Companies and their employees, existing and potential, may not be compatible in all respects. How can a best match be struck here, especially in terms of employee value proposition (EVP)? Industry veteran Ayaskant Sarangi provides some insights.
The chief human resource officer at Bengaluru-headquartered Wipro Enterprises, Sarangi has more than 24 years of experience in human resources, with the opportunity of working across different verticals of human resources, organisational and talent development.
As a collaborative leader with experience across diverse companies, he brings to the table a huge repertoire of knowledge and expertise in developing strategic organisational culture and talent. He has a proven track record in improving the work culture at organisations and has supported Wipro in successfully navigating the uncertainties of the pandemic.
In an interaction with People Matters, Sarangi talks about the role of an organisation's employee value proposition (EVP), what works best to make the company competitive on the talent attraction front in terms of leadership, and the kind of value a company offers to employees.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
What do employees look for in organisations in the post-COVID scenario?
The approach to retaining talent has undergone a shift.
During the (COVID) crisis, we had to communicate our EVP through our actions, not by words. One aspect of communicating EVP is being able to tell people what our organisation stands for, but what is more important is the process of experiencing it - because once a person experiences it first-hand, they know not just with their heads but with their hearts that ‘yes, this is what the company stands for’.
For example, during these years of the COVID-19 pandemic we demonstrated to our employees that we really are a company with a heart and put our employees first. We encountered financial difficulties because of business not being there or growth slowing down, but we never compensated by taking actions that affected our people such as major layoffs. We extended help to our employees’ families, even for things like hospital bookings or providing oxygen cylinders during the COVID crisis. All these might appear small but for our employees, it was extremely important at that point of time.
Besides other obvious aspects like career path and growth that drives an employee to work for an organisation - and these will continue to hold importance - employees are now looking to see whether the company will stand by them personally as an individual when the chips are down. And this shift has accelerated because of the pandemic.
The second most important piece for us is the fact that employees are increasingly looking for organisations with a higher say-do ratio and transparency. What this means is that organisations should be honest and transparent about what is feasible and what is not, and they should communicate this explicitly.
It also is a function of higher trust for an organisation and individual. If I am not able to do something due to certain reasons, I should be transparent about it. I think that is a big shift from the earlier opaque approach. In my assessment, employees are increasingly looking for organisations that can be authentic to them. Even if organisations have policies that many would not like, they should have reasons for those policies, and be honest, truthful, and transparent about it. Authenticity is an extremely important aspect.
What are your thoughts about attracting and retaining GenZ?
Every generation brings with it its own strengths. As a progressive society, we should embrace diversity and exercise acceptance of different thoughts. As much as I would expect anyone else to do things differently, it is also a function of my own openness as an individual to embrace different ways of thought to achieve a given outcome. GenZ is much more ambitious, risk taking, and more self-confident as individuals and these are great strengths to have for any organisation. They are extremely well prepared for today. We should try and focus on what we can learn from them, and leverage these things.
Bringing GenZ into the workforce involves the coexistence of multiple generations of talent in an organisation. It's not about one versus the other, not A vs B vs C. It is A, B, and C working together and learning from each other.
Our CEOs for each of our businesses take a lot of interest in entry-level talent that comes from various campuses, because it gives them an opportunity to learn new things. It gives them different perspectives, which helps them to relook at a lot of things very differently. That is how smart leaders bridge multiple thought processes in an organisation.
As we embrace the new normal, how should HR leaders prepare for retaining talent?
Firstly, we must address the challenge of how people can mentally prepare themselves to embrace the new normal at all. This crisis has hit all of us emotionally. People have lost their loved ones, and their families have been impacted or scarred, which has changed what they are willing to accept. For example, earlier people would not think twice before travelling long distances but now they want to think about it. It is a small but important thing and there are many other such little indicators that we must be sensitive to.
The second aspect is the culture of an organisation and its ways of working. All of us have been working in a certain rhythm for years, but that rhythm has undergone a shift. For instance, almost every company has onboarded talent who have never seen the office. Adjusting to the new rhythm involves also adjusting to what today’s talent sees and expects, which is based on what they have gone through in the last two years.
There is no denying the fact that there is a war for talent today and organisations are paying a premium to get the right talent, irrespective of industries. The boom of startups in the last two years has made it even tougher. And one interesting change is that organisations have become much more open in attracting talents across industry segments. It's no longer necessary to join a company similar to the one you are leaving. Talent is now very mobile, and that is good for the individual, but for an organisation, it is a challenging environment to ensure retention.
How can we jettison unconscious biases to create a more level playing field in our own minds?
The diversity and inclusion strategy for an organisation is a larger journey that all of us have to embark upon together at the end of the day.
Even before we get into the diversity of physical aspects, first and foremost we have to start accepting diversity of thought. That is something a lot of us have not been able to develop over the years. If we look back at childhood, we all would have been raised very differently. As a result, each of us has our own unique perspective on how a certain thing should be done; who is better in certain respects; and who is not. These are the unconscious biases that we as individuals need to get rid of so that we can create a more level playing field for everyone in our own minds.
For companies like ours, that means we are spending a lot of time on helping people to break their unconscious biases. The mindset makes a huge difference because the moment we truly believe that things can be done in multiple ways, or that anybody can take on any kind of role, we will be much more open to accepting new ideas and ideas and implementing them. Core policies are important, but there is a great part of the story in unlocking the human mind. Otherwise, I can have a very diverse team reporting to me but if I am not unlocking my mind, I will continue to bring my biases to work every day and that will ultimately affect their willingness to work with me.
What do HR leaders need to focus on as we move beyond the crisis and into the new world of work?
HR leaders across the world should give themselves a pat on their backs for the way they have led their organisations through the different stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Navigating the last two years has been all about people and HR played a massive role across all streams and industries. They were at the very front of the situation.
In the future, it will be increasingly important to have a good point of view on how to re-establish the core principles of an organisation, how to rebuild the culture, how to re-imagine the careers for talent in organisations, and how to develop the authenticity of the organisation’s offerings to talent. Of course, we will still have to emphasise the traditional focus areas of how to build capability and how to differentiate key talent.
Those will be the fundamental expectations, but more importantly, we as HR leaders need to invest time into introspecting on the needs of the organisation and how we can contribute. We must bear in mind that every organisation’s needs are different: for a startup, the priorities could be faster growth, building its brand, and strengthening its customer base, all with its own set of nuances. For a large company, it could be how to maintain its industry dominance, which again calls for a unique strategy fitted to the company’s own circumstances.
As you work to understand what skills you will bring to the table, never lose the context of the ecosystem that you are in, because you just can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach.