S.V. Nathan, Partner and Chief Talent Officer of Deloitte India

“One of the key things that we take away from this situation is to take our processes at work seriously” – S.V. Nathan, Partner and Chief Talent Officer, Deloitte India

In an interview with SCIKEY, Mr SV Nathan speaks about how they implemented BCP in the organizations, ways in which they engage their employees and their families and the qualities that leaders need to possess in the current situation.

Several immediate workplace shifts were done before during the lockdown, while the employees have to WFH, even those who have never done it. What are the key focus areas that companies should focus on for crisis preparedness or crisis ready, if any, in the future?

The first thing that all organizations do is Business Continuity Planning (BCP). For us, it is well documented. The only difference was that we hadn’t tested it yet, so for us, this was a great opportunity to have done that. We are fortunate that every single professional who works with us has a laptop, so the ability to Work From Home was kind of built into the system. Further, since many work away from the office, it is easy to make sure that there is office infrastructure to support their working. It is all about the way you serve your clients.

What we did initially was to put together a COVID Response Team, and it is led by some senior people and represent those who are looking at the client-side as well as the people side of things. Our philosophy is ‘People First’ and that was central to all that we do. Hence, safety of our people came first. We needed technology here that would help us send out emails, messages that could be sent on both WhatsApp and SMS and calls that would ask the employee of their health. This proved to be of huge help as we were able to track every single person in the firm and their state of health and that of their families.

We also got valuable information about where they are working from. The Covid Response team reviews the safety of people, whether the communication is taking place regularly or not etc. The next part was about communication and staying connected with our people and staying engaged. Our leaders are on regular calls with our people. All of us, in our own way, communicate regularly with our employees. We ensure that each business leader communicates with his team, conducts webinars, etc. We began giving them tips on how to conduct and engage in webinars because it is important to teach them how to use collaborative tools. Zoom, MS Teams, MS whiteboard, Skype are in use to their fullest potential.

We also make sure that we have the right technology for people. We introduced a technological platform to a significant number of people; we ensured they have dongles, so if their network is poor then perhaps they could use dongles. The other thing to note is whether the technology used ones being used at home are safe because there is the risk of leakage of confidential information.

In a normal world, it is customary to meet people over lunches and dinners to connect with people. Given the situation around we do not have an opportunity to connect physically. Besides, people are practising social distancing. As a talent leader, I am working not on social distancing but on social connect or emotional connect as I call it. We still have team lunches, but they are now on Skype and Zoom where everyone is displaying their culinary skills like they would’ve done at an actual team lunch. We celebrate birthdays too.

We also conduct webinars because it is important to engage not only the employees but also their families. Maybe they don’t work at companies that have such elaborate ways as we do. We tried to do this after speaking to our staff, and so far the response has been good, and we have managed to keep them engaged. We have made sure that it is not something that happens one-off but happens regularly. The webinars are around – What is Covid, and what can I do about staying safe, How does one handle stress, How to stay upbeat in a lockdown situation, How to engage children at home, How to eat healthy in such a situation ( yes we had a dietician speak to us), etc. We also have Yoga, Zumba classes, all these over Zoom. And this is for the family and not the individual alone. They can forward the link to anyone they choose to !

 

COVID 19 has surprised the world, and each one of us is moving on with newer learnings; what do you think are the key learnings an HR Talent leader should take from these uncertain times?

The biggest learning is to take their processes seriously. For example, offices conduct regular fire drills. Employees are informed of it happening at a certain time as to when it would be conducted. You would know that nobody takes it seriously. This pandemic situation has brought serious realism in people. This is going to be the single most important thing – take processes seriously. We are told to clean out hands when we come from outside the house, and before food. Not many listened as such.

Our learning is to take the processes seriously. One of the things we did recently is that we called every woman who has either delivered a child or has taken maternity leave to check how they are doing. This can now be taken as part of the process. Can we stay connected with those who need emotional support? We don’t need to wait for something so big to happen to start implementing it. Look at your technology and see how they can scale up. You can only take about 1000 people on WebEx, so dealing with a big size how do you manage to reach people. It is also important to’ care’. Our people personally call up 500 people to check how they are, etc. Now, this is not something that requires an pandemic to intervene for us to learn them. The other one is that there is a need to allay the fears of people. So, it is important to look at our health and welfare plan.

 

What do you think the Covid outbreak has reinforced the idea of designing, deploying processes proactively?

It is certainly important to plan because one only thinks of a solution once the crisis is in play. We never had design thinking come in as handy as it is today. We look at what is the easy of deployment and checking. So, from the process being put at work, we can identify which are the ones doing well. Businesses are now looking at people’s safety, are we equipped to handle people working from home and how do we do that. Do we have a process for that ready. We also need to test our processes as often as it is needed. This will bring in the much needed rigour.

There are also many processes that we have discovered along the way – we don’t need to have physical meetings as often as it happens now! And we are comfortable using collaborative tools. We can make Work from Home easy on everyone. Beyond designing processes and policies, the pandemic has taught us to use them well.

 

What is the role of leadership during a time like this? How will the company be identifying the remote workforce/WFH champions?

The leaders in this crisis need to be very calm and optimistic. They need to be realistic as well as optimistic. This is also not the time to find faults. You have to be comforting, but you also have to push through for performance. However, it is to be done to a limit. This is also a time to communicate, and I would like my leaders to do so. For this, they have to be honest, consistent, constant, and they must know how to manage a situation. These are the kinds of abilities I would like to see in them.

This is also the greatest time for collaboration. They cannot say that it is me, but today it is all about the team. Earlier the teams were sitting within the office so asking for suggestions or help was possible. Today the teams are working remotely, so collaborations are not always possible. Bosses have to think about how they will keep their team engaged. They also need to be connected with people. The other thing that leaders should consider is how they protect our brand. Any untoward act can create brand damage. Also, all positive work done can enhance the brand.

 

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