Get people practices, culture in sync

WHIRLPOOL of India is a leading manufacturer of home appliances. It also provides services in the area of product development, information technology, accounting and procurement services to Whirlpool Corporation, USA, and other group companies. The company has nearly 60,000 employees across 67 manufacturing and technology centres.

1. You are responsible for designing, developing and deploying people practices in India, S-E Asia and Oceania. What are some of best practices at your organisation?
Our practices are designed around our employee value proposition, which are a set of promises to our current and prospective employees. These promises help us align our practices to make sure we are able to meet them. The promises are:
a)Provide freedom to employees to make choices: We value the free spirit of our people, who drive their own careers as well as the company’s success.
b)Providing early differentiated roles to young talent: We believe in providing challenging roles to our young talent, putting them out of their comfort zone and nurturing them in their developmental journey.
c)Open and inclusive culture: We take pride in our open and inclusive culture that enables collaboration in creating loyal customers for life. It’s almost an open door work environment where anyone can walk up to senior management and discuss what they feel is important. We enable collaboration through technology and suggestions are accepted and implemented across levels.
d) Spirit of winning: We believe in setting ambitious goals, performing to the best of our abilities and celebrating as well as rewarding success.

2.What is it at the top of your mind while designing the people processes and practices?
Designing and executing this spectrum needs to have focus on few critical areas. First, understanding the industry we operate in and its drivers. This helps to focus on practices that will deliver maximum business results. For example, innovation is a critical lever in our industry and hence our practices are designed to facilitate innovation as one of the key outcomes.
Second, it is critical that the people practices are in sync and aligned with the organisational culture. Culture is what makes an organisation tick. We pride ourselves in the spirit of winning, which allows us to embrace ambitious goals.
Last but not the least, practices are for people. Hence they should cater to the changing and diverse needs of employees. We have a multi-generational workforce with people coming from diverse backgrounds, culture and religion. We understand that their needs would be different and hence our practices are designed to ensure that their needs are addressed appropriately, both personally as well as professionally.

3.What advice do you have for organisations undergoing change or a turnaround?
For any change to be effective, one needs to ensure the following:
a)Establishing a need for the change: One needs to clearly identify the reason for change. Are you doing it to address a business problem or it is due to a new vision that has been crafted for the future. The reason needs to be identified and articulated.
b)Vision for the future: Creating a vision of the new future is critical for the success of any process. This gives the stakeholder idea about the future and helps rally the organisation around the new vision.
c)Creating top management alignment: Change is a process that needs to be driven from the top. Hence aligning top management to the entire process becomes critical for the success of the change process
d)Aggressive communication: This will ensure transparency of the process and reinforce the value proposition for the employee. Vision of the new future needs to be articulated, absence of which will result in rumour mongering that can hit the change process hard.

4.What should HR professionals do while managing the people who show resistance to change?
Resistance to change occurs due to fear. It can be due to fear of losing power, fear of the unknown, fear of being irrelevant, or even fear of having to learn new things. To overcome this, it’s important to communicate transparently by addressing employees’ concerns and make sure that there is clarity about the change process and its consequences. Reiterating the benefits of change and ensuring that people understand the need to change helps in overcoming resistance.

5.How should a CEO react or set the balance right in such a situation?
The CEO has the most critical role in the success of an organisation. The approach can be four-pronged: communicate clearly and establish the need for change, set the vision for the post-change organisation, establish transparency and visibly drive the change process, and personally influence key opinion makers who may not be aligned to the change process.

6.Share with us one of your turnaround stories. How did you pull it off?
We have consistently done well in the past. But even for organisations like us, there are peaks and troughs in the performance cycle. Couple of years back, our stock price was just about average and our profitability had taken a hit. Our products did not completely meet customer expectations and the brand was less visible. While the challenges were many we continued to have an engaged organisation with strong business fundamentals and a brand that was well recognised.
We started our transformation journey by listening to our customers. Top 100 leaders gathered and liste­ned to customers narrate their experiences. The team understood the shortcomings and realised that we were behind the curve in some areas. The team agr­eed upon a shared vision and the remedy. A time-bound plan of doing “36 months’ work in 18 mon­ths” became the war cry.
The team came back 9 months later to review the progress and through an initiative called “I Commit”, every leader on behalf of the team committed to certain stretched goals. The team focused on creating innovative products, delivering channel excellence, building on our brand strength, and improving cost and quality measures along with institutionalising people excellence with critical focus on developing our frontline managers. I am proud to say the results were stupendous.

7.You have worked with several organisation across industries, what has been your learning so far?
Having worked in various industries and across cultures one realises that human beings and their fundamental needs are very similar. Gaining respect, aspiration to grow professionally and individually and alignment of goals of individuals and organisations is universal. This helps the employee to engage at an emotional level, which is essential for good performance.