Reflect, Experiment, Act: Jasjit Singh Kang on driving cultural change
What often separates the highest-performing organisations from the rest is culture. It plays a key role in setting the pace for technological adoption and management processes.In an interview with People Matters, Jasjit Singh Kang, Vice President, Global HRO, BPaaS and Business Financial Services, iCORE, Wipro Limited suggests HR leaders to Reflect, Experiment, Act: A Practical Approach to a Robust and Resilient Corporate Culture.
Jasjit leads global delivery for Wipro HR Services, Health Care and BFSI and is responsible for client relationship, operations and growth for these practices. Prior to this he was the managing director for Alight’s operations in Asia Pacific. Jasjit was Senior Vice President and Business Unit Head for the Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) vertical at WNS Global Services before joining Alight.
With over 28 years of experience, Jasjit has worked in the areas of operations management, technology-based innovation, business development and relationship management. He spent seven years in the banking industry with Citibank, Bank of America, ANZ Grindlays, before moving to the outsourcing industry. He also served as the Chairperson for the National Association of Software and Services.
From his own experience of leading people and culture amid crisis and the ongoing experimentation with the evolving work models, Jasjit shares two-pronged approach that will help drive a successful ‘culture strategy’ that is resilient to permanent change and ready for the future workforce and talks about the role technology can play in enabling HR and business leaders in building an adaptable culture.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
With uncertainty still thriving — and hybrid work set to be planned by the majority of employers over the coming months, a new approach to culture-building looks critical. How do you think organisations should rethink culture?
Black swan events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and similar market disruptions demand high performance, agility, adaptive responses and faster technological evolution from firms. organisations where employees find change deeply troubling and threatening, and simply deny or avoid transformations that may be needed, are bound to perform poorly. This is the fall-out of an organizational culture, which is not flexible in a changing environment. A high-performance corporate culture has implications on the employee value proposition that goes beyond skills and operational outcomes. The newer generations prefer work environments that embrace technology, help them be creative, and have a positive impact on their emotional state as they deliver on their jobs.
A two-pronged approach will help drive a successful ‘culture strategy’ that is resilient to permanent change and ready for the future workforce:
Introduce a layer of psychological safety for employees
One of the productive ways to engage with cultural change is to regularly audit, experiment and redefine existing practices and shared opinions. This requires organisations to ensure a degree of psychological safety for their employees, which in turn translates into employees who are no longer insecure and do not act in defensive or rash ways. This can only be achieved by rolling out an effective communication plan.
Prioritise employee experience with technology as the key lever
Despite fully understanding the need for change intellectually, many companies are hindered by risk-averse employees. We observe this quite often in digital transformation projects where corporate culture acts as an obstacle. This can be changed by prioritizing employee experience across all touchpoints. Work environments should be made more conducive for employees to think, manage and deliver outcomes with ease. It matters how their benefits and compensation are processed, and their time-records maintained. What is the plan to enhance their skills and path for career progression?
Intra-departmental and cross-functional interactions should also be positive, meaningful, seamless and convenient to ensure high productivity. There should also be a culture of trust, that lets employees drive innovation with technology without fear. The enhanced experience of an employee translates into a more engaged employee, and results in improved products and services to end-customers.
The culture of an organisation pumps energy and passion, and is the reason why employees are attached to an organisation.
With remote and hybrid work, it is all the more important to drive the culture and make our colleagues feel connected, motivated, respected and trusted. Technology plays a vital role in enabling this and managing the change.
Technology serves as an enabler in extending employee delight and should become part of every Chief Human Resources Officer’s (CHRO’s) playbook.
What role can technology play in enabling HR and business leaders in building an adaptable culture?
There are multiple challenges that modern-day HR teams face. One of them is creating cohesive policies for a diverse and distributed workforce comprising full-time, part-time and contractual employees and the gig workers. Ensuring employee skill upgrades and keeping a tab on changing government regulations that may affect employees are critical areas of concern.
The role of emerging technology and IT infrastructure is being widely appreciated in addressing these challenges.
Cognitive automation, RPA (robotic process automation), and AI (artificial intelligence) are helping HR functions to become more collaborative, cross-functional, and agile. Innovations in HR technology such as payroll automation platforms ensure timely and accurate payments of employee salaries. L&D tools, virtual training and simulations are fostering an environment of continuous learning.
Every organisation can choose a strategy to drive enterprise-wide HR transformation and scale, and ease data integration from multiple HR functions to create a high-performance, adaptive corporate culture with a distributed workforce.
Alternatively, they can deploy a suitable application for each functional area of HR. The prevalent trend is to deploy global platforms that provide a unified and consistent HR experience so that employees feel bonded with an organization despite working from home. Such systems are amplified with new-age point solutions to accelerate their processing abilities.
How can HR leaders ensure that the new employees who have been onboarded during the pandemic and lockdown period, understand and adapt to the same culture?
HR leaders should begin by establishing best practices for virtual onboarding, leveraging technology.
It is critical to foster a culture of seamless new-hire onboarding to ensure new employees have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the corporate culture and attune themselves to high performance standards. HR teams need to lay down a systematic roadmap for effective virtual onboarding that might include setting up online interactions with colleagues, managers and helpdesk teams via virtual collaboration tools, and online training sessions on ethical behavior.
IT infrastructure such as laptops, digital on-boarding training materials, setting up of mail accounts, project software tools and regularly training new employees on new systems and practices using virtual training and simulations are some effective tools.
An understanding of the backgrounds of new team members can go a long way in helping them settle into the new system. If they are less accustomed to remote work, giving them breaks and buffer-time, and encouraging candid chats with other colleagues can help them settle sooner.
Next they must focus on an effective communication strategy and transparency.
Face-to-face interactions that helped foster organizational culture can be replaced with multiple planned virtual touchpoints between new employees and the management. During times of crisis, the quality of communication is central to how employees evaluate corporate culture. New hires will prefer honesty and transparency from their leaders, and are quick to form perceptions on the underlying value system of an organization.
Building a robust culture is a leadership challenge and not just HR's KRA. As a leader, what advice would you give to others on managing a cultural change yet holding on to the core values?
Work culture has a key role to play as it sets the pace for technological adoption and management processes. What often separates the highest-performing organisations from the rest is culture. Ittherefore merits the highest attention in disruptive times, created either by political, market-driven or technological fluctuations, or as observed during mergers and acquisitions. Your corporate culture determines the priorities of employees and managers and the ‘whys’ and ‘how’s’ of their actions and hence, business performance.
Managing a cultural change that delivers high performance and stays adaptive is a ‘top-driven management imperative’ and not an HR prerogative. The approach should be to – reflect, experiment and act.
Leaders need to have regular processes of reflection to check if the underlying assumptions and shared practices are serving the end-goal of staying competitive. The next step would be to experiment with new practices until they become habits. These new practices should support and preserve deeply held cultural values.
It is important to be open-minded to perhaps completely overhaul existing practices that do not serve the purpose. It also might entail leaders across the board asking employees to critically evaluate the pre-existing culture and assumptions. It is time for bold steps and remedial actions to stay resilient.