“If the employees come first, then they’re happy…. A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works” - Herb Kelleher, Founder, SouthWest Airlines
While the saying from Kelleher might be just the way it works, to make it work, companies and the workforce require a key ingredient - C-suite partnership. Especially in times like the present, where people safety and business sustainability remain at loggerheads, how leadership comes together to shape the organizational approach towards employee experience, while ensuring business continuity, is a mountainous task, and cannot be done in the absence of a uniform understanding of priorities and outlook.
In a power-packed conversation on ‘How a C-suite Partnership Can Lead To a Transformational EX’, at People Matters EX India Conference 2021, industry stalwarts Partha De Sarkar, Global CEO, Hinduja Global Solutions; Rajeev Bhardwaj, CHRO, Asia Service Centres, Sun Life; Simmi Dhamija, Chief Transformation Officer, Tech Mahindra; and Amit Sharma, VP and Head of HR, India, Volvo Group, explored how the CEO-CHRO-CIO partnership leads to a highly improved EX at the workplace, by addressing conflicting priorities and enhancing EX beyond the traditional scope
Here are highlights from the conversation.
Coming together like never before to collaborate on EX
“You need to have a great partnership across the C-Suite to ensure a great employee experience and customer experience,” said Amit Sharma, VP and Head of HR, India, Volvo Group, as he kickstarted the panel discussion. COVID-19 sure demanded a unification of purpose and outlook as companies aligned technology, people and costs to ensure sustenance.
“The pandemic has brought the C-suite closer than ever before,” said Rajeev Bhardwaj, CHRO, Asia Service Centres at Sun Life.
The consequent circumstances of COVID-19 indeed fueled a need for leaders to collaborate on the employee experience piece, encompassing both people safety and business continuity. However, a seamless experience requires leaders to have a uniform definition of what is needed in the current circumstances, added Bhardwaj.
Encouraging leaders to connect the dots between happy employees and impressive business results, he emphasized the importance of factoring in the employee sentiment as businesses navigate the ongoing challenges. He highlighted that happy employees indeed lead to happy customers who make stakeholders happy with impressive business results. This thought should be a guiding principle for C-suite leaders as they evolve their people approach and strategies post the pandemic.
Thinking of EX beyond hygiene factors
“For us, psychological safety and physical safety were the key focus areas of engaging employees, and our business outcomes are the output of that,” shared Simmi Dhamija, Chief Transformation Officer, Tech Mahindra.
Employee experience has been gaining momentum in recent years, however, the last twelve months have seen a tremendous shift not just in the focus on EX but on the diversity of people elements it encapsulates. Reflecting on the priorities and people needs in the current context, Rajeev Bharadwaj said, “You need to think about employee experience beyond the hygiene factors.”
The pandemic led to a drastic shift in priorities for businesses across industries and geographies. Among the EX trends that shaped most of 2020 and continues to evolve this year is the element of employee wellness. With the visible need to prioritize wellness, it becomes imperative for leaders to be aligned on how they are contributing to employee wellness, while also ensuring that business proceedings don’t counter the wellness efforts.
Under the emerging workforce construct, Partha De Sarkar, Global CEO, Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) highlighted that the new focus for HR leaders as they rethink EX will be ensuring wellness as well as engaging the gig workforce. The need to shape EX not just for the distributed workforce, but also for the gig workforce is paramount. In all likelihood, the future will be hybrid, and with organizations opening up job opportunities to remote talent, a significant chunk of this talent will be the gig economy.
Thinking about designing EX for various employee segments keeping their wellness at the forefront, will require C-suite alignment on the way forward. As employers look at employee experience beyond the traditional scope, an important focus area is alignment of the C-suite, which then trickles down to functional leaders and people managers.
Addressing conflicting priorities and purpose alignment
Responding to a question on managing and influencing the conflicting mindsets and requirements of the different C-suite leaders around transformational EX, Bharadwaj quipped, “It’s the CHRO’s job to bring the conflicting paradigms together and help focus and balance. EX is key and so is the business sustainability, it is not an either or dilemma.”
“It’s the CHRO’s job to bring the conflicting paradigms together and help focus and balance. EX is key and so is the business sustainability, it is not an either or dilemma.”
He advised CHROs that the best path is one which addresses the employee experience, business sustainability, keeps the lights on, and ensures that the workforce is delivering what is expected. “One has to ensure that all the agendas converge at a point where it makes sense and is balanced. It requires a lot of work. Fortunately, organizations with a strong culture of empathy and resilience and focus on the bigger picture, are able to do it easily,” added Bharadwaj.
Beyond managing conflicting priorities, when it comes to alignment, dedicated efforts are required. In the context of the evolving hybrid workplace construct, Simmi Dhamija highlighted the importance of aligning all efforts in accordance with the purpose of the organization, especially for the leadership. Further, on how to ensure alignment, Partha De Sarkar shared how HGS works in this direction.
Sarkar noted, “When you have the entire organization focused on employee satisfaction and there is a weightage of that in your KRA and how you are measured, that sets the alignment.”
The pandemic is unpredictable for the C-suite and workforce alike
“It’s very important to realize that just like employees are going through a learning cycle in the new normal, even the C-suite is going through that. The assumption that the C-suite has all the answers and knows exactly what to do is misplaced,” emphasized Bharadwaj.
"The assumption that the C-suite has all the answers and knows exactly what to do is misplaced.”
Rightly said by him, the uncertainty and lack in clarity about how to proceed isn’t just applicable for the workforce, but for the leadership as well. In these challenging times, employees do look up to their managers and leaders for answers, but there is a need to acknowledge the nature of challenges for leadership as well. As leaders do tide through these unchartered waters, one thing is certain - they need to do it together, aligned on what’s the need of the hour, how to proceed, where to invest, how to measure the success and last but not the least, unite in empathy towards one another as well as the workforce.
“We are all evolving, we are all a work in progress. At different points in time you find the sweet spots and you are able to address them, but until and unless the C-suite plays together as one team, it will be difficult to address both the EX aspect as well the business sustainability aspect. And both are key to keep the organization going,” said Bharadwaj.