, getting employees to understand that some ways of doing things are no longer effective and actually getting those to change are two different things, HR must still be the instrument of change, helping to drive the change in behaviours that no longer support business goals. HR plays a critical role in devising the means and tools for communicating change. HR understands that it takes a lot for people to be comfortable with giving up the way they've always done things. Some take it as a statement that what they've been doing all along was wrong. Others fear that they may not be able to succeed if asked to do things differently. While a section of the employees do understand and realise that there is a need to change, it is easier for them to continue in the old ways, because they do not see their leader's role model the new expectations. HR needs to address all these concerns and fears during this transition and make the stakeholders comfortable and be ready to answer all queries. 
Does high performance mean high pressure and more stress on employees? How do you propose to handle this side effect?
LB High-performance cultures could translate into a high empowering environment. The challenge is for that pressure not to create undue stress. Research suggests that optimal stress can actually be beneficial to performance.

HR can be instrumental in nurturing 'Multipliers' across the organisation. These are selected people at various levels of the organization who exhibit initiative and leadership and who by virtue of their individual skills and team building capabilities help multiply the effort of a team - producing more than expected results. HR can help in building programs and initiatives to help people to collaborate and multiply their effort - this helps push the envelope, multiplies the effort and helps obtain extraordinary results while balancing the level of stress to manageable limits. In high performing cultures, creating a release valve is also important. It is the responsibility of the organization's leadership to create an environment where people can blow off steam, celebrate successes and recover before they burnout. When the pressure is and has been on for a long time, it is critical that employees have the means to release the pressure, share problems as a team, understand that the organization appreciates the effort being made and trust that there will be a proportionate reward for the stresses endured. Organizations often fail to understand it's really these apparently little things that require limited time and effort give employees the much needed space to breathe before they put the pedal to the metal again.

Having a high performing culture is a matter of direct influence from the top? In such absence, what strategies should HR adopt to keep employees' morale high to maintain high performing culture?
LB HR cannot in my opinion operate independently of support and consensus from senior management and the leadership team. It is highly unlikely that in any organization - HR can bypass top management and create programs and initiatives that will motivate and inspire employees without such top management having any say in the matter. HR and the CHRO in particular as a member of that senior group would, as a first critical step, are best served to address senior management and engage them in a dialogue on what is required to develop a healthy work culture within the company. Getting the top management to not only provides its blessings but to become an active part of the process and participate would help ensure that the initiatives taken to nurture a healthy successful performance driven culture bears fruit. The employees must be witness to their leaders leading the initiative. This 'tone at the top' will provide belief and trust in leadership and the required motivation to employees to follow their leaders. At Carrier Midea, creating and nurturing a high performance culture is a key KPI of the Leadership team.

In organisations having diverse workforce and multi generational effect where technology is fast coming in to mainstream employee processes, what kind of obstacles and psychological blocks you foresee in creating high performing culture and their possible solution?

LB Multi-generational workforces are increasingly becoming the norm in India as in many parts of the world. It is therefore crucial that businesses adapt accordingly. Each generation brings with it a unique skill set, leadership style, and work-life balance perception and communication attitude shaped by historical events, economic conditions, and popular culture. This disparity creates challenges for C-suite and HR executives, as they struggle to create compelling and collaborative work environments that make all employees feel valued and treated fairly, regardless of the age group to which they belong. Organisations have to therefore consider a range of personal experiences, learning curves and adaptive approaches to help foster an inclusive environment where the respective and unique talents and skills of individuals are adequately recognized.

With intergenerational teams present in the workplace, technology can, and should be leveraged to support productivity. Given that all individuals do not address technology in the same way and the level of skill and adaptability varies largely - it is essential, that organizations offer training sessions that address the technical skills required at different levels, which adapts to different learning styles. Different modes of training such as face-to-face workshops, e-learning courses and even peer-to-peer mentoring programs could help greatly in bridging the gaps in technical capabilities and making individuals feel empowered, and motivated regardless of their exiting technical skills or lack thereof.

Introducing flexibility in technology and working conditions will allow companies to create an inclusive workforce that is both productive and progressive.

Emerging technology offers managers with right tools to give regular feedback. Providing this with an easy-to-use, technology driven mobile interface helps create a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce. Planning effective employee appreciation for a multigenerational workforce is also challenging. It is important to ensure that employee appreciation accounts for all ages and generations helps foster a workplace-wide culture of gratitude.

Organizations must discover ways to make the employee experience rewarding, transparent, easier, and professionally fulfilling, regardless of their generation.