In the second episode of Culture Club, Ketan (Head of People Function, Rentomojo) and Senthil (Founder & CEO, CultureMonkey) e-meet Ramakrishna Vyamajala to engage in a lively and insightful conversation about work, life, and everything in between. Better known as RK, Ramakrishna is the Head of HR at HomeFirst Finance Company.
As a veteran HR professional, RK gives us a first-hand understanding of how organizations have struggled and soared in this time of crisis. One of the key discussions of the podcast revolves around the evolving role of managers in the new e-culture and how they have grown during these past few months. Where, he talks about how the sudden call for remote working has decentralized most organizations — CxOs are now more busy battling crucial crises and have no time to engage with mid-level or lower-level managers to sort trivial matters as was the norm before.
Further he expresses that - Managers were perhaps not as involved with their team members earlier as they are now. They can now understand their team members better having seen them in a new light. The domestic and personal setting, rather than a professional setting, have made managers more empathetic. Unlike before, they have been trying to help their teams whenever possible without any external intervention from the HR or upper-level delegates.
He believes that this change in managers’ perspective has led to increased engagement in teams throughout most organizations. The extended involvement from the manager’s part indicates the possibility of better transmission of company values in the future. RK remarks that if HRs aim to promote their company culture, they must focus on these managerial roles and convert them into the culture champions of their company and he feels that it is the best way to establish trust, empathy, and company values in the truest sense.
Watch the podcast to listen to the conversation between RK, Ketan, and Senthil.
Senthil [00:00:27] Yes. OK. So, yeah. So thanks a lot Ramakrishna, for coming here. And that's not Ketan. Yeah. I think for today's session right, so I'd maybe give a quick introduction on CultureMonkey, and then we can move onto the session. So CultureMonkey is an employee engagement platform where you can send out anonymous surveys through which you listen to your employees, you analyze your sophisticated reports, you act on the analyzed reports, therefore you're increasing engagement and then you sustain by enriching your managers with these data.
I mean, you grow as an organization, right? So with CultureMonkey, you can go through this lifecycle of listening and analyzing, acting, sustaining, and growing. And in the end, you repeat that next year.
So with that context set. I just want to give us a quick recap on what happened in the previous episode. So this is a season one, so our e-culture episode, and this one is episode two, Episode one was with Dr. Pawan from Vinculum Solutions. We had a great session there. And so to the viewers now we have. RK. So, yeah, over to you Ketan.
Ketan [00:01:41] Thank you. Thank you so much. Rama welcome again to the e-culture episodes powered by CultureMonkey. Thanks so much for your time. Before we begin, I'll give an introduction about you. What would you like to give a quick context about your current organization?
Ramakrishna [00:02:01] Yeah. So I think to put it very simply, Homefirst is an organization, which is one of the fastest-growing affordable housing finance providers in the country. So that kind of tells you everything that we are. we are in the affordable housing space, we finance homes. And we're one of the fastest-growing companies in the country today. And, you know, I mean, just before the whole COVID pandemic hit us, we were growing almost 60 percent year on year. That's the kind of growth that we've shown and particularly in the segment that we're in, but very, very minimal non-performing assets.
That's a commendable growth. It's not something that you see very often, so kudos to the team that has built it together and had an amazing culture of very, very open space. Very warm and welcoming kind of an organization. And I mean, I joined there a couple of years back, but a lot of the foundation, this was kind of figured this by the leadership team at Homefirst. And I am thankful that they give me the opportunity to join them in and kind of take this forward and build something truly amazing.
Ketan [00:03:24] And now how many states are you servicing in?
Ramakrishna [00:03:27] So we're now in like twelve states and thirty-one cities, Unique cities and we are in 70 odd branches, across these 30 odd cities.
Ketan [00:03:38] Well, I think it's this interesting conversation because the housing sectors would have a different impact with COVID, and how actually is going to respond to, So, glad that you're here Rama.
Ketan [00:03:58] Coming to the first question, what challenges would CXOs have to deal with post - COVID, when it comes to the culture, with the world going remote? What kind of conversation are the CXOs having about these problems, and your opinion on the damages that you think they would have to deal with?
Ramakrishna [00:04:18] Yeah, I think one of the first challenges everybody thought about was how do we just take the work remote? how do we ensure that the system is working? How do you ensure that you're able to access data, information? How do you connect with each other? A lot of these CXOs tried, including people like me in H.R., we all worked very hard to take the work home. But I think essentially, one of the challenges once we did that, we started looking at it. We didn't bother taking the employee also home, we took the work. But we left the employee at the office. I mean, there are multiple challenges that an employee faces when he's working from home, he or she is looking out of the home.
So did we anticipate those challenges? And we kind of did something that ensured that our focus was not just on technology and connecting the systems, etc., but also connecting the people. People will have diverse needs. They want to come from diverse backgrounds. I mean, not everybody has a nice table or chair at their home and everybody will not have the right connectivity or internet connection, etc. And there are a lot of material things, but just the frame of mind.
Ramakrishna [00:05:36] Imagine somebody with a very young child trying to manage all of this without any help that otherwise would have been dealt, so we tried to create opportunities and, you know, and is in which we can get these people to work. I think that's the challenge that once we just got the work home all the CXOs started facing. I mean, how do you as a leader, get these sets of very diverse people, start working together from the confines of their home.
When you come to the office, I think one of the things that I realized this is just on the hindsight, that not that I knew about it before that when you come to the office, you are a little different person in your operations, as you leave a lot of home out.
But when you're working from home, yet you think that you are fully integrated into the home, right? I mean, you're not just working from home. You're working for the home too. I mean, a lot of what we are doing today is working for home.
So how do you kind of keep that diverse set of people? So you say, OK, let's do a Zoom call at say eleven o'clock. Not everybody can do a Zoom call at that point in time because I mean, the different needs, different challenges. So how do CXO's. Meet and understand and kind of resolve such issues and start giving the same level of productivity that is expected out of their people. Has been the biggest challenge that I did not anticipate at the beginning.
As I said, all of this hit us so, so quickly that we didn't have the time to just back and start doing all of this, and therefore it would have been a challenge. But I think personally, this was the biggest challenge that we kind of encountered. How do you get different sets of people, different types, processes together, working virtually?
Ketan [00:07:40] And do you see an impact or do you think this has impacted the cultural thread of the organizations? And we want to mention that dimension also, but the administrative and the large part of operational challenges, actually emotional challenges people are going through. Has that also affected the Culture of the organizations?
Ramakrishna [00:08:01] Yeah, I think I think, again, it's a huge part of the culture on how do you deal with employees? so when you're faced with a situation like this, which is a complete unknown. You don't know how you want to respond and a lot of kind of decision making, authority went decentralized. Managers started taking calls and people, you know, they okay, this fellow is not in the home City. He's gone to his hometown. So, I mean, irrespective of where he/she is working I don't really care if it works from home. As long as you're connected. But the manager started seeing things differently.
So how do you create a culture which was, when you all were together, the kind of camaraderie that you shared, the kind of feeling which you worked with a bet that you will share each other's burden in terms of work. But suddenly when you're on it in your home, are you able to do that kind of service at a similar level with the similar kind of cultural tenets that you would have as an organization?
So this was actually a test of the culture of the organization and the vein in which you built the organization. Can you sustain it? when you're not working from the office when it is not so easy to sustain that. You can say that, okay. It's like somebody that needs an office, but it's like a simple example for us to look at it. You take flexible timing at the office look. I mean, if you say 9:30, they turn up at 10. Do you talk about this a little bit? And then some people that would benefit them that, you know, and some people come late to the office and we give you flexibility.
But suddenly when you're on then you want to have that 9:15 call, will you be able to give the same level of flexibility? if you just ask that question, suddenly hit us and they said, we'll get the call. I said we call ourselves flexible organizations or can we have calls that can be joined whenever people like to join? Can you do that? And you can do that right now. You could have done it then.
Ramakrishna [00:10:21] You had an office because you could manage to kind of juggle it out and meet up and everybody was it. But today, if you have to do one con-call, that's about that effort to get everybody together. So where did that whole culture of flexibility go? It needs to be decided by then. And obviously, that's something you grapple with. And that's impactful. I mean, just one simple example, but. Right. I guess you're getting the drift So that's how culture is getting impacted during this period.
Ketan [00:11:19] Do you think that this remote working has also brought some positive changes in the house? So the line managers are working in unison? Do you see a silver lining here?
Ramakrishna [00:11:32] I think yeah, there's definitely a silver lining here. And that is it definitely is. Not all doom and sorry if had sounded like a little bit of that. But that is that that is one of the things that I believe, which it's kind of finally started happening. Is the old manager taking responsibility for people. You now have very limited possibilities of upward delegations and, you know, kind of, because everybody was busy doing too many things, tackling this down, so its kind of fell upon you to take charge of your set of employees, you are the person who was the be all end all. Suddenly, my employees not feeling well, what do you do, you know, take a call on HR. I need to make a decision there. So, the whole urgency of making decisions. Doing things. Getting yourselves involved, kind of decentralized, and gave ability to people to take calls and move quickly.
It does not hold on the responsibility of the CXO's, but the manager on the ground started taking on a lot more responsibility towards people. And the empathy for its people also to went up significantly during this period. I think a lot of it out people that have started asking, understanding, and kind of came to a realization of about how people live, what kind of backgrounds they come from. How do I live? Otherwise, you see everybody almost uniformly in the office, right?
Everybody is almost the same. In addition, if you wouldn't otherwise see major differences. But now you started seeing into the homes of people? I mean, you're sitting you have access to get into the lives of people. So that's another positive that brought about in people that you started thinking more deeply, more empathetic cause than what people do otherwise.
Ramakrishna [00:13:51] But I think it's another silver lining. Another thing is I think everybody is talking about it. The particular digital transformation that is happening. That's been the biggest beneficial beneficiary of this whole pandemic. Organization's ability to work, to be as good as many for it. I mean, that's an obvious answer I've got. I would give it at the end.
Ketan [00:14:17] True, very interesting point. One who spoke about the engagement has gone back to where it belongs, which has basically been managed and is no longer the responsibility of the CXO alone to manage the entire team. I mean, in Rentomojo we do these e-nps surveys very often and actually through CultureMonkey. When the Work from home started, after a few days we shot this survey.
Ketan [00:14:54] Our e-nps shot by 3X. Exactly. When I spoke to all the other HRs, I got to know this. Two things happened. One of you, as you rightly said, there was full involvement by the managers. I think that what it did was help people connect better. Second, globally people were fighting larger battles. One of the issues that I don't have a pen at my desk was not a bothering factor. And was am I safe for my safety net and these two combined. And I think of digital transformation as a game-changer.
Ketan [00:15:49] Now, what do you think this would mean for the HR fraternity? How's the HR going to be with this shift?
Ramakrishna [00:16:04] I think one of the things is that HR is in the spotlight more than ever. That's something that's happening. So with the spotlight comes a lot more responsibility, more ownership, a lot of things that you will think of a lot longer term than what you would otherwise be thinking. So you would obviously be reactive. I mean, I wouldn't put the blame on the fraternity itself. But having seen a lot of people doing it, I can kind of generalize it. 70, 80 percent of the work that we used to do was a lot reported as the reactionary spur of the moment activity like transforming students to people.
So let's do this and we need to do a funds management system. OK, so let's set up a function, and so and so on and so forth. And more than the commission negates, a lot of it was a spur of the moment activity that led to the kind of work HR teams were doing across the globe. Suddenly, with the spotlight, everything you do has come under the scanner. There's a lot that is expected out of the HR teams.
Ramakrishna [00:17:21] Now, the CEOs having a lot more composition's I mean, I was somebody that I wouldn't have spoken to in the daily sales huddle. And then daily senior management meetings so much in the entire career that I've gotten in the last few months. But today I think we could even have a statement and then start looking at me in that picture. I think it because of the spotlight you had been put under suddenly, that some people have taken it like fish to water and some of some people have struggled back up. But what I see is that it's a good thing that has happened. Now more than ever people need the HR fraternity to look after a little more.
Ramakrishna [00:18:26] Your physical and mental illnesses are going to be a lot more important because if you are not up to the mark in terms of physical and mental space, you will not be able to guide the organization to this because there are many more people who will start looking up to you. It's your responsibility to kind of guide them, your responsibility to kind of take on the mantle and say this is the direction that you have to take. And that direction is going to set the path and the future for the organization. it's teamwork. It's definitely a lot that is going on.
And I think the CEO is doing a lot more than any of us put together. But. Having said that, there's been a sudden increase in the responsibility that the HR folks are taking , and that's, I think in this period. It's therefore a lot more important that we take care of ourselves, the organizations, and guide them through the right path.
Ketan [00:19:45] If I may take it to the next level saying that, what are the three things that you would share or tell the HR folks of what they should embrace looking at the future.
Ramakrishna [00:19:59] So one is I definitely don't know what's going to happen in the future and then there's so much uncertainty and unknown that is sitting out there. But whatever kind of feel now that I've seen a couple of things that I can talk about as just embracing the level of uncertainty is going to be the biggest activity that you should be focused on, either as an HR person, our ability to kind of rethink the old policies that we avoid very dearly.
Whatever you would have created and put together because you feel you've done the best work may no longer be relevant. So can you throw that out of the window and then rework? Some of it? Is the other piece that the HR folks need to focus on. And I think last but not the least, it's just taking care, being there, listening and listening with a lot more empathy, because every situation is going to be very, very different. You will not be able to fit in a policy for everybody. You will not be able to create something even if you are to create a policy. You want to be able to create a policy for all sorts of people, even though they're all in the same department.
So how do you listen? How do you come up with something which shops in a democratic way In that sense, be applicable to as many people as possible and as an issue, a little heartburn as possible to navigate through this. That will be the most important activity as well that HR folks will be involved. o I think that is the one thing we should be open to.
Ketan [00:21:54] Is e-culture the future?
Ramakrishna [00:21:57] I mean, if you put it that simply, I don't know the answer. Again, as I said, it's got to be it it's got to be a combination of a lot of factors. I mean, I'm saying that culture in itself was never in a physical form. So if you want to say "e" a means of transport is a means of transmission across the organization. Yes. I mean, I think that would be a lot more than you will see how you are able to influence the other person culturally, how you are able to propagate the culture within the organization that used to be done a lot more through physical gatherings, watercooler conversations and so on and so forth that are a lot more virtual now.
I believe that quite a lot of that is going to happen. I mean, honestly, like I mean as an engineer let me give you any generic examples like a power grid if you want to transmit long and far. Right. What you do is to create those substations, your grids, and therefore be able to reach the last mile village with the electricity. Similarly, if you want to get the culture out to everybody, everybody in the organization, you really have to create those small substations and grids within the organization. Your regional managers, your function heads. You are your culture champions, for that matter, will have to start acting like those grids and substations to propagate the culture.
If you're able to do that I think then your employee value proposition, our culture, etc. will be understood in the right way by the last mile.
Ramakrishna [00:23:47] And I think that would be the future that definitely I guess that we have that had to be before as well, but we could get away with lots of other things that we could do to kind of propagate the culture. Now with the whole e-culture piece so that when I went to do a lot of things, literally, this will shoot into prominence. I mean, you will not be able to present everywhere, maybe that you will not be able to do everything yourself.
You will have to trust a lot more employees will have to create a culture of trust within the organization and therefore create a lot more people who will be mini CEOs in each space from a culture point of view to fuel us, from even from a business point of view, as well as from each other. And that's, I think, the way forward.
That's the future that that puts us, hopefully. I don't know anything. These miracles do happen. I mean, we might gently get a vaccine than ever before and say, okay, enough of this. But from what I know, what's going to happen. So, yeah, I guess I would say this looks to be the way forward, that this looks to be the way things will work out. That's right. All right.
Ketan [00:25:10] Thank you. Thank you so much.
Ketan [00:25:17] I'll come to five rapid questions. So your speed to respond to this. will help me understand if you're the Moto Razor or the Apple.
Ketan [00:25:32] First question, if not an HR, what would you have become?
Ramakrishna [00:25:37] A cricketer.
Ketan [00:25:48] Your favorite holiday destination Pre-COVID?.
Ramakrishna [00:25:55] Hyderabad.
Ketan [00:26:03] Your favorite holiday destination post-COVID?
Ramakrishna [00:26:11] Office! Hahahaha.
Ketan [00:26:13] This one is super crucial. Very. Listen carefully. Cooking, cleaning, mopping. Diaper changing during COVID?
Ramakrishna [00:26:24] Diaper changing! That's the easiest.
Ketan [00:26:26] One thing that you thank COVID for?
Ramakrishna [00:26:32] Yeah. And I think my cooking skills improved big time. So Thank you COVID for that.
Ketan [00:26:41] Your better half would be thanking for that.
Ramakrishna [00:26:44] I also improved. Because I eat it too right?
Ketan [00:26:51] We're glad. Thank you so much, Rama, it was super fun.
Senthil [00:27:00] I think. I mean, I think I have really tremendously enjoyed this session because of two things. Number one, all your examples in real life, you know, like I could see that you any question, any concept there, there's no conceptual speaking. You are just throwing real-life examples of it.
Ramakrishna [00:27:19] I also know little less of concepts, that's why. So, I kind of compensate for real-life examples.
Senthil [00:27:25] Which is strong if it is stronger. I mean, just that's where the joy for me is coming as the listener. Right. And so, so. So that shows you are a hyperrealist. You know, it's like a no-nonsense with me. The only reality. Right. Which is very good. Which is just rare. Right. And the next thing I noticed about your entire speeches that you talked about, mental illness, let's say you were a very happy person, I was just sitting there and, wow, this is so jolly. This is absolutely zero percent seriousness, which is, I mean, in a positive way, which is very great to have. Yeah.
Ketan [00:28:17] And I see two kinds of engineers, one is conceptually strong other has no idea about the concepts.
Ramakrishna [00:28:29] Yes. I'm the second person I see.
Ketan [00:28:33] Even in HR also, there are people who are conceptually strong, a very strong concept. But I'm not that one, but I knew to connect with people who are real-time on the ground down the business.
Senthil [00:29:04] Excellent. Excellent. Though I think this is a great session. I think for us it will have a lot of jolly points, but there were some serious points that were made, which is going to be great value for our audiences. So, yeah, I think well opened and well closed, so I have a huge thanks for both of you. And yeah, we believe we will stay in touch. I'll be able to get back to you guys and we can do more of this as a part of the culture.
The reason why we have a culture club created by CultureMonkey is to have these valuable conversations, you know, have these talks that are heart to heart and clearly express what's going on. So it kind of allows whoever is watching to get a portal and understands how it is and nurture their life as well. So. All right. All right. OK. So I think it will be a great session. Thanks a lot, guys. So thank you. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Ketan [00:30:05] Thank you, everybody, Bye!