S01 E05: The Surge of Innovation and Creativity During a Crisis

Kailash Ganesh
18 min read

In this episode of Culture Club, we interact with Pranav Prasoon, Head of Human Resources, Renault India Private Limited. Pranav is an IIM alumnus working in the industry for more than a decade. Fondly addressed as Captain, Pranav has served as a Captain in the Indian Army for six years. Apart from being a great HR leader, Pranav is also a writer and a motivational speaker who believes in facing challenges rather than hiding behind excuses.

In the discussion between Ketan (Head of People Functions, Rentomojo), Pranav, and Senthil (Founder and CEO, CultureMonkey) , they have a short and inspiring talk on innovation and resilience. They discussed the ongoing pandemic and how it influenced leaders and HRs to evolve more in their roles.

Being childhood friends, the conversation between Ketan and Pranav often took a nostalgic turn, that had the right amount of details to understand the context better. The highlight of the talk was how the pandemic has forced employees at every level, and not just leaders or CXOs, to evolve beyond their roles. There has been a surge of innovation and creativity that was perhaps triggered by the events where people struggled to make sales or close deals.

Pranav also speaks about how the HR fraternity has grown during this crisis and how a company’s culture plays an important role in sculpting committed employees.

Listen to this insightful conversation between Pranav, Ketan, and Senthil to get your daily dose of inspiration amidst the crisis.


Senthil [00:00:26] Thanks a lot for Pranav for joining us today, so I think for our audience, this is the fifth episode that we're doing on our club episodes, where we'd be attacking problems around E culture. And now that the world is working remotely, we are talking to HRs from leading organizations in India and touching on all the questions that are very important for HRs, and these questions and answers from HRs themselves would help the entire community and the fraternity solve problems at their organizations. That's the key goal of what we are doing at CultureMonkey as well. So today we have Pranav from Renault India and Ketan will be hosting this episode. And back to you Ketan, we can get started already.

Ketan [00:01:37] Hi Pranav, one of the reasons I'm here. I got introduced to CultureMonkey sometime back. We tried it for Rentomojo and I really fell in love with the product because of the work that they had done. And especially knowing that this is a bunch of people who have never worked in HR creating a product like that impressed me. It inspired me and during the conversation. We realized that we could add value to each other. So I am advising them on the few of this stuff, whatever I've learned in HR, and helping them create a product that can actually solve a problem for HRs. So that's about CultureMonkey. That's why I'm here.

And for our audience today, I have with me, Captain Pranav Prasoon. He heads human resources for Renault India, which is based out of Chennai as of now. Captain, He has served the nation by being a captain in the Indian army. He served there for five years and post that he went to Lucknow, did his post graduation from there. And then jumped into the corporate world, started his career with a logistics firm, of course, after his stint in the Indian army.

Ketan [00:03:04] And then he moved to Chennai and joined Renault Nissan and he's grown and within the organization at a very, very fast pace. And it was about nine, 10 months back, he was given the mantle to head HR for Renault India. So that's captain, for you. He's a marathoner. He's been an author almost 10 years back. So, while I became an author recently, he's been an inspiration for me for sure. But he wrote his first book, "Those Unknown", Sometime Back. I featured in that. There's one part of this story that, you know. It was a party where he came to a place in Mumbai and something really interesting happened. But a book definitely you should catch up. It's about his journey, especially with the Indian army, a lot of people in the army are actually a fan of that particular book.

Ketan [00:03:54] And he loves talking. He's a motivational speaker. He's actually been there and is among the few who lead it from the front. He's been to campuses and just he contributes a lot to help people bring the better version of themselves. So if you go to LinkedIn or social media, every few days, you would see some of his office videos. Now, that video is also because I pushed him to publish. But he does, far more conversations and engagement with people in that videos should listen to him sometimes. I think he's the guy you guys later want to come in inspired and charge up the team and tell you how to handle the challenges of life, from his experience from the army. And then I think leadership is something that he is very passionate about a lot of his conversations. I think he's trying to bring the corporate and the experiences from the field right out there.

Ketan [00:05:09] I can talk about him for some more hours. I would even say that. So Pranav, welcome again to this e-culture club episode of CultureMonkey. And we are so glad to have you here. And I'm sure your insights or experiences and perspectives are going to help everybody who's watching this program. And towards the end, there are some interesting questions, I am sure, you'll enjoy it. We also have some interesting rapid-fire questions for you that I have. And I added some interesting perspective to that, because maybe I know you personally so that is going to be a fun one. So, would you like to start with a bit about your organization so that people understand what are we talking about? What kind of setup is there? And what you handle there, just a little bit about that?

Capt. Pranav [00:06:14] Thank you, Ketan. And it is quite emotional, the first time when we were together on the stage in our half pants. So what if your best buddy hosts you and takes the hell out of you. Maybe I am really scared now about what if you disclose something about me. So about the organization, God has been kind enough. Yes. We had been crossing our ways many times and apparently I head HR for Renault India, which is a commercial entity and we sell cars. So it's a Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Alliance, what we talk about, we as an alliance, we make the car together. We engineer the car together. We manufacture the car together. But we sell the car differently.

So then Renault and Nissan become different markets. I had HR for Renault, India, and majorly the people are from sales and marketing. A portion of it also comprises Supply-Chain and we sell Renault cars in India. So that's how it is. We are present in almost all the corners of India with our dealership and the corporate offices are in the region. So that's what.

Capt. Pranav [00:07:44] And then suddenly I'm in Chennai, but we also have a corporate office in Gurgaon, and I keep on shuffling there sometimes. And that's what if I have to summarize somebody's organization, that's what they do.

Ketan [00:08:06] What challenges have you seen or do you think your CXOs are facing with this COVID impact? Post-COVID the world seems to be going remote and a lot of things are happening virtually. What are the kind of challenges that you have seen during your conversation? What are CXOs talking about or going through, especially with the context of cultural engagement.

Capt. Pranav [00:08:30] OK, so I'll be quite blunt the way I talk Ketan. One thing is I really see the real leadership happening. As for my experience, what it comes from. Yes. If if you're not clear on your decision making and leadership skills, you might lose people and India might lose a portion of the land. So similarly, when I see today if you are not very clear in the decisions which you make or the actions which you do, then the entire sphere of the pandemic can spoil the motivation of the employees. And if the decision makings are not very strong and if the visions are not very, very clear, you don't know where you will land in the market tomorrow. So what I see today. Yes. The focus and the majority. What CXOs are doing is complete leadership leading by examples, which can be a very small thing when the lockdown was opened and how to ensure that the staff is protected enough, cared for enough, and brought to the office. And they should have the confidence to deliver. Right.

Capt. Pranav [00:09:39] And if now, last 100 days, we have seen enough changes in many that these things are not very good and we have to open it close it, then you have to know someone is positive inside the office. How will you operate in such cases? The employees are really scared. The families are scared majorly when we see that appear. When the I.T. says that they work from home as an option and they are executing it. But for an organization that is a product-centric organization, where the sales is a concern. Point to point, contact is more important. Would you really change your entire fashion of working right? Although various mechanisms that are happening, and a lot of innovations are happening in different organizations, everyone is trying to figure out what is a new normal? or  Is there any new normal or not? So when I see a lot of confusion, a lot of innovation happening, not as talking happening and lot of crude core leadership happening, and then, you know, you have to sum it up.

Ketan [00:10:39] Oh, excellent. This is very powerful and very direct.

Ketan [00:10:50] What as per you is the silver lining? Are you seeing this bringing out and this is more from wearing a completely HR hat right now. What do you think this is leading to which you have always wanted. The CXOs are lined on the business to own up and possibly not doing earlier and they've started doing now with the outbreak of COVID and how the world has changed because of it.

Capt. Pranav [00:11:17] I'll keep it simple. I rather put it like to take chances to see for a solution which you have never thought right. I can give examples of them when we talk about sales and for the first time, many, many in OEMs have launched at Mechanisms for Digital. Yeah. And for the first time, the customer is buying a car without even doing a test. Right. And that people started off as early as that. And how different mechanisms with the help of, let's say, augmented reality, how you will bring that feeling of it cannot be perceived feeling now, it cannot be with the touch and feel of the car. But how the same thing can be done to create an experience. Yeah. So a lot of companies are doing it. Many, many people who started it, who were the beginners they did quite well.

Capt. Pranav [00:12:13] And during the lockdown in April month when the entire industrial volume was zero, there were companies who were smiling a little bit and telling that at least I have some digital sales it's not the cars that are not delivered, but at least another employer, the customers are ready for it. And then post the lockdown. Then it was a bit relaxed. The complete focus was to translate their digital sales into physical sales and to see the numbers. So one thing is, yes, taking chances, have you ever thought about it, but a company which is completely selling products doesn't show the product and all the experience is not sold to the customer.

And still, the customer is is is gained. It was impossible. So such innovations when I see happening. There were different philosophies of becoming someone with lighting lamps and some were playing with a little bit of fire or whatever. And someone was writing a lot of stories. Is that okay because of the different positioning of the planets or something has happened and something. Someone was telling that it will not happen in India because our temperatures are very different and summers are coming.

Capt. Pranav [00:13:36] So everything will go. But a lot of things that a lot of science was being spoken. But God forbid, you know, this is something which is a spindle, which is a sudden thing created by God. Then we define it. Can we control it? It is beyond it. But how will you maneuver yourself as the business continuity planning came into the picture very strongly. And we have seen organizations who started working from the first week of March when things were not going and bits and pieces, and they happened to be quite strong. And then there were organizations that only closed the company when the directive from the government was done.

Capt. Pranav [00:14:18] So if I have to underline, I mentioned the same point that I saw different innovations happening, different ways of thinking happening. People started testing different medians. Suddenly digital things got so much into action and everyone was on the media, on social media, and trying to push it. Now, things are so different and in a very different way. But we all tested it for the first time and I think we are quite okay and comfortable? Yes.

Ketan [00:14:54]  What does it mean for HR fraternity? What is it redefining? What part of HR is fundamentally redefining us, for you?

Capt. Pranav [00:15:03] Oh, my God. Now, here I must connect to two me's, one is the army me and the current one. A lot of inspiration I get from there, because when things are fine and all it is, it is quite comfortable and you can have all your and all psychological principles and mass laws or laws and you can inspire and motivate people to get the thing out. Now you have a guy who's scared and who doesn't bother that, you know, if tomorrow he has a job or not. But today, his close things are more important. The basic needs, the physical needs, the security are more important. How will you know and what the triangle and start working again. Right. So there are these things which are important and they don't they can a lot of people move back to the native business.

Continuity is happening, but we know that they are fearful in some places where the connections are not a problem. How will you force them to operate in such places when I see when the motivation level is down to a corner? You are talking to a very scared and very low person. How will you push him to the level of what he used to be? And now this is a lot of dynamics are being played. I see a lot of different innovations that are happening in that in those times also. And H.R. today, if I say and I keep on telling many times that your HR is like a mother now the real mother factor that's coming in, is to care for them.

Capt. Pranav [00:16:34] This happened in the middle of the Depression. People are very scared that we wouldn't even have a job. Right. And many companies would not do that. Everyone is in the process of cash protection and all the cash for protection. And many, many of us. deferred the hikes. You see the status, no doubt. If you go back and what they want to be taught and we have what they would be selling and H.R. in terms of performance and how should we squeeze the bell curve and what are the different mechanisms? How will motivate them today? You don't give them. But still, you want half the year has gone by. You want the same and rather more contribution from him. So they don't work for peanuts. They only work that. What? How much the company is caring for them. Right. And that contribution as a tool that when I was in uniform, it was not that I was getting a salary, so was I was working.

Capt. Pranav [00:17:35] It was for the uniform or for the association or for the stars, which we used to carry for that. Or maybe the person left or right to me used to work. Currently, I'm seeing that the people are working, contributing to the brand if you would, that created that sort of alignment with the employees, they are with you. They're not leaving you and they have come completely committed. If not, then all your and a management gig and all the jargons are not working out. And that's what I thought, that I should touch on this small patch where I think how HR and the people aspect is working these times.

Senthil [00:18:14] Excellent. I literally got goosebumps.

Ketan [00:18:17] Yeah. Yes. That's so powerful and so meaningful, seeing that it's the speed rail. If you're sure to know how to connect, you'll be able to bring a ticket ahead of these difficult times. You were talking about money and the hikes factor, but not the only thing that drives us without getting tested when you at different times that it was the stick work and still do their best. So that's a powerful one. And I also believe in a similar context, what analogy that Captain put across that an HR's role is like of a mother. So, thank you so much for calling that out. That was interesting.

Ketan [00:19:42]  What is that one personal thing or one message that you would want individuals to focus on to deal with what's going to come ahead? And you've been in a situation which has been this year when everything was uncertain. You really think it was yourself probably at that moment. But you have to possibly deal with that again and again, led a bunch of people into something like that, too. What is the one thing you would want to tell every individual on this planet, this world in terms of what they should focus on and how they should deal with this situation?

Capt. Pranav [00:20:22] Many places I have gone to, and I am quite in love with this word called resilience. So my thing is bouncing back. Now, that is something which is very close to me. And when we can connect with my previous life with this type of which is, either you have it or you don't have it. And if you don't have it, then you have to make it. There is nowhere in your life if you cannot bounce back, you cannot face it. And now you think that you know, you will be sitting with the dog, with the tail between the legs, and you think that you will survive. You will have to face it. When we open the office and I told all my leadership teams that every day I want all of you to be in the office. Now, this is because we are to create that example by leading from the front that. Yes. And if it is there first, we will create an example and people will follow. Right. So there is no other options. And I know either it is a choice.

Capt. Pranav [00:21:15] Now tomorrow if this is the end of it, you have a choice. Either you, die fighting or you die or just getting scared. So I will put very clearly a resilience and all. You have to fight back. This is what you want to keep it at the center. You have to be safe and everything is fine. But if it comes and I have some examples and I have seen a few of the cases where COVID has happened and more of the other things like people are so scared and they get so, so frightened out of it that that's different. Different videos are available on the net, too. But I have seen people going through, one of the guys told me he was never felt it. He had no symptoms and I thought I was completely fine. It was like a like any other day runny nose after when you have to drink a glass of chilled beer and maybe, God, you're not feeling that this like that.

Capt. Pranav [00:22:13] But if you carry yourself that I not talk about positivity or attitude. And I think I will say this is a situation we are in. Can you do something about it? I don't think so. At least you can frame your mind. You can program your mind to come out. You can see the situation. If you see the situation that tomorrow things will be fine and you will be getting over it as you know it will drag you, too. If not, then you will be completely, you know, sitting like that, that the dog with a tail between the legs and trying to see that, oh my God, tomorrow what will happen? They will sack me. They will be here. The company will be closing.

The entire infrastructure will be going down. I don't know how to start. Shall I go back to my home? Shall I bring my parents and us unknowingly, knowingly? Or you will have that dangerous hormone secretion. And you know the likes of what, what you saw. A few days back, how people succumb to it and it takes like it. Live with this. Feel that resilience. The fighter. We are born as warriors. Right. And we will come out from it as a war. So that's how I keep it.

Senthil [00:23:26] Thank you. Honestly, I don't know what to say. It's definitely like watching a movie. Captain!

Ketan [00:23:42] So, coming to the last question of the session now. There's a particular way that has been defined historically. We've seen that now. Do you think if this is going to be or is e-culture the future, as we go ahead?

Capt. Pranav [00:24:03] If you this is a very tough question which you are putting really early. I  have seen lots of discussions. I keep on seeing on that thing and people are accepting it also. But you know me, Ketan I am old fashioned. I still feel that culture is what will be defined by people and how we can be defined by the people. How do we make culture? And you have a society, you create heroes. You create stories about the heroes. You create festivities and associations around that hero. And that thing becomes a culture. Yeah. You remember our days. We have some gods and all the way we do it and that's how it becomes a culture. I still think that e-culture will be part of it. Of course, it connects HR and technology. We can say, it will be a supporter. Technology will be a crusader from here. But yes, that people connect that that examples, living examples of the people living examples of those days whose leadership I know change the entire mechanism of working in whatever way.

Capt. Pranav [00:25:05] And all you can today, not only those people will be coming in terms of the platform might change, but it will be driven by the people, till the damn human race is will be surviving on this planet. The culture will be created by the people and their examples. How they conduct themselves in any scenario is what it is about and the rest everything will be platforms and not the connections and how we can reach to every employer and every person here.

Ketan [00:25:36] I love the simplest one of the simplest definitions of culture that I've ever heard. That's very interesting!

Ketan [00:25:49] So the rapid-fire questions, Captain, if I if you're ready, I am going to shoot at you. OK, so next life, what would you want to what would you choose?  HR or life in the army?

Capt. Pranav [00:26:11] Army of course!

Ketan [00:26:18] Cooking, cleaning, and mopping during COVID. Which one was the easiest?

Capt. Pranav [00:26:26] Mopping!

Ketan [00:26:26] What's your next big personal goal?

Capt. Pranav [00:26:31] To repeat a full marathon again.

Senthil [00:26:34] Oh, wow.

Ketan [00:26:36] OK. And one thing that you would personally like to thank COVID for?

Capt. Pranav [00:26:43] It is given a chance for all of us to internalize and think.

Ketan [00:26:50] Powerful answer!

Ketan [00:26:56] Alright, done from my side guys, that's Captain Pranav from Renault India. Thank you so much, Captain. It was very interesting, Direct. To the point. And I think I'm loving this combination of you. Oh, you're seeing the what? The early life of the new life, which is the army life and the current life, and go for it. But a pretty interesting point. Picked up a lot of things. Senthil, over to you.

Senthil [00:27:17] Yes. Thanks a lot, Ketan, and thanks a lot, Captain. So the points were really I mean, I was sitting there just enjoying every point that you said seriously, even then, you know, when you spoke about how when people work for money right, if you say an employer is offering like a 100k, it's easy for the next employee to pay 110k And if. If the team if they are working with the camaraderie, if you're working for a uniform, you're working for a purpose.

And that's something that is legendary. And this COVID has enabled us, enabled that for all of us. And that was a great point. And when you elaborated on that. I was just enjoying and I suppose, you know, my favorite point that you said is about resilience, about I am a huge believer. I mean, I don't know if we can even talk about this for 30 minutes, then how you think how you have framed your mind.

Senthil [00:28:19] That's that, you know, you feel if you can really frame your mind and you don't get it. Right now I'm in Chennai and so are you and you know the situation is very bad. But you feel like suffering like -  "oh my God, this is going to affect all of our lives", then it's going to. But you have an option to even on a thought level to fight this. So and then you said he elaborated on that. And I was in a 700 percent agreement. And I, like a lot of people are not like right now having this thought process. So I really enjoyed that. And of course, the many cultural points that we touched also was phenomenal.

Senthil [00:29:03] So, guys, this is this today's episode. So we'll meet next week with more points. And. Yeah. So thanks a lot, Captain, and thanks a lot Ketan, for this session.

Senthil [00:29:22] There are many more points that we can talk about technologies. Also, I would love to connect offline with you, to share values with each other.

Capt. Pranav [00:29:38] Sure Senthil, Thank you, guys. Bye. Take care.