Article (November-2020)


Leader cannot afford to lose sight of core values in crisis

Rajendra Ghag

Designation : -   CHRO

Organization : -  Blue Dart Express, Mumbai


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What kind of specific traits and mindsets are required to lead businesses during the crisis?

RG Leaders must first and foremost think long term, have clarity of thought and understand the situation at hand. On the basis of this, leaders must create an execution plan and communicate to their teams. It is imperative that leaders quickly adapt and make effective decisions with conviction. Transparency in communication ensures that colleagues have a clear understanding of what is expected from them, eliminating the excess panic and chaos that a crisis situation usually garners. The trust and empathy towards employees play an important role here along with being able to provide all required health and safety materials and guidelines.

In the current pandemic, considering the nature of our work, our leaders had to devise a fool proof plan to prepare our front-liners mentally and physically to work on field and prepare our corporate offices for a swift shift from working at office to 'Work From Home'. This naturally put huge pressure on IT infrastructure and business administration. This was a challenge initially, but our Blue Darters made the process seamless as they adapted very quickly to the 'new normal'.

At Blue Dart, with 19000+ Blue Darters on field every day through the lockdown, as well as our corporate offices working from home, we realised early on the critical role that leadership would play, during and post the pandemic. The leadership team would discuss daily and evaluate the situation on the ground to guide and support our people accordingly. Our business continuity and contingency plan as well as risk mitigation strategy were put into motion effectively. We also recognized that, in a crisis situation, our employees require support both mentally and physically and initiated several programs to ensure the overall mental well-being of our Blue Darters.Our 'As One' philosophy which is an important value cornerstone for our employees from Day One, bound us together with a common purpose. This kept our employees motivated and aligned with the larger business goals.

What resources and leadership differentiating actions fuel the change process in such abnormal environments?

RG An effective leadership during crisis would be one where the leaders will have the hindsight to think two steps ahead and plan to offer solutions to ensure that employees are least affected by the prevailing situation. I believe building a culture of trust and transparency is key in fuelling the change process.

At Blue Dart, our primary goal during this crisis was to safeguard the interest of our employees and make them feel safe and secure in their work environment. We ensured that communication channels, especially between a leader and his team, were always open and our colleagues feel heard, understood and supported. Attention to factors such as work practice, compensation during lock down, flexibility, medical facilities and the spirit of nurture that Blue Dart fosters towards its employees went a long way in giving strength and confidence to our employees.

Additionally, I believe that the success of a business is also connected with the progress of its customers, partners and the communities it does business with. We reached out to our customers and assured them of our unwavering support and service for all their logistics need by keeping in mind their safety too by pioneering the contactless delivery (CLD) feature. As a trade facilitator of the nation, we were operational throughout the lockdown to ensure delivery of mission critical supplies.

Post pandemic, how is the organization learning culture expected to evolve and how will it accelerate our way out of crisis?

RG We can all agree that the learning from this pandemic, for organizations can be summarized in one phrase - Digitization.

Digitization and technology will play a significant role in business advancement and the transformation has never been more accepted or evident. At Blue Dart, we already have our ducks in a row, as we plan on launching several development learning modules, leveraging the use of technology.

We are working on digital development modules and are collaborating on how best to help managers keep their teams motivated and engaged, now that in-person interactions are rare. We are working on providing 'relevant learning on the go' videos and other bite sized learnings to equip our Blue Darters for the future. Apart from this, we have also launched the 'Knowledge Series' for our sales professionals to learn on-the-go. We have an internal application called 'Blue Connect', a knowledge, engagement and learning application that ensures all Training Programs, Learning and Development programs offered at Blue Dart are available to all our employees at a one-stop on e-platform. Most of the Face to Face learningon the shop floor, was subjected to health and safety dialogues communicated to teams on a daily basis.

How can business leaders project their 
transformed mindset across teams during increased levels of ambiguity?
RG    I believe that the most important quality a leader in any setting can possess is clear, concise and transparent communication. When team members understand the leader's thought process and have a clear sense of direction, reaching the desired end goal is plausible. At Blue Dart, we have a very strong internal communication practice in place which is used as a strategic tool to build confidence, relay information and provide direction to our employees. We also contextualized what this crisis meant for us and provided employees with updates from trusted sources. We convey regular leadership messages through our internal communication channels. In addition, we have now mandated having daily personal dialogues with teams on the shop floor around their health and safety with honest intent. 

What can be the learning lessons for business leaders and HR from this turmoil?

RG A key learning during the pandemic is understanding that the organization is its people and the people make an organization. We must recognise the efforts of our people and put their needs first. At Blue Dart, since our early inception in 1983, we have always prioritized a 'People First Philosophy'. It is our Blue Darters who make our brand shine and therefore, we do everything to ensure our Blue Darters and their families are taken care of. 'We are in this together' and 'Together, As One' momentum was central to our business operations during the pandemic. It built trust, engagement and helped us stay ahead of the curve in these trying times.

The need to be agile, responsive and resilient was also never as important as it was during this lockdown. Being able to quickly accept a situation and acclimate to it while having an alternate plan of action in case of any disruptions in the business environment, helped us remain functional and provide the exceptional service qualitythat we are known for. Acknowledging your team's efforts and rewarding them for their tireless service, was another learning during this period. Keeping this in mind, every Blue Darter was given 100 percent wages during the lockdown, timely incremental wages, as well as a bonus to all our teams who worked through the pandemic enforced lockdown, helped us continue to remain a Provider of Choice to our customers.  We also ensured that our frontliners were provided with recognition and remuneration through the pandemic through various campaigns launched to boost team morale. We also rolled out a special working through COVID appreciation bonus for our on roll employees which added as a great motivator.

Amid disruption, how can HR contribute to the leadership navigating the complexities?

RG The Human Resource department is the gatekeeper of values, learning and all people practices in an organization. It is especially during crisis, that an organization's internal strength and values comes to the forefront to help tide through the waves. Identifying the stress and conflicts that arise during a crisis and having a scenario wise action plan is important to navigate complexities. During the entire crisis, we went back to the core Values of our brand- Passion, Can Do, Right First Time and As One and provided confidence, resilience and direction in collaboration with our leadership team helping navigate this crisis effectively.

Blue Dart being an essential service provider; we also shouldered the responsibility of being the trade facilitator of the nation and not all of our workforce could/can work out of home. So our first priority was the psychological and physical safety of our employees. To ensure safety of frontline staff, we created Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure preventive measures were executed in a systematic way. In fact, we have been able to create a proposition that 'my workplace is a safer and healthier place to be' with all serious efforts on health and safety taken all across for our employees. We advised our senior leadership teams to encourage team building initiatives which could be implemented remotely.

We have appreciated and recognized the contribution of our employees during this pandemic through our internal campaigns such as 'Appreciation week' & 'Silent Hero Campaigns.' These were impactful steps which enhanced our employees' morale and productivity.

We also recognized that the blurring of lines between personal and professional commitments with WFH has caused a strain on employees. Keeping mental fitness as a strategic concern, we launched the Employee Assistance Program at our Mumbai offices, as a pilot project, to provide our employees a safe and confidential space to express their grievances and handle them in a healthy manner. We plan to roll this EAP nationally, across all our facilities soon.