When a company operates in dozens of different geographies, across as many different cultures with their own norms and workplace practices, its organisational culture needs to be an inclusive one by default. And that imperative is all the more existential when the company's very business relies on the ability to integrate with local cultures and meet very specific micro-needs.
For a closer look at the intricacies of building an organisational culture that's inclusive enough to encompass a huge range of local differences, cultures and mentalities, while still maintaining the integrity of its overarching values, People Matters had a conversation with Renata Mrazova, Chief People Officer of Hong Kong and Prague-headquartered non-bank financial institution Home Credit. Home Credit is in the business of instalment lending to borrowers who have little or no credit history, often meaning those who have been shut out of the traditional banking system, and that requires a high understanding of local approaches and attitudes.
Tell us about Home Credit's approach to inclusiveness: what underpins the culture?
I think Home Credit's success has been always driven by a culture of curiosity and learning, whichis a very solid base for building a diverse and inclusive working environment. It instils an approach where people actively try to find out what are the specifics and strong elements of each culture that they are working with.
Of course, culture is created by the people who work in the company, and each person is different. We have introverted people, we have extroverted people, we have experts, we have people who love to manage big teams. So what we try to do in Home Credit is support the development of adaptive leadership rather than standardising the processes. We try to approach people topics in an individualistic way.
What's the first step to getting your leaders started on this journey?
We put a lot of focus on teaching our leaders techniques like listening skills. Listening skills are really one of the most underestimated leadership skills, because success and delivering results is always connected with speed, and pausing to give the space to other people, to really listen to their voices and different opinions, is one of the biggest challenges for most companies. And we create an environment where leaders can care, where we strengthen empathy and support the leaders to show vulnerability, because that is a way of creating psychological safety. It's a continuous journey and requires us to keep pushing the leaders forward.
Also, the role of human resources is very critical. If the human resources people sit around the table, they can help to facilitate such discussions. They can be, in a way, a mirror of the leadership behaviour. They can point out situations where leaders do not have the awareness of their own impact. They can slow down the discussion, they can monitor people who have something to share and who can speak out. They can give feedback to the leaders that instead of just pushing your own view, maybe it's time to go deeper and understand why the other person is sharing something different.
Have you seen people's expectations changing in the last couple of years?
Yes, topics such as well-being and flexibility are very much more on the table. I think it's not so much connected to the pandemic as generational diversity. We have more than three generations in our workforce, and in some markets five generations. They all have different requests and totally different motivations. So the flexibility and individualistic approach, which I mentioned earlier connected to inclusiveness, is a must.
I see that the companies which struggled with flexibility at the beginning of COVID are now struggling with their employer brand. They struggle to keep the people, they struggle with attrition, they also have difficulties hiring people.
It's because the employer brand is created by the employees, and now the employees are able to share everything that they see and think and feel about the company through technology and social media.
This is why listening, flexibility, the hybrid way of working, are now critical topics.
How have you adjusted to the demand for greater flexibility, at Home Credit?
We have a very entrepreneurial and dynamic culture, so it's been easier for us to adjust. In many markets we are innovating constantly and testing approaches. We are not a traditional conservative employer, and we do not believe in extreme stances, so unlike some companies at the beginning of COVID, we did not come out and say that we will never go back to the office. Instead we have been very mindful about what flexibility should be for our own needs. We found that our culture needs social interactions, connection, collaboration, deep relationships, but we also saw that after the pandemic is over, it will be difficult to go back to what it was before. So we knew that we will need to look into new ways of working.
We are also testing our theories with data. These days, it's very important that companies should establish good reporting procedures, good data knowledge, and the capabilities for data science and data analytics. We are collecting and monitoring and analysing data around working models, and we see more and more that people need a certain amount of going back to the office and having social interactions with their colleagues. People struggle with feeling lonely, not being engaged, not feeling like part of something bigger. These things are important for a culture and for long term sustainability.
But you need to put it in the framework of flexibility.
People need to feel that the manager trusts the employee, that people are empowered, that they can actually decide how they deliver the things that are expected of them.
What's your perspective on getting talent to come and stay in this era of great talent mobility?
We feel very strongly about our culture, and we believe that this is a unique proposition, why people join and why people enjoy staying with us. So when we talk with people, we want to share it with them and test whether it's something which they feel connected with, which they feel is important for them. But what we see more and more is that loyalty to the employer is not important to the younger generations anymore. Younger people are the most motivated by learning: they want to learn by doing, they want to learn about different companies and different environments, and they change jobs much more easily. The average length of stay of employees has become much shorter than it was 10-15 years ago.
So this way of thinking where companies focus so hard on keeping the people and become frustrated that people leave? It needs to change. We need to accept that people will leave much more often than in the past.
As to getting people to stay, the question for me is, what can I do for their development? Perhaps it's sharing with them different opportunities and different roles, so that they will stick with Home Credit longer. But that certain moment will come when they want to leave, and I accept that and I support them, and I keep the Home Credit door open for them to come back. And I can tell you that we have quite a solid number of people who left Home Credit to try something different and then returned, and they are the best ambassadors for our culture.
Does this approach work to keep people staying longer?
Attrition is one of our top priorities because of the Great Resignation and the impact of COVID. So we organise a lot of surveys to understand engagement. We go deep on the exit interview. We don't want to work only perceptions, we want to have the real data. And in specific areas where we struggle with high attrition, we have found that with our particular approach, attrition goes down and people stay longer on average.
I think actually, it's the culture of Home Credit. It's how we say goodbye to people if they decide to leave that: we manage it in a very caring and professional way, and we always communicate that we wish them the best, we hope to stay in touch. It's the long term approach that we have used since the beginning. Of course the new things that we try, with job rotation, training and development, more conversations with people – these have a very positive impact too.
How do you think things might change for the next generation of employees?
I don't have a crystal ball, but I do think that a more and more individualistic approach, together with more and more flexibility, are the trends which will stay with us. So we will need to continue looking at how we can reorganise ourselves and how we can strengthen our culture to do that. The development I mentioned and creating a culture of learning, I think that will continue to be the big motivation for the younger generation, because they have grown up with technology and they have a different approach to how they work and learn. They might not go with the traditional route of high school and then college; they might want to start working earlier so that they can experience professional life, and they might catch up on their studies through online channels later.
So we will see change not only in the companies, but in the community and in society as youngsters take a different approach to engaging with the labour market. It's beautiful on one side, but it's challenging on the other.