The pandemic has made it imperative for the leaders to adopt agility and empathy and two majorly prevailing philosophies, to lead the disbursed workforce. The blend of work and life at very bedroom during the lockdowns raised brows on the efficiencies of the existing wellness policies in ensuring the right kind of mental health status of the remotely working employees. Thus, it became a ‘must’ for the leaders to relook at their leadership and restructure the policies in accordance with the transforming needs of the present day workforce.
People Matters caught up with Nimisha Das, Director HR, Kellogg South Asia to explore the new traits of leadership. Here are some excerpts from the interaction.
What are some of the new traits of leadership that you have observed over the last two years of remote and hybrid working?
The pandemic, and then the ‘new normal’, which is still evolving, has given us several leadership lessons. Let me pick some specific but wide ranged examples from the environment around us. There has been a pent-up demand and supply in manpower, which has resulted in an increase in hiring by organisations. Secondly, various global developments and short-term disruptions such as inflation, geographical conflicts and other global events, have provoked long-term changes in the way businesses are moving forward. Thirdly, individuals and organisations are far more widely accepting digital tools and platforms, a crucial component for remote working.
The physical care needed during the pandemic has now made the word ‘Empathy’ a workplace essential in current times. With technology being an essential enabler for almost everything a company does — innovation, product management, operations, sales, customer service, finance, or any other area — every leader needs to understand what technology can do for the company and how. Areas such as analytics and data literacy is no longer an ask limited to the CIO but is also expected from all our business leaders at Kellogg.
And finally, leaders need to be more “humane” and humble in their approach.
Leaders have to be accessible and authentic in a way that helps employees connect and believe in them especially in times such as these that are uncertain. We’ve said this earlier – at the heart of Kellogg we have a ‘people over profits’ approach.
How have the changing priorities of the employees influenced the leadership style of present day?
Something good comes out of every crisis.
The ‘double mega disruption’ that people went through together, COVID-19 and digital acceleration, gave birth to several good things in the work life.
The pandemic became a catalyst to elevate personal purpose and values. Gartner surveyed more than 3,500 employees around the world in October 2021, and 65% said the pandemic had made them rethink the place that work should have in their life. 56% said it made them want to contribute more to society. Employees expect employers to recognise their value and provide value to them at a holistic human level. This is interesting because it gives a chance for organisations to redefine their ‘employee value proposition’. It encourages organisations and its leaders to create a visionary employment for its people.
We’ve had a good tryst with providing flexibility meaningfully, not just during the pandemic, but as a way of life post pandemic as well, at Kellogg. Be it employee engagement, regular connects or even the new joiner’s onboarding to an organisation’s culture, a leader who empowers his/ her employees with flexibility, builds a culture of trust, thereby unlocking far greater productivity.
How do you look at the idea of dialogue exchange between leadership and workforce as a remedy to talent leakage from a company?
Talent retention requires an enabling, empowering and equitable environment for the employees, right from hiring to retiring.
A strong EVP brings it all together very well. This when complimented with a genuine meaningful conversation, between leadership and the workforce, ensures that deep-rooted cultural nuances are incorporated into the entire organisation.
The leadership in organisations who dialed up ‘employee wellbeing’ communications, monthly town halls, and in general one on one leadership connects, during the pandemic made employees feel more inclusive and part of the organisation. Tune into the present, organisations who include employees in important decisions such as ‘return to office’, a digital transformation that an organisation must be undergoing or the strategic business bet which matters at large, will contribute to people retention.
We incorporated these strategies in Kellogg and as a result,95% employees believed that ‘Senior leadership is effectively leading Kellogg through the COVID-19 pandemic’ in our annual anonymous survey. India also had the highest engagement score in that survey in the entire region of Kellogg AMEA (Asia, Middle East & Africa).
How have you found your own leadership style changing with hybrid work?
I joined Kellogg in a completely remote set up. This helped me to understand and appreciate employees’ tasks of a new organisation and the past one and a half years have shaped my own leadership style. My immediate team is a mix of remote, hybrid and on-site employees. This compelled me to cater to the unique demands of my team and this means I constantly evolve, learn and unlearn. One thing which remains constant is trust. While trust is essential in every relationship, it has become even more critical in the hybrid working model. A trust breakdown can directly lead to attrition.
We are growing as an organisation in scale. This means an increase in manpower and the enhanced capabilities which are needed to cater to a larger organisation. This has required me to become nimble and adaptable as a person, to make the organisation's future ready and fit to win. This new environment has been instrumental in my deliberate attempt to create an engaged workplace.
How has hybrid work changed the way you identify/recruit/train new leaders?
People are our competitive advantage, and they sit in the overall growth strategy of the company.
The pandemic also taught us all that challenges will come and go, but our people will continue to stay with us long after.
This defines the basis of identifying, recruiting and training new leaders at Kellogg. A new leader at Kellogg goes through a journey of culture, which is far from command and control or supervision, and based on empowerment and trust. A leader will look at personalisation of people policies, work culture, and workflow that speaks to the employees’ unique needs in the organisational ecosystem.
Last but not the least, while the pandemic necessitated us to go virtual, we look at leaders who admire technology and are digitally proficient. As this helps in the competitive advantage towards our customers and our employees, who are in hybrid state of working.
The induction and the training structure hence crafted for a new leader, external or homegrown, is one of focused cultural immersion, includes self-paced learning tools and programs which helps them to adapt to the hybrid work culture.