S01 E08: Culture as a Leadership Tool in an Organization’s Success

The latest episode of Culture Club features Ajay Pandey, Head - Business Human Resources at L&T Financial Services. With over 30 years of experience, Ajay is a celebrated HR leader in the Indian corporate sphere. He started his career with the Indian Air Force where he stayed for almost a decade. His work experience at the Indian Air Force helped him mold fundamental ideas of his professional journey. He then moved to the banking sector where he worked with giants like ICICI Bank, IDFC Bank, and L&T. He has been an HR personnel for more than 21 years now.

Ketan (Head of People Function, Rentomojo) believes Ajay is a courageous leader who personifies all the ideal tenets of Human Resources. Having shared a part of his HR journey with Ajay, Ketan has witnessed how Ajay goes beyond his role to help people without expecting anything in return.

The eighth episode of Culture Club is a testimony to these facets of Ajay’s personality. In his conversation with Ketan and Senthil (Founder and CEO, CultureMonkey), Ajay helps viewers understand culture as a social and behavioral construct. His analogy of an iceberg to talk about culture is an apt example to understand how culture is a reflection of what is and what has been in an individual’s life.

This episode is just a peek into the vast knowledge that Ajay has accumulated over the years and an hour-long session is not enough to dig into everything he could share, but has helped us understand how he views organisational culture and employee engagement in the current times.

Drawing a mythological analogy from the Mahabharata, Ajay tries to explain how culture shapes not only the mindsets of the individuals in an organisation, but also leads to its success and glory. Along with this unique viewpoint, Ajay also discussed the challenges CXOs faced during the recent transition and how the HR fraternity needs to evolve with the changing times and build mechanisms to suit a virtual world.

This episode is a must-watch for anyone interested in the recent cultural changes, especially those in HR or leadership roles.

Transcript

Senthil [00:00:14] Thanks a lot, Ajay for joining today. Before we start with the actual episode, I just wanted to set some context here. At CultureMonkey, we have curated HRs from leading organisations to address some of the problems, now that the world has gone digital, so what happens to the culture? We are calling it e-culture and we wanted to talk about some of the questions that will address problems around culture after remote work.

Senthil [00:00:53] So that's one of the main themes, Culture Club is going to focus today. Ajay, thanks a lot for joining this afternoon and to give you a small introduction to Culture Monkey, what we do is, when people want to listen to their employees anonymously, when you have problems like, you have multiple locations, different teams, different sentiments, diverse demographics. So we have one single platform that will help you capture all your employee feedback and act on it. So without any further delay, I'll pass it on to Ketan. Let's begin our Culture Club episode today.

Ajay [00:01:32] Thank you, Senthil. It's a pleasure to really join and be a part of this team. I'm really honoured. Thank you so much.

Ketan [00:01:41] Thank you, Senthil. Thank you, Ajay. I know honour is mine, especially because I know when I reach out to Ajay, like always, he never says no, at least to me. So thank you for joining in. One of the reasons I'm here Ajay is because when I experienced Culture Monkey as a product sometime back, I found a lot of value in what they were trying to do and then I realised it's a bunch of engineers who have started solving problems which are related to what an HR folk would essentially face.

Ketan [00:02:14] I think I was amazed and then I said, can I help you guys take this cause to a larger set of people and a very important thing that we realised was that for us to listen from the industry veterans and people who lead from the front to understand what more can a product like this solve? So that's what brings me here and for our audience, we have Ajay Pandey with us. Ajay heads HR for L&T financial services and there is a huge division that they have, which is the rural finance business, offers inter financial services. He heads HR business, human resources for that.

Ketan [00:02:54] He has 30 years of experience, the initial part of his career was with the Indian Air Force and then he came to corporate. In fact, I Senthil was asking, what's so special about Ajay? you keep on talking about him. I said, today we will understand what's so special about him. He brings a lot of experience, he has worked with ICICI Bank for a long time, then we met at IDFC and then he's with L&T Finance, and before we get into something specific, I want to share a story. This is important because it touched me when it happened to me. Now, I was reasonably new there and there was a protocol that when somebody above a particular level had to be hired from business, somebody from HR had to be there.

Ketan [00:03:43] I was relatively new, I requested Ajay. Ajay was heading talent acquisition for the entire bank. As I said, Ajay being Ajay, for me, he said yes. We were sitting in this interview, we were interviewing somebody for one lead kind of a role, for a reasonably senior position. This guy on the other side started sharing his story, this guy also worked with ICICI Bank. There was a year when the global meltdown happened. But I know, Ajay along with the other leaders there, took calls to relocate and move people into other units, but not let anybody go.

Ketan [00:04:20] Now, this guy shared a story that in 2008-09, I was in a unit in this particular bank and I just mailed to my HR business partner. Then, the business head called Ajay Pandey that my mother needed help. Within 48 hours, without anything, I was transferred to a business unit that I wanted and my job continued. Now, this was an eight-year-old story that he remembered, and he had no idea, he had never met Ajay, he had no idea that this is the same Ajay Pandey he is speaking to, that was a real test of HR.

Ketan [00:05:03] We talk about culture, we talk about leading from the front, but I think that was the test of saying that, you've done so much for somebody that somebody is carrying that in his head. That guy was like, 'Wow, you're Ajay sir. Thank you so much". So I think who better than him who can talk about matters of cultures, the things that matter to people, a leader that I look upon to. I think he's a leader with a lot of courage, that's something that I personally learn from him. Now, if he has a point of view, it doesn't matter who you are. He will put across the point of view, he will have a discussion on that and then after that, he will come back and say, this is what we decided. But a lot to learn from him.

Ketan [00:05:45] I think he's seen a lot in life. I used to talk about some 20-30 Surya Namaskars and he would come and say, "Hey, I did 108 today" and he runs eleven kilometers in some minutes, he would say, I would be like, does he really do all that. There are a lot of stories that he has shared with me. But yeah, that's Ajay Pandey for you guys. Ajay, welcome again to Culture Club's e-club episodes powered by Culture Monkey, and thank you for joining in again If you could help us understand more about your organization if that helps and then we can come to question and hear more from you.

Ajay [00:06:27] Yes, sure, thank you very much Ketan, you have been very kind, more than kind actually, I noted one point that, next time when I go for an interview, I'll give you as a reference. In the context of what Ketan has said, it doesn't take too much to be, it's just about being natural and normal. I think it takes a lot of hard work when you have to be different than what naturally you should be. For example, let's say you are at home dealing with the children or dealing with the family, you behave in a certain manner when you are in the office when it comes to your team members, why do you want to behave differently?

Ajay [00:07:15] Then that's not a natural behavior, because the only thing that differentiates it, you don't own the chaps in office who work for you because of whom, you get your bread and butter and at home, you own. There is a lot of accountability and ownership of a family. So if you are just similar, simple, and natural, I think these things, these standards of behaviors come out. I think it's far easier to be normal and not be double-sided. Thank you so much, Ketan.

Ketan [00:07:50] I think hearing from you about what you manage, what you oversee, a bit about the organization if that's comfortable for you.

Ajay [00:07:57] Sure, L&T finance has a story since 2016 when it completely turned around, I see it as a bigger story because to me, one of the main heroes or one of the leaders who actually was a critical part of that story is an HR person. He was an HR guy, we worked together in ICICI for 10 years. So, he came and shifted as chief executive for rural, and he is the guy who really, along with the MD, turned around the whole organization. Today, we see our ROI is significantly growing up, our ROI used to be less than 9%.

Ajay [00:08:44] Our ROI moved from less than nine percent to 18 percent, which is a significant jump. Profits which we were doing annually, today we do more than that in less than a quarter. So, that's the change that has happened. Our manpower base has significantly changed into around 5000-6000 in 2016. Today, we are close to 25000 people. So, it's moved significantly and all of that has been simply because of keeping basic aspects in place, saying let's work further, let's focus on returns to the stakeholders who have invested in us, who have trusted us, and ensure that they also get the same return as a consequence, employees also get a significant upside in their take home.

Ajay [00:09:37] My role recently moved from rural. I started this new business at SME. So I was given the charge of starting up this SME business, plus I was given charge of HR operations, talent acquisition, and employee engagement. So I've moved from rural to these four functions. We need to strengthen these four areas, we need more engagement with the employees, we need the whole talent acquisition engine to be now aligned, to support the system for the next phase of growth. Practice point of view, it has to be strengthened a lot. Ask me, it was the new business, so it was given to me to manage the growth, though we have held back SME launch at this point in time, we'll shortly do it in some time, but this is the change that is currently there.

Ketan [00:10:30] Thank you, Ajay. That definitely gives us a perspective and congratulations again on the new role and the new challenge, I'm sure it's going to be as exciting as it is.

Ajay [00:10:42] It is, in fact, more than exciting, it's really challenging because there are so many things that need to be done.

Ketan [00:10:53] Ajay, we have a set of five questions for you and hearing your views both as an HR leader and if in the context of the organization, whatever is comfortable for you, which can help typically the people that who see these videos are HR professionals who're looking at, learning from others and people who have been there and seen that, and especially during these times, I think a lot of insights and practices are important. So completely up to you in terms of how you want to respond.

Ketan [00:11:31] I will come to the first question. Now, what challenges do you think the CXOs are dealing with post-COVID, especially when it comes to matters of culture and engagement and the world going remote? So, what are those challenges that you have seen or you anticipate may come further?

Ajay [00:11:52] The whole discussion is around culture. So, I would prefer to start with culture as a point. Let's first see what culture is and how culture actually defines the organization. I'm not trying to propagate a certain religion, but the most favorite example of mine is from the Mahabharata where there were many learnings and many things that we've picked up from that. But when we talk about this thing called core culture, one question that was always in my mind since when I was small is what is it that made the Pandavas victorious despite the fact that they were very very minuscule in terms of size and capability and strength compared to the Kauravas.

Ajay [00:12:53] What is it? It's culture. Very clear. Both the organizations had different cultures and if we have to talk about a few aspects of that, The Pandavas had clearly a shared goal, there was a complete alignment to the cause of the organization. People believed in it, people were combining the purpose of the organization and each person had a position there, each person had a responsibility. So there was so much ownership, there was so much accountability, there was so much faith that the organization had and the people had in the organization mission.

Ajay [00:13:32] There was so much faith and followership towards the leader. Was it the Kauravas? People preferred to be blind and not wanting to see things despite them happening. For example, Gandhari, she was not blind, but it's symbolic that she preferred to put a blindfold on herself because she didn't want to interfere and get into anything. People preferred to be ignorant despite being the strongest warriors. There was a warrior capable of turning around the war, but he preferred to follow the chair, follow the order of the chair rather than looking at what is right and what is wrong. He was ignorant, he wanted to be a very good follower instead of looking at things in the right context.

Ajay [00:14:21] The entire team was built around sheer. It was not out of willingness, the team was built around fear, so people despite the fact that they didn't believe in the cause for which the Kauravas were standing, they were there because they had the fear that otherwise I'll be attacked and I'll be annexed. So, these two aspects are so different and such a small army went and defeated such a big army just because of these aspects. I brought this context from the point of view that we often say that, will COVID really impact our culture.

Ajay [00:14:58] The hypothesis I am trying to put forward is that COVID will not really impact culture, culture is too strong. It may impact the ways of doing things probably. So if we really go forward and see what culture is, culture is about a tool that leadership would put in place to achieve a certain objective or a task. If we explain culture in a way like how is it so deep-rooted, let me take the example of the tip of the iceberg.

Ajay [00:15:35] The tip of the iceberg, basically, you see 10 percent of the iceberg is visible above the water level and 90 percent of it, is below that and that by the virtue of the role of Science. Now, the quality and the quantity of what is underwater, what is hidden, what is not visible, actually defines the size and the quality and the characteristics of what is visible to us. We can align that to our human behavior and the behavior of people are impacted by the value systems, the belief systems that are not visible, that are built over a period of time, that are built through our social engagements, through our family engagements, through our religious engagements, through organization engagements, through teachers, mentors, call whatever it may be.

Ajay [00:16:33] So under the water, the value system, the belief system that is there helps us build a certain attitude. We gently say that this guy has a negative attitude, but we're not able to see what attitude is, that translates into a behavior, and that behavior is above the water. Summation of all this is what I call, from an organizational context, a culture, the way of doing things, the way of behavior. So, it is so deeply entrenched that it is not really impacted unless and until, there is excessive utilization of force and creation of pain to change a culture, to change the way of doing things. So, this behavior which is visible to me after the consequence of that behavior, whether it's a desirable consequence or an undesirable consequence, we decide to go back and then question the stuff that is below the water, saying that, is my belief right, is my approach right, am I doing the right action.

Ajay [00:17:43] Attitude and behavior are definitely very different, though we use that as similar words. But the attitude I often say is the readiness to react to a certain stimulus and behavior is the actual reaction to a certain stimulus. So culture is that for me, for us to redefine the whole thing. It actually shakes the world view of an individual. It shakes the world view of the organization.

Ajay [00:18:16] Let me further elaborate on this. Let us say, by virtue of our beliefs, our values etcetera that we have built by virtue of engagement with our dear friend or a family member, we see our father as a very, very respected senior in the family. He is my caretaker, he is my guide, he is my mentor, he is everything, and therefore, my life revolves around the confidence that this kind of social support is available for me, forever. Suddenly, the father passes away, it goes and shakes my strongly held belief that there's a strong support system existing for me. It completely shakes people.

Ajay [00:19:04] What happens when death occurs? It shakes us up. People change, behaviors change. So there are very, very strong events, there are painful events, there's a lot of force that is required to actually change the final outcome which is the behavior which comes as a consequence of the change in my underwater systems. So, culture cannot be really impacted so much, it can temporarily make you go and reconsider your values, belief system. It will temporarily make you go and realign yourself, but overall, I think it will not change.

Ajay [00:19:41] The second point I want to make about culture is, it's a very messy thing. It's very complex, it's not so simple.

Ketan [00:19:49] That's why we had to get you here.

Ajay [00:20:01] Let's take the example of military services and I have been from the armed forces, so I categorize it quite well. Military services consider the sacrifice of self for the nation, as a supreme sacrifice. You're there to give yourself up for the nation. So anything beyond that, when you are ready to give yourself up, you are actually being cruel to yourself in a certain manner that, they do not hesitate in the killing, very disciplined people, hard minds, physically very hard, they believe in discipline, valor, courage, these are the aspects that define a military job. They look at the paradox.

Ajay [00:20:49] They're the most caring individuals, when it comes to the well-being of the family, the well-being of fellow soldiers, the well-being of subordinates, they're supposed to be the most caring individuals. Now, how does this happen? How do you create a culture like this? How can the military services be caring as well as collaborative? They're not sensitive at all when it comes to doing the job, they are very tough people. So that's why I said, it's very messy. The most misplaced definition of culture is, I have a lot of hesitancy in taking this.

Ajay [00:21:35] How to define culture, how to demonstrate culture, how to make people align with those cultures and values? It's not such an easy aspect. Culture is often, as you said so, there are some basic tenets, they have to be there to propagate culture, they're required that it really be required if you have a cognitive-emotional alignment of people. People's hearts and minds have to be aligned to that aspect of the organization, which would therefore impact the action of that individual. There have to be certain basic tenets in the culture that, you know, like, for example, there has to be a set of shared and shared belief systems.

Ajay [00:22:31] The organization has to demonstrate a kind of attitude. I would say, like when I was in ICICI bank, there was an attitude we would carry when we would meet our customers when we would meet our employees when we would meet our colleagues. We had coined a word saying, 'Saath Aapkaa' meaning, for the customers as well as people. Mr. Ram Kumar who has been my mentor and today whatever good, I would be talking, it's because of the learning that had from him, mistakes are mine.

Ajay [00:23:07] Mr. Ram Kumar used to say, once an ICICI, always an ICICI. People who have left the system and gone have called him back for certain support and the ICICI system has validated them. So that attitude, we used to carry in our heads. There has to be an identity that people carry. There's a need for identity. Who am I? Who are we as a system in our Organization? What do we stand for? Some say, no, we make money, some say we want to give ROI to our customers, some say no, I will serve my customers and nothing is wrong in any of them. It's our decision, it's a conscious call.

Ajay [00:23:53] Some say I will serve my customers and sales will be a consequence of that. So there are different ways. Now, somebody says, I'll just go and service my customers and says there will be a consequence, may seem contrary to somebody who says, no I stand for profitability or I stand for this or that, may not. There has to be a set of laws, a set of norms that bind people, which makes people behave in a certain way. The biggest of all is how do you propagate these things in the organization. So, a seat of rituals that you carry, how do you reward people around those cultural and value systems, how do you engage people, how to reward them, how to propagate them.

Ajay [00:24:35] What are the rituals that you carry in terms of showcasing such people in the organizations, where people get aligned to it and the standards that are required to put a culture in place and culture is not always an outcome of a certain activity, it keeps on moving as an organization grows because there are certain culture keepers who are old people in the organization? There are certain cultural challengers who come from outside, join the system, fight their way inside, get assimilated, then they kind of negotiate their way of working and find a newer way of working which keeps redefining ourselves.

Ajay [00:25:17] So it is not so weak, therefore that COVID 19 may come and disrupt our culture. Coming to the challenges that we may be facing. In terms of challenges, yes the P&L is impacted, the shift in the focus from growth to sustaining, taking control of the situation, rebuilding yourself, and then again, going forward, looking forward to rebuilding yourself to the next phase. Yes, these challenges happen. There are challenges with regard to employment.

Ajay [00:26:32] It gets more from less, demands more from people, demands higher productivity. Somewhere challenges the work-life balance of people, lack of direct supervision. Therefore, in my office, I know that people are sitting and doing certain transactions, I have control over them or I don't have control over them, I trust them, it's not easy to trust people that they will sit somewhere else and give me the same output. So these are challenges. How do I ring-fence my key talent and ensure that these people are there with me and they do not move out, I do not have the flexibility of compensating them at this point in time? What do I do?

Ajay [00:27:19] Therefore, do I build a strong succession plan to ensure that the people risk is managed, or do I have to look at it differently from how do I retain my key talent and there are a lot of employee-related aspects which are also going to challenge the CXOs, which is like dealing with insecurity of the employees which is personal and professional both? In the case of personal insecurity. I don't know somebody in the family or somebody in my neighborhood catches these vibes and there is the insecurity of life while I am saying this, I have been going to the office since May, but it's indeed there, unable to correct in the workspace.  

Ajay [00:28:08] Now, when you come to the office, there's a lot of social capital that gets created, when you engage with people, talk to people, understand people, that entire social capital is lost. I feel insecure at what is happening behind my back, I don't know. How am I getting assessed, I don't know. How am I getting evaluated, I don't know, what I hear, I hear on the phone or the email. Now, that's not the best medium to really help us make a judgment about ourselves. We often informally seek a time where we go and speak to colleagues, speak to seniors, whereby we talk to them.

Ajay [00:28:48] We don't just talk to them, we also assess their body language. These things are completely missing. So that becomes a challenge. The other challenge that our CXO has is the workplace, the complete change of norms. Now, if he wants to call people, the same workplace can only accommodate 33 percent of the people, it used to otherwise accommodate. The dilemma is, I either go for more, more real estate, or I start trusting my people. The choice one has to forcibly make. So, therefore, they have to really look at, rewriting theories of people, rewriting the activities of people, extensive use of technology, creating guidelines on how to work, etcetera.

Ajay [00:29:42] So how do I ensure that the same level of performance continues, doesn't impact my productivity, and work from home happens? There when we started working, indeed some very interesting things that came out, it set me thinking obviously never done these things before or was thinking and understanding that dilemma was there.

Ajay [00:30:09] Why don't we trust our people, that was the first reaction and then I thought, well if I were running my business if I have my driver who's working with me for the last seven, eight years if he takes my car and goes somewhere for some work and I'm not with him, I still call him and ask him, where are you? What time are you reaching back? simple car, the driver has gone and I know that if he misses the car, his life is at risk, but I still ask. So, my CXO is really right in asking, how do I trust that people will be at work? so we clearly started bifurcating roles. So one school of thought was that yes, all functions that are directly linked to revenue, whether it is sales, collections can be seen as functions. Let's take credit, for example, which will be anyways evaluated by the outcome.

Ajay [00:31:14] The functions like accounts and finance, legal, etcetera, we said, how do we know what they're doing and what they're supposed to do? So then we got this idea of ensuring that everybody's key arrays are properly in place. It's a tough exercise to get everybody's key arrays in place, align it to a single philosophy that key arrays should actually address the financial aspects, process aspects, the people aspect, the customer aspect, etcetera. We had actually done that exercise and it really came in handy today. So we said, we have got the key arrays in place, why don't we try and see if we can list down activities.

Ajay [00:32:08] We said okay, we may not want to cover the entire leadership in this. Let's list down certain activities that they do. For example, a person is supposed to do sales and he's a frontline sales guy, though he's not part of that activity, I'm just giving an example. He's supposed to prepare his sales plan, he is supposed to go to the field as per the plan, meet the customer, explain the product, understand the KYC details, get the documents, so there is a host of activities. As for HR operations, these are the 25 activities a person does. So we said okay, let's list it down.

Ajay [00:32:53] The next thought that came to my mind was, people get busy into various types. One is a routine care act, one is a project, you have a special project to run, you are trying to work on it, trying to align your stakeholders towards it, it's not a part of normal care, it's a different project. The third is reviews and meetings and discussions that you keep having, whether it is a review of your team or you're part of a review or you are getting reviewed and the fourth is ad-hoc work. This made it very easy for us to be iterative now.

Ajay [00:33:45] So we built a system, the system is currently a prototype that will be ready tomorrow actually where we said, each individual carries a list of activities and we have a list of activities about good, we have 606 roles in our organization today and for good about close to 400 roles, we have listed down the activities. Now, once we have listed down the activities, we build a system where, it goes into an order, first the employee will pick the task time. So he says, task time is my routine caring, review meeting, project review, or ad-hoc task.

Ajay [00:34:32] Let's say, for example, he clicks the key array, then all the key arrays drop. He clicks that key array and the list of activities drop, he clips that activity, start time, and time is noted. I know it may sound primitive, it may sound cumbersome, but we wanted to make it like this because it's also important to de-escalate to this extent, because if I have to make people write down free writing what they do, there is little that, I will get out of it, somebody will just write okay, somebody press the spacebar, somebody will say dot dot dot and move on and the system will still accept that.

Ajay [00:35:10] This will enable people and there'll be a lot of consistency in what people are writing, so start time, end time, etc. will be written. Over the end of the day, it gives a summary to that individual and the supervisor, what is it that my team has done? if I want to take a high-level output, I will say, my team has been busy 25 percent of the time in doing projects, 45 percent of the time doing carry activity, but a lot of times, you had to be taken on ad hoc areas, what has this meeting done or some other way. So it'll bring that ability for me to assess the way my team has been engaged.

Ajay [00:35:49] If I want to further analyze it, I can pick up the name of the person and see what exactly he's been doing and how he's been doing and the supervisor certifies this timesheet, and then that gets moved. This system also ties into our Google Calendar. So it is also able to assess if the person is saying, I was in the meeting, whether the calendar also had the meeting at that time or not. Some call it checking, somebody may call it policing, but to start with, we want to be very, very sure as to how things are progressing. So this tool has been developed. The prototype is ready, making us quite happy about the way we progressed. I think next month onwards, we will be able to implement it. I'm sure employees will like it.

Ajay [00:36:49] So this is how we have progressed in addressing this issue with regards to the challenges that CXOs would face and how do we put the model in front of them, which would actually address their challenges.

Ketan [00:37:07] Thank you so much, Ajay, for lots of insights, perspectives that you brought. I think the next session with Ajay should definitely be a two-hour, detailed one. I think Ajay, we've done a lot of sessions, but the context that you have built, the stories that you've built, I think, it's giving us very important examples and I know, I worked with a lot of fresh starting organizations, but a lot of things that you said made me think differently. So thank you.

Ketan [00:37:54] What would this mean to the HR fraternity, what is that one thing you want the HR fraternity to be prepared for? Because a lot has changed, and I can sense that you're telling that, we have to adopt a lot of things, you spoke about technology, new systems, trust, relationship building, stakeholder management, but to the HR fraternity, what is one thing that you want to tell them, that which will possibility redefine HR as we go ahead post COVID?

Ajay [00:38:28] Well, yes, the role of HR has significantly moved and got redefined. So, I would say the way we're doing things has now changed. There is significant use of technology, in other times there was a possibility to engage employees face-to-face. Now the engagement of employees Face-To-Face may not happen because you may not always really have people available on videos also, people don't prefer that.

Ajay [00:39:04] Again, a distant engagement is a distant engagement. Engaging a person over video who is already known to you is far different from engaging an outsider or an unknown person on the video. The alignment of employees, now today, as I said, there are few tenets of culture, there are certain objects that align. For example, in my nation, there's a national anthem, there's a national flag. That acts as an object which aligns and builds that Indianness in me, that culturally binds me to the overall nation. Today, those props are missing.

Ajay [00:39:48] The challenge for the HR fraternity, therefore, is how do we create those props in the virtual world to get that cognitive, emotional alignment of people. In the mind, they start thinking in an aligned manner, therefore, they start believing from the heart, and therefore their actions are in line with what we expect. Simple logic. The performance evaluation process changes.

Ajay [00:40:19] A lot of time and it may not be so much for the junior levels, but for the senior levels, a lot of time we would say, well, well, well, he has some function key arrays and he has some behavioral key arrays and there's some functional expectation and there is some behavioral expectation, then where will I just this behavioral expectation from? What do we do about it? I don't see him engaging in meetings, I don't see him engage in offices, I don't see him talking in forums.

Ajay [00:40:49] But I know that we need to reconsider. One of the key aspects of HR was ground sensing - traveling, meeting people, understanding the pulse of the Organization, understanding what is happening on the ground, is the way of doing business the same as what it had been articulated, are there some hidden issues, is that a leadership issue. This all has gone off. How do I, therefore, create proxies, to give me that same grounds?

Ajay [00:41:28] For example, can productivity levels of employees become a proxy to that, can adherence to meeting schedules be a proxy to that, can we build some kind of scorecard around these behavior of people on the alternate talents which should give me an outcome saying, do I need to raise a red flag for the Organization or do I see things happening normally? These are the areas the HR fraternity has to now rethink. Enabling work from home using technology is easier. These are the difficult aspects that will really challenge our function moving forward.

Ajay [00:42:25] Another interesting thing is that, when we talk face to face, our whole body talks. My hands talk, my eyes talk, my face talks, I also use verbal communication. In remote channels. It's just the voice and communication is a key agenda of the HR team. How do we ensure that the same communication is clearly, clearly, clearly, without any doubt understood by the last leg any doubt, that is going to be a challenge. So, to be able to articulate the organisation agenda in a very short, crisp, clear manner and to be able to get a confirmation of the understanding of people, that's another challenge.

Ajay [00:43:25] This is the time which will give rise to a lot of rumours. I can give you a very simple example, missing comma, and therefore the meaning of the sentence changes. If I use a comma, after or before the word, the meaning changes. So how do I ensure that I'm so clear and my frontline people in any organisation are not so articulate? We'll have to figure out how I now engage and communicate with my employees so that they're able to work with a free mind.

Ajay [00:44:27] Training is one area that I missed talking about. Upskilling our managers, upskilling our supervisors on managing the workforce through e-channels and remote channels are going to be another key aspect. It may involve behavioural training modes, like when you are face to face with a person, you can ridicule, review, but you have a choice after that engagement putting the hand on the shoulder of the person and saying, let's go for coffee and you do a recovery process, you don't have that choice in this channel. We're working on that module as well . How do I train my supervisor on how to handle remote teams? So these are a few challenges that we as an HR function will have to face.

Ketan [00:45:27] Very important points, Ajay. Thank you and I think this actually comes from a lot of experience and perspective. Thank you for pointing those out. I'm fairly certain that I have gained a lot of insights.

Ketan [00:45:52] There are a few questions that I think have addressed, but I'll bring back again towards the end, Ajay. One more question, what new things would you tell individual people who are working in organisations to open to and embrace in this new world?

Ajay [00:46:29] One basic first principle is, don't worry. This is a challenge, it will go. It has actually given us a way of, it has created new norms of working, that's all. I mean, there was a fashion of bell-bottom at a point of time, then the fashion changed, get used to it? In my childhood, if somebody used to wear a bell bottom, I would say, wow, amazing pants. Today, if somebody wears that, I laugh. So a day will come when we will laugh at the fact that I have to report to the office at 9:00 every day. So, I would say, get used to it. Let's not worry and let's get used to the e-way of doing things, that is going to be the new way of doing things. Let's accept it and move on.

Ajay [00:47:28] These are certain facts for which you don't have a solution. For example, death does not have a solution, accept it, and move on right? If you are attacked by a disease, there is a possible solution. Therefore, we go to various hospitals, doctors, and we try and get rectified. Today, there is a situation that has come, which is not in my control, completely uncertain. Let's accept it and move on. So don't get deterred by this situation, that's point number one. Point number two is getting used to the e-way of working, at least for the managers and the leaders, I say over communicate, from the point of view of the frequency of communication. Keep in touch with people.

Ajay [00:48:14] They are the ones who are doing their jobs. We are the ones who reap the benefit of the hard work that the front line guy does and I'm not ashamed of saying it, this is the real truth and certain aspects of the basic discipline that assumes that when you're sitting at home, you're not at home, you're in the office, you're working, that changes the whole paradigm.

Ajay [00:48:43] The moment I believe that I am at home, so we've kind of mandated to our team members that, Be well dressed, have a closed environment, don't get disturbed, when you're on a video call, there are certain guidelines that we have given people to follow and a lot of self-discipline in terms of adherence to thinking which otherwise, my boss would come and remind me. Some self-discipline in terms of following the diary, following the culture of doing things in my own time is very, very basic.

Ajay [00:49:17] Be simple and natural, that answers the whole issue. We try to overreact and make mistakes. At the time, my mentor used to say that, whatever way the pitch behaves, if you put your head down and put a straight bat, you will not lose your hope. But the moment we start manufacturing strokes unnaturally, you're sure to lose. So in this situation, put your head down, offer a straight bat, nothing will go wrong.

Ketan [00:50:06] You talk a lot about e-way becoming a reality, so I am gonna bring two questions together. One, you spoke a lot about the challenges, the CXOs or the organization have faced. Now, has this change also brought up a much-needed transition in the thinking of CXOs that we have seen over time, there are things that we as HR folks try to ensure that people need to understand and need to understand it, do you think COVID has brought the silver lining somewhere?

Ketan [00:50:43] Second, what do you see overall? Is e-culture the reality that is going to be there for some time? So I'm bringing these two together. I know you've touched upon that, but I think I would definitely want to hear from you combined or individually and on these two points.

Ajay [00:51:04] e-culture is there to stay, definitely because of the benefits that this IT enabling and the e-culture had made available to us was not really utilized to the maximum till yesterday. It's only today that we started maximizing the capabilities that it provides. Once we have used it and that forms a part of the way of doing things, I think it will stay for long because it gives a lot of flexibility, a lot of cost-saving happens.

Ajay [00:51:44] Organisations save a lot on real estate costs, employees save a lot of communication cost, the overall pollution levels in the city goes down because there are fewer cars on the road. Because of lesser pollution, disease levels are lesser on a lighter note. There are a lot of other consequences that we will start seeing because of this. Flexibility will be there, you'll be able to be there with your near and dear ones, even during office hours without bothering your office timings at the hour of need. So there are a host of benefits that come across. Currently, we don't see it because I said the change is a painful process.  We're being pushed to make this change. It is giving us pain because of the insecurity that we are going through.

Ajay [00:52:30] Let me draw an example of this. In 1986, the whole revolution of computerisation started happening in the government sector where the unions were up a notch and I'm using this example because the same revolution is happening now, IT enabling. We will have job losses. So when the railways tried to introduce computerised railway ticketing counters, the railway unions created a lot of trouble. We will lose jobs, we will do this, we will have this, you know what the real consequences are. In Bombay like city, there used to be just two ticket counters for reservation of long journey trains before computerisation. After the computerisations, every railway station has a ticketing counter. So, jobs actually got created.

Ajay [00:54:00] So, once we see the benefits of this, lesser use of the real estate, more flexibility for people to work. I know currently the work timings make it a little regimented, so that organisation will also want to see how they build trust over employees. But slowly, slowly they lose any doubt, these are the 10 things that have to be done, you do it in the night, you do it in the day, it doesn't really bother me. You give the delivery. So we will start measuring the actual outcome instead of the process of the way we're doing things. In the minds of CXOs, this is coming as an advantage.

Ketan [00:54:50] Thank you, Ajay. I think we will have a chat with Senthil, more and more conversations of yours that we would like to give to others. As always, it was a delight.

Ketan [00:55:06] So we have five Rapidfire questions for you, Ajay. And to the audience, I'm going to warn them and to tell this out loudly. So if you really want somebody to hang around and have fun with, I think Ajay is your person. He will make you laugh to the extent you would never imagine, amazingly funny. I remember the first week of my joining, I got introduced and Ajay called me and said to me, we're going out and there is a good bar nearby, let's go. I said I don't drink. He said, hey wrong guy.

Ketan [00:55:50] Those were the ice-breaking moments. But I do remember that. He's an amazingly fun person to hang, his sense of humor is absolutely, absolutely stunning. I'm sure, if you're traveling to Mumbai, I think we definitely should hang around. He will make you laugh like anything. So like these five, I'm sure they are going to be super interesting, Ajay. Let me see if this time if I'm able to get you in a different direction. So between life and the forces and HR, in the next life, which one would you prefer?

Ajay [00:56:28] Life in the forces.

Ketan [00:56:30] The second one, cooking, cleaning, and mopping during COVID, which was easier for you?

Ajay [00:57:00] Cooking was actually easier.

Ketan [00:57:01] What is your next personal goal?

Ajay [00:57:23] When I retire, I would leave a legacy. Some kind of legacy which sustains even after I have left the organization, it's not there just because I'm there. It continues, because it holds value and people remember me after a few years saying, you know, two years back, four years back, this guy leads, but this is what he has done. If I can ever do that, I think I'll be happy.

Ketan [00:57:48] I'm sure you've already done that quite instant. The first thing that I spoke about that zonal guy that wanted to hire was exactly the legacy you have created, thank you. One book that had maximum impact on you?

Ajay [00:58:03] Leveraging Human Capital by Mr. Ram Kumar. This is actually a practitioner's guide, and I've worked with Ram for 10 years and he's been my guy. The way, he's very simply put it, It's amazing. So this book has really opened my eyes to the reality of HR.

Ketan [00:59:12] One thing, you personally thank COVID for?

Ajay [00:59:25] I think it has made us rethink ourselves. What is it that I really need in life? You know, we would be busy planning that, I have to go there, I have to party there, we have to go to this mall. I mean, we really saw that the moment lockdown happened, we could identify clearly, what are those basic needs that I really need to fulfill to sustain, and to be able to deliver what is required to be delivered. Everything else is a bunch of lies.

Ketan [01:00:16] Thank you, Ajay. To our audience, that's Ajay Pandey for you and it was amazing. We'll keep coming back to you.

Senthil [01:00:30] Thanks a lot, Ajay sir. I mean, this was not just another culture club session, this is more of extraordinary storytelling with superb facts and real-life events that you shared. I wanted to talk about the way I understood culture today. You know, maybe I'll take like two minutes to touch that.

Senthil [01:01:07] First, the way you started, where you said, being naturally normal, is actually less effort. If you are manufacturing your own strategy, starting there for culture, you've talked about the iceberg and the example from Mahabharata. I read up a bit. So last week I was going through Lord Krishna's reply to Arjuna, asking how I control my mind. So it's actually the same thing, today after you saying, I was able to relate to culture and how the human mind works.

Senthil [01:01:53] So the tip of the iceberg is the conscious part and below it's the unconscious and the subconscious is what they call the samskara. The samskara is the impression, attitude, and all that you have in your unconscious place and that drives your action, the moment it becomes an action, that's your karma. This is stage one and that's stage three. In between these two, there is raga and raga which is your likes and dislikes and Krishna says that, in this second stage, you can make that decision and you tell that I will wake up at five a.m. and the beauty of it is your actions, it's a cycle, your actions for a month or two months becomes your samskara. So like you said, the culture for an organization is driving the actions and the moment you're controlling the actions, actually you're modifying the culture as well over time and therefore the desired action is taken.  

Senthil [01:03:11] Thanks a lot for this micro enlightenment and it was phenomenal today that they know all the points that you've brought up have added like next-level value to the culture club and culture monkey as well. I really desire to have part two of this session. So thanks a lot for your time as well Ketan.

Ajay [01:03:50] Thank you, Senthil. Thank you, Ketan. You've been very kind. I hope this helps. It has been very learning and while I was talking, I was actually synthesizing in my mind, learning myself that, have I done these things right? It's an opportunity for me to rethink and re-evaluate my view of things. Thank you so much.

Ketan [01:04:16] Thank you so much, Have a great day.

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