Director & Head of Human Resources at METRO Cash & Carry India, Udaiy Khanna, has over 28 years of experience across Human Resources and Talent Acquisition. Udaiy has led People Strategy & Business Restructuring, with expertise in measurably improving relationships, enhancing employee engagement as well as building a conducive culture, productivity and profitability within an organization.
Adept at managing change initiatives across broad and diverse employee bases for large organizations, he has driven and institutionalized HR Metrics to improve employee retention and partnered with various businesses for seamless HR delivery. Prior to his role at METRO Cash & Carry, Udaiy was associated with Samsung Electronics India as Vice President & Head of Human Resources, and Bharti Wal-Mart India as Vice President - HR, Operations and Talent Acquisition.
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Udaiy shares his insights on the ever changing landscape of brick and mortar establishments, the two biggest influences on his leadership style and what makes METRO Cash & Carry a Great Place to Work.
In your career spanning over 28 years, who has been the most influential leader for you and why?
When I look at it in terms of 28 years, there have been quite a few leaders from different organizations, but if I had to sum it up, I would say there are two people who really left an indelible mark on me. One of them was my manager in Genpact, Steve Rudderham; Steve was British and was then working in the US. He came to India to lead the business here, along with being responsible for the business in the US. Donning two hats, he taught me how to align the local operation and business at a global level. He was someone who would walk the floor talking and interacting with the employees all the time. He always led by example.
The second leader who inspired me was Smriti Ahuja, currently the Head of Business Process Outsourcing for Cognizant India. She is someone who could really understand people and was the one who was able to inculcate a sense that everyone must recognize their strengths and use it well. Usually when a candidate is asked about his or her strengths and weaknesses, the focus shifts towards the weaknesses. Within a short span of time, Smriti taught me that there are inherent strengths in people. So to get the most out of your people, one must leverage their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
What is your leadership mantra?
It is a combination of what I have learnt from these leaders.
It is a combination of having an open and consistent communication, and allowing people to take risks, and make mistakes to learn from them.
What are the biggest challenges that you are tackling right now?
One of the major challenges today is hiring and then retention; it seems to be a big problem even today because you must get individuals accustomed to the kind of business model you have, the work culture, operations being run at work, etc. We are happy with the progress made to identify and hire the right talent for our organisation.
Disruption taking place both in online and offline industries in terms of technology is another challenge to keep up with. That said, we are also getting into the e-commerce space for our kirana segment and are looking to hire people with skills pertaining to technology, supply chain and digital.
With the ongoing disruption and your plan to enter the e-commerce segment, how are you preparing your workforce to embrace the upcoming changes?
We have town-halls every month wherein we apprise our employees about what are the latest developments within the company, the changes being incorporated. We invite people from different verticals/functions when we plan to roll out our new policy or guideline which is likely to impact them. We take feedback from the junior most people in the chain. Additionally, we also have a net promoter score running which talks about how we communicate with the customers and how we take care of their needs. We make calls to customers who have given us a low score to seek feedback on how we can better their buying experience with us. Every Monday all the vertical heads huddle together to introspect the gaps in the past week and what measures are required to act upon them. This helps align the organizational goals, customer needs and efforts put in by the employees.
We have our Flagship Distribution center (store) right below our corporate office. This allows the corporate team to stay connected to the hustle bustle of the shop floor as well as the employee needs very strongly. We can try and pilot initiatives in this store first to measure the impact more closely. It helps us ascertain what can be implemented and helps in tracking a live status of the project implemented. If there are any problems and challenges, corrective actions and measures can be implemented. We then replicate it across all our other remaining 26 stores much more smoothly.
How do you cater to your diverse employee segments in terms of employee experience?
We have built a transparent performance-based culture wherein we encourage our employees to be leaders. We have consistently been investing in personal leadership. We encourage them to think, act and behave like owners of the business and to take accountability. We place a lot of faith and trust in our employees, and give them the freedom and flexibility to experiment, take risk and learn from their mistakes.
We have provided the employees with various tools and training to explore newer fields of business; we offer cross-functional roles and career progression opportunities to people, encouraging them to take up more responsibilities in line with their potential and area of interest. We are constantly focusing on training and upskilling our employees to make them future-ready. Introducing roles with adequate depth and competitive compensation is another strategy to build and retain the right talent.
We constantly motivate our workforce to follow their heart with passion and stay determined to achieve their dreams. We tell our workforce to always have a winning and solution mind set.
METRO Cash and Carry was recently recognized to be among the Best Places to Work in India. What according to you makes an organization a great place to work?
The recognition of being adjudged as ‘Great Place to Work for’ year on year is a testimony of our inclusive and high-performance workplace culture. Our employees are proud to be part of a workplace that is recognized as one of the best workplaces, and that reflects in the positive sentiments of our internal employee survey - METRO Voice It. The recognition has helped us in attracting the right talent and has augmented our retention in the competitive landscape. The exercise of assessment has also helped us in benchmarking our efforts and work towards enhancing our own initiatives under the people umbrella.
For an organization to be regarded as a great place, it is important to have a vision and drive the business objectives through people and processes. It is a combination of policies, work environment, compensation and learning and development opportunities. We have embarked on a clear vision for driving profitable and sustainable growth for the company through our people and processes.