Article (November-2020)


Leadership is not conducted in sprints; it is a lifelong marathon!

Manu Narang Wadhwa

Designation : -   Chief Human Resources Officer

Organization : -  Sony Pictures Networks India, Mumbai


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

MW The ongoing pandemic has created a complete state of disarray, causing an estimated 6.1 million job losses in India and a GDP contraction by 23.9% in Q1 FY 21. Nevertheless, I see these disruptions in our environment as a challenge for business leaders to prove their mettle. In my view, there are two very important factors leaders must keep in mind to navigate the ongoing conundrum:

Speed over Precision: With the ongoing dynamism in our external environment, there is a need to identify and hit the ground running with the top 3 strategic priorities for your organization and trickle it down to business functions and departments. The keyword here is Agility; therefore, the solutions that are built must not only work in the short term but be scalable for the long haul. Since SPN is an essential business during the lockdown, we quickly undertook measures to ensure that "The Show goes on". For e.g. we successfully upgraded our broadcast operations and network engineering team hitherto constrained by location-specific infrastructure, to a cloud-based structure. The formation of org-wide cross-functional teams for scenario planning and other transformation projects has also put us in good stead to take on the existing dynamism in the external environment.

Approach with Empathy: The uncertainty of a crisis tends to put team members and consumers on edge. We understood this beforehand, through numerous pulse surveys across teams right from the start of the lockdown. With an aim to underscore our culture of compassion, connection and community, we launched our wellbeing brand ACE: Act, Care, Engage, and launched new initiatives for leadership connect welfare and downtime.

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

MW As I mentioned earlier, disruptions provide a golden opportunity to leaders to take charge to manage and lead people. It, however, comes with certain challenges: remote working which reduces in-person interactions, supply chain constraints, amidst others. I would say the differentiator between a good leader and a great leader in such situations would be the following:
Drive impact with clear, consistent communication: Crises can lead to a surge in misinformation, so leaders must develop communication strategies for transparency and to ensure employees understand their roles and responsibilities clearly. At SPN, this philosophy is brought to life through regular leader interaction on our internal platforms, monthly advisories especially pertaining to employee safety while returning to office.

Infuse a sense of community: Through regular engagement, despite the distance. At the end of the day, strategy and business is never built in silos. When the pandemic broke out, we realized that our people would often feel disengaged with their leadership, and building that pathway was critical for us. This evolved into a full-fledged Leadership Engagement Amplification Program or LEAP, which serves as our two-way street of continuous dialogue and development between the leadership and our workforce. In LEAP, unique engagements are built to underscore, our culture of being a great place to work, imbibing traits of resilience and courage in everything we do.

Recognizing performance: Crisis is challenging for everyone; it crushes morale in more ways than one. Great leaders highlight milestones, evangelise everyday successes and above all celebrate team members. This encourages positivity during challenging times and percolates a 'can-do' attitude across teams and magic happens. At SPN, through our network-wide recognition framework, we drive quarterly recognitions and on-time bonus pay-outs across the board and fete those who go beyond to achieve organizational successes.

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

MW In the post-pandemic world, I believe that learning will undergo a paradigm shift: it will no longer serve as an add-on to employee lifecycles; rather, it will become a part of the career fabric for employees. In this improved visualization, Data insights, technology, AI will enhance their role in providing innovative learning formats to the end user. In short, here is how I expect organizational learning cultures to evolve:

1. Digital learning is here to stay.

I am confident that in the post-pandemic world, classroom curriculum will no longer be the norm: instead, byte-sized learning, or formats enabling learning-on-the-go will emerge to be the mainstay. At SPN, where content is king, thousands of courses have been picked up on our learning platform, which enables education through customized content shorts, learning paths and master classes, so that people can catch up at their own pace on topics most relevant to their business.

2. The power of cross-functional collaboration.

Yet another way, in which I envision learning, is through the uptake of collaborative channels of communication for learning. Customized career coaching, digital jam sessions, brain dates and virtual communities of like-minded professionals can help employees explore new avenues and upgrade themselves. As our organization and the ongoing M&E industry undergoes a constant state of evolution, oftentimes, we tap into the power of cross-functional Propeller teams with direct oversight from the leadership to fuel action projects on future themes.

In a similar vein, peer learning and knowledge sharing networks, which are in fact a huge source of learning at SPN, serves the double purpose of learning with team engagement. Such formats have picked up more virtually at SPN, as teams look to build a culture of connectedness in numerous ways in the new normal.

3. Inclusion will no longer be tokenism, but a critical business need.

The new realities will open multiple avenues for talent from diverse background, across age, gender, region, and education, but also industry, sub-cultures and work experience will bring in a new thought process into the company, prompting our managers and employees try a new approach to problem solving. Because we are in the business of making progressive content, our Inclusion agenda allows everyone to BYOS - Bring Your Own Self to work. We drive our D&I agenda through timely immersion sessions, sensitization campaigns and conversations with Inclusion leaders to eventually allow for un-stereotyping our content. 

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