S01 E10: Inclusion and Diversity in Eculture

Kailash Ganesh
23 min read

The biggest change that the pandemic has brought in a lot of organizations is the hesitant but compulsory adoption of technology, and in some cases, using it in unplanned, creative ways. Organizations with no prior experience in remote working now have teams all over the country coordinating and collaborating over video calls or Slack messages.

This big shift in the area of work culture in organizations has been witnessed by experts like Bhavna Batra, a crusader of culture and transformation in the field of business and development.

Carrying more than 15 years of experience, Bhavna is the Executive Director of Management Consulting at PWC. She has also worked with brands like Genpact, SHL, and Project Leader in the past. An organization transformation and leadership development expert, Bhavna’s leadership philosophy is anchored in Charles Darwin’s theory - “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.”

In this episode of CultureClub, Bhavna engages in an in-depth conversation with Ketan (Head of People Function, Rentomojo) and Senthil (Founder and CEO, CultureMonkey) about eCulture and the transformations it has brought in its wake, especially that of employee engagement using technology and how this has led organizations to focus more on inclusion and diversity.

Dive into the details of their conversation by listening to this episode of the videocast here.


Senthil [00:00:27] A quick introduction about Culture Monkey before we start for our audience, Culture Monkey is an employee engagement platform where if you have decided that a lot of companies care about their people and do a lot of things for their employees, yet it's stopped down right?

If you want to do it bottom-up, you want  to listen to your employees, source your engagement initiatives from your employees, it has to be bottom-up and once you have decided to do that and decided to listen to your employees continuously, you will face problems where you have multiple locations, multiple teams, diverse demographics, very different sentiments and then there's a lot of life-cycle with employees unboarded and then adapting and then being productive, and there's a lot of challenges when you want to really find out why employees are leaving your organization.

Senthil [00:01:20] When you want to do all of these things with data in front of you, you still want to derive meaning out of the data. So once you have meaningful data, you would still be not doing anything in the company unless you've acted on it. So there's this one platform where you can do all of these in one place. That's what we do at Culture Monkey. So without any further delay, over to you Ketan. Ketan, let's begin the session, thanks a lot for being here.  

Ketan [00:01:49] Thank you, Senthil, Bhavna welcome again. To the audiences, let me try to do a small introduction of Bhavna. She is an executive director with management consulting for PWC or you can call her the consulting leader. She's worked with brands like Genpact and SHL. She's an organizational transformation and leadership development, expert. She mostly works with the CXOs and family business owners as a business partner, advisor, facilitators, influencer whatever you may want to call.

Ketan [00:02:29] But she helps them drive the business for the future. Her leadership philosophy is anchored on Charles Darwin's famous words, 'It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the most adaptable to change that survives' and her interests are in travel and photography apart from spending time with friends, she's a great host for parties and get-togethers and she's on a journey of continuous learning and the lens of adaptability is something that she bears in her life and in the profession.

Ketan [00:03:15] I know her from my MBA days, a dear friend and I know we have shared amazing memories, I'm not going to trouble the audiences with that, but definitely one of the things I thank MBA for would give me a friend who I can call and I can tell you guys, she's done really very well for herself because of who she is, she will continue doing well. So Bhavna, thank you again for joining in and welcome to the Culture Club powered by Culture Monkey and if you can begin with, telling a little bit more about yourself, if you want to, and about your organization.

Bhavna [00:04:10] As part of PWC and over the course of my consulting career what I've really been doing is working with organizations, whether it is multinationals, whether it is startups, whether it is Indian business houses, whether it is family-owned businesses, to really help them think about, are they future-ready? and when we talk about future-readiness, I think two dimensions become really important.

Bhavna [00:04:39] One, keeping off the disruptions and the evolutions that are possibly going to happen and you're not building that into the way you're really approaching business and two, you're people, the people that you have around you, the processes, the ways of working, are they rigid to the point of not being inclusive of any changes or are they dynamic and flexible and very often agile and responsive to changing environments, changing stimuli from different sources.

Bhavna [00:05:16] So the high that I get is really working with leaders of all types to really help them craft organizations that are as flexible as a tree that bends when it faces a strong headwind and doesn't necessarily crack and break because it has that ability to recognize when to be flexible and when to be firm. That's a little bit about what I do. I have got about 15 years of experience.

Bhavna [00:05:43] The few grey hairs that I have, I tend to treasure them a little bit more today because they seem to lend a little bit more credibility at times when I have conversations. But as a person, I come from a defense background, I love traveling and my mantra has always been that I should have traveled to at least two more countries than my age. I'm doing about five more countries than my age. So I think I'm well placed right now. So that's a little bit about me.

Ketan [00:06:12] So I will jump to the first question for you and I'm just gonna do that because you bring so much experience in this subject. So, what challenges do you think that the CXOs are dealing with in this post COVID world, especially when it comes to matters around culture and engagement and with the world going remote?

Bhavna [00:07:11] If I were to really look at it, I think what's happened is business models have been disrupted at a scale and in a way that is frankly unprecedented. I think organization models have been disrupted in a big way and as a result of which, what has happened is today organizations are thinking about a lot of basics that have to do with survival, which until yesterday they were not necessarily thinking about.

Bhavna [00:07:42] Now, as a result of that, there are three big shifts that have happened. I think one big shift that has happened is the role that the COVID crisis has really played in driving the momentum on technology or adoption. A lot of organizations conceptually got it, a lot of organizations were ahead of the curve, but more than 50 percent of organizations were still grappling with what their technology thumbprint needed to be.

Bhavna [00:08:12] In today's environment, at least over the last six months, a large amount of focus on the digital strategy, and the technology roadmap for the organizations to enable people to work from home. So that's one big change. The second big change that has happened is that when you look at a lot of your people, systems, and processes, the way we worked classically will no longer really work.

Bhavna [00:08:45] Let's take the example of the simplest process, onboarding. You would go to the office of the organization that you were joining, you would fill out a bunch of forms, you would get your identity card, you would get your laptop, you would get all of the assets that are given to you as an employee, but in a situation where one, you have complete lockdowns, you can't travel. How do you make that happen?

Bhavna [00:09:08] So the second big thing is that classical ways of working are getting questioned in a big way and they are likely to continue to get questioned because some people say beyond the second wave of the COVID crisis, some say the first wave is not yet over, some say we're on the third wave. But whatever wave, this is clearly an issue which marks something that is going to go on for a while and this is not an isolated incident.

Bhavna [00:09:36] About 10 years ago, when we had the SARS crisis, we were disrupted to a large extent. So in this kind of context, how do we constantly look at questioning some of our processes and ways of working, I think that's happening in a big way. The third thing that I feel is happening in a big way is, we were used to profitable conversations. We were used to walking across to the pantry and having a chit chat with each other, just catching up over the course of the day, being able to blow off steam with just random, unplanned conversations, that no longer happens.

Bhavna [00:10:18] Even if I have to have a sidebar or a side chat with someone from my peer group or someone from my team, etc., now, we need to look at calendars, block time, and then have a sidebar which takes away the whole interest and the energy and the excitement from that interaction. So I think what's happened is that one, technologically, we are already in bits and pockets and how do we ready ourselves from a technology point of view, I think that's one thing that is top of the mind.

Bhavna [00:10:50] The second big thing is our classical ways of working and some of those rituals that we were used to because they would energize and frankly, they're critical for any group of people working together, those that are getting reshaped in a big way and we necessarily don't have the flexibility to adapt to them very easily.

Ketan [00:11:14] So if you can try to tie this up in terms of the act this could have on the culture of an organization, what's your point of view?  

Bhavna [00:11:31] Yeah. So, different organizations have different cultures, so I think one of the aspects that have changed in a big way is co-located working is perhaps becoming a thing of the past, sooner than we had anticipated. There are multiple conferences that I have attended and I've heard others speak where I myself have spoken about the fact that in the year 2030, you will have perhaps people who are not working for one organization, who are working for multiple organizations parallelly for whom their cubicle is going to be equal to the corner of that house that they live in, which they are choosing to use, or the coffee shop that they choose to work out of.

[00:12:22] Or you know what, if you just cast your imagination a little bit, someone may choose to be backpacking out of another country and may choose to say that I want to work for three hours a day and that's my commitment to earning a livelihood and that should be possible. I think that the reality of 2030 is the reality of now. More and more organizations that I'm talking to are talking about working from anywhere and how do you enable working from anywhere at the drop of a hat?

Bhavna [00:12:50] Recently in the news, RPG, who is a very respected traditional business house, was speaking about how working from home is going to be a reality for a large chunk of their people for a large chunk of time, now in this kind of context, I think culturally there are a couple of implications.

Bhavna [00:13:10] One, how do we measure productivity when our teams are not sitting in front of us when we can't see what they are doing, when in a very classical shop floor example, because Senthil spoke about being an engineer, so a very classical shop floor example was how many tea breaks are you taking in the day? Is each tea break five minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes, or more? so when you can't see what people are doing, our performance processes really evolved enough to say that we are outcome-driven and it doesn't matter if you achieve the outcome in a day, two days, five days or two hours.

Bhavna [00:13:51] So I think that is one implication, which is that how do we measure productivity and therefore culturally, what are we doing more of? So are we asking for people to fill out timesheets, are we asking people to just do check-ins regularly? So all of these pieces will come into sharp focus. So that's one part of it. I think the second part of it is even as people are located in different places, a team that worked out of Gurgaon of 20 people, for instance, may today be sitting out of Bhubaneshwar, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Chennai, Pondicherry, and a couple of other places.

Bhavna [00:14:35] This type of 20 people have the luxury of having known each other for a while and therefore there is a certain chemistry that flows in the team, but what happens when they don't meet each other for two years or three years? What happens when there is a twenty-third or twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth person who joins the team? Externally, who doesn't feel inducted into part of the team because that person doesn't get the jokes from two years ago when they used to sit around the table and drink coffee together.

Bhavna [00:15:06] So I think the whole dimension of inclusion is going to be an extremely important area that we need to look at, engagement practices, when I worked with Genpact, one of the favorite engagement practices that I really used to have was we would just pick up themes and post it on the mezzanine floor in our cafeteria and talk about what's happening in life, what is energizing whom, what's happening with whose family and it was an energizing and an engagement driver like nothing else before or nothing else could compensate for.

Bhavna [00:15:47] Today when that's not possible, how do you actually make it happen virtually, by building a discipline around it and this is something that I have, for example, experienced over the last few months, we do these Friday drinking sessions of the evening over Zoom, on a Wednesday, a midweek get together over a glass of wine where you're not allowed to talk work, you just have to talk about your personal life.

Bhavna [00:16:18] I think in a lot of organizations, there's this huge focus on health and wellness and therefore, you're using a lot of technology-enabled platforms, such as a zoom or teams or whatever else to do Zumba together or to do yoga together. So I think when it comes to engagement, what we're going to have to realize is, the non-negotiables have become negotiable and how can we keep things simple and yet impactful?

Bhavna [00:16:49] The way you measure the impact is not going to be the way that you've classically looked at it. Because you know what? Neither are the systems to measure impact, the same nor is the ecosystem in which in fact, gets measured the same. So that's what I truly believe about culture and engagement.

Senthil [00:17:24] So all the points that Bhavna you said are apt and you reminded me of the Charles Darwin quote about adaptability. So all of these new things are overwhelming and it's all the more true now that if you don't have the ability to be flexible and change and adapt to these new things, it's very hard for the people to survive, these new points that you mentioned.

Bhavna [00:17:58] If I could just take a minute and add this, the things that we need to do are changing, but we are fundamentally the same people. So the other linked aspect to this is going to be how do we continuously upskill ourselves to remain relevant to this changing world because that's going to be an important one. We as individuals will make it or break it and therefore, the kind of capabilities that I believe are going to become even more relevant, even more, meaningful in the times to come are going to be some more different from what has got us where we are today.

Ketan [00:18:40] In fact, it reminds me of one of the senior leaders that I worked with, in that company, we use this terminology called spin of the place. Now suddenly all this cannot happen virtually and we're going to learn a lot with this experience.

Ketan [00:19:17] What do you think is the silver lining here? What has it done to the organization, which was something that has been like we're not moving, but the one thing that COVID has brought to organizations, what's the silver lining?

Bhavna [00:19:38] Reminded of a joke that did the rounds at the beginning of the COVID crisis and that joke very simply put was, who is responsible for your digital strategy? Is it your CEO? Is it your chief digital officer or is it COVID? now, we all know the response to that one but I think there are multiple silver linings.

Bhavna [00:20:03] One, the pace of openness that we have seen and I have personally had the very good fortune of working closely with a multitude of clients, I think the sheer open-mindedness that I have seen in organizations has been terrific, very often you need a catalyst for change. In many ways, this crisis has acted as that catalyst for change and today, the openness that I see in people looking at flexibility, looking at work from home, looking at liquid workforce are linked on a tab and some of these things have gone up in a big way.

Bhavna [00:20:49] At the same time, when you look at aspects like cybersecurity, when you look at some of these other aspects that are there, which were considered to be hard reasons why people couldn't work from home, those are also getting challenged. There are so many banks, for instance, that have relooked at their security practices and policies and there are types of people, yes, there are types of roles that would require people to point to the physical place.

Bhavna [00:21:19] But there is an equal or more, set of roles where people can work from home while ensuring the production of the world that they are doing and production of the customers that they sell. So I think that is one big silver lining. The second big silver lining to me is just the focus on inclusion, very recently I was speaking to the head of H.R. of a pharma company, and she was talking to me and telling me that thanks to the COVID crisis, earlier they would not necessarily look at the medical representative job as being a job that women would opt for.

Bhavna [00:22:01] But she said in an ecosystem where you have to interact with the doctor virtually, it's almost obvious to say, why wouldn't women want to be a medical rep when they bring the same skill set in any other way. So I, I believe the other silver lining is really this whole focus on inclusion. We can bring diverse views, voices, perspectives in, like never before and I think a lot of organizations are truly using this time to connect with their purpose, to connect with the values that drive them, and really look at simpler ways to make that happen. So I don't know if that answers your question then. But for me, those are two silver linings that I definitely see.

Ketan [00:22:49] It's definitely a very interesting perspective, it's an eye-opener.

Senthil [00:23:30] I think this is the tenth episode that we're doing and definitely like you said, it's an eye-opener for us as well. The inclusion part as a silver lining was a very new point. Thanks.

Ketan [00:23:52] What does this change in paradigm would mean for the HR fraternity?

Bhavna [00:24:07] We have to relook at how we add value. If I break the HR fraternity into our centers of excellence and our classical business partnering rules, I do believe that both sets of people are going to continue to remain extremely relevant. I believe for our business partners, we need to be a lot more focused on, for example, the classical phase of walking the floors, we'll have to do it virtually for large spans of people, are some who are full-time employees, a lot of whom are temporary workforce liquid workforce and therefore they work with us for shorter periods of time. Well, how do we make that time count? How do we make that engagement count? I think it's going to be an important one.

Bhavna [00:25:03] Are each and business partners are also going to need to leverage the power of analytics from our systems and ways of working, are we able to drive value in a lot of the process related work that they are expected to drive and therefore the criticality of being able to leverage technology to do a lot of things is going to go up. On the Centers of Excellence side, I've to lead a center of excellence around talent myself. I do believe that we sometimes have the luxury of sitting in an ivory tower and being based on best-guess estimates.

Bhavna [00:25:45] Our need to be more anchored in business reality is going to be more than ever before and therefore, as CEOs, how do we ensure that we understand our businesses even more? We understand the language of our business and we work with our business partners, our HR business partner, colleagues to really understand the spirit, the sentiment, the mode on the floor as we do a lot of process design work, is going to be very important.

Bhavna [00:26:13] If I really look at the skills that are going to be really critical for HR professionals going forward, one big one that stands out in my mind is design thinking. Tech Mahindra for instance has been recently recognized for the terrific work that the HR team is driving. I was having a conversation with Harshi, he emphasized the whole focus on human-centric design and that is something that every single HR person needs to appreciate and implement. So that's one.

Bhavna [00:26:51] I think the second capability that's going to become extremely important is analytics and a technology-savvy mindset, how you can leverage technology to make your life easier so that you can do things with more impact is going to be very important and in that context, I think analytics is absolutely crucial.

Bhavna [00:27:14] The third one is influencing beyond boundaries. You won't to be able to walk into cabins or you won't to be able to walk on to floors where people are there, how do you reach out, how do you build your networks of influence, even though you are possibly going to do that over a screen very often or over WhatsApp or over emails, I think that's going to be important.

Bhavna [00:27:38] The fourth thing which I feel has always been the benefit is even greater relevance today is business appreciation. The HR person needs to understand business as well as the sales guy, as well as the supply chain guy, as well as the finance guy and the intent really is that as the custodian of the soul and the values and the people of the organization, you have to understand how the business makes money and how the business truly creates values for our customers, for our investors, for our stakeholders. So that is what I believe is going to be critical for our HR fraternity, Ketan.

Ketan [00:29:21] What are the new things that you think an individual should be open to embracing, to face the future?

Bhavna [00:29:37] I think what is extremely important is for each one of us to take personal accountability for upskilling ourselves, I truly believe gone are the days where you would work with one organization and that organization would think about nurturing you and building you at different stages of your career path, etc..

Bhavna [00:30:06] Today each one of us has to craft in our own mind what our political path is going to be and for that, the big question is, be true to your purpose, what is that purpose that energizes you, that motivates you, that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning when you open your eyes is extremely important. Someone I know who had an extremely successful job actually decided that he wanted to set up his own startup in the space of education. He's formed through yours of ups and downs and the COVID crisis has certainly not been kind to him.

Bhavna [00:30:47] But the reality is that even today, when I speak to him and we speak practically every day, there's that energy in his voice because those first two or three hours of the day where he's brainstorming with his team on new products, what to do, what not to do, etc, it's not just about earning money, it's about creating value. So the first thing that I will say is, be true to your purpose and I'm certainly not self-actualized.

Bhavna [00:31:15] So for me, my focus has also evolved over the years but just be true to asking yourself those questions around what gives you a high, what gives you joy, and if what gives you joy is to be a CEO, well, you have to realize that you're not going to get up one day and become CEO all in one short. You have to put in the grunt work and the hard work and the effort and you have to build yourself to that level. So if you're going to set up your startup, you understand everything from financials to product, the customer value proposition to people to how you are going to deliver that.

Bhavna [00:31:53] So identify your focus, also identify what you need to make that happen, and upskill yourself continuously. I think that if that we have all for today's world is the fact that we have access to some outstanding content at zero cost, when you look at Coursera, etc, when you look at various such learning platforms, you can learn anything from making perfumes to robotic process automation to how to influence more effectively and a bunch of other themes yourself at your pace in a way that works for you, so how do you not just think about the future, but equip yourself to be able to deliver on that vision for yourself is extremely important.

Bhavna [00:32:51] The third thing that I will say is invest in relationships because relationships are truly the equity that you create for yourself. At the end of the day, most of us are energized by the thought of leaving a legacy. Now, what that legacy will be, very different and very personal for each one of us. But the relationships that we invest in becoming the path for us to deliver on that legacy and therefore, I would say that human beings, because we are social animals, we thrive on relationships and that is going to be even more critical in the coming world because even as technology becomes more vital, I think the human and human being also needs to be more vital.

Ketan [00:34:01] These are very important things to focus at. We want to do in life on purpose, peace-giving is super amazing.

Bhavna [00:34:08] Entirely my pleasure and all the very best to everybody, it's an exciting world out there and I think the beauty is to rediscover something in an ecosystem that is uncharted. I often feel that we are doing what the Starship Enterprise did at some level, which is figuring out a reality that is somewhat uncharted, so all the best to everybody.

Ketan [00:34:56] Is the e-culture the future or is it already here?  

Bhavna [00:35:03] So a year ago, if they had been doing this, chances are you would have flown to Gurgaon or I would have flown to Bombay or we would have flown to the city where Senthil was, we would have sat in a studio, chatted across the table with a cup of coffee between us, I am hoping the coffee still happen sometime soon, but this is e-culture, this is here to stay, this ain't going away anywhere.

Bhavna [00:35:25] If you take a look at some statistics, look at the impact of no carbon emissions over the last six months on our planet. It is phenomenal. In Gurgaon, I'm seeing butterflies over the last six months of the kind that I have never seen. There are people in cities who can see mountain ranges which are not too far away, but which were never visible because there was so much pollution, that I think this as a race we have discovered for the first time we had an opportunity to hit the forced pause and because we hit a forced pause where you couldn't fly, you couldn't take the train, you had to sit in the house, you started appreciating a lot of very small things which make a huge difference.

Bhavna [00:36:17] I think the e-way of working is a reality that's here to stay. I do believe that, yes, as things open up, let's hope that we get things under control sooner rather than later. But even then, not spending four hours in traffic and using that time instead to spend with your children or your parents or your partners or your self, I think is a very big blessing and I do believe that most people who believe in PNLs will realize that there is more to profit from an e-way of working than there is to lose.

Ketan [00:37:02] Rapid-fire questions to you Bhavna. So if not, HR as a professional, what would you have chosen?  

Bhavna [00:37:26] I would love to start up my own coffee shop which has a bookstore attached to it, so that I can spend days meeting new people or enjoying a cup of coffee that I truly enjoy along with the chocolate muffins that I truly enjoy and hopefully create a few connects that give me an opportunity to give back. So like I said, the jury's still out there that I may still do it.

Ketan [00:38:08] Cooking, cleaning, or mopping during COVID, which was easier?

Bhavna [00:38:15] Cooking, for sure, as long as it's not standard dal/chawal, as long as I can do different things, different cuisines, cooking for sure.

Ketan [00:38:27] Your third one, your next personal goal?

Bhavna [00:38:32] I think my next personal goal is, I'm currently doing, whether I should do my Ph.D. or not. I haven't arrived at a conclusion, but the questioning and the thought processes are alive and well. I let you know when I decide, but doing something more in the space of education is definitely something that's up there.

Bhavna [00:39:02] I've realized that over the last few years, I've got a lot of joy when I've been in classrooms giving guest lectures to school kids, and apparently they've enjoyed it because they come back with lots of questions. I'd love to do something more around that. I must tell you, Ketan, I have expanded my repertoire to be more than thank you speeches.

Ketan [00:39:34] One book that had maximum impact on you?

Bhavna [00:39:42] That's one that I've read over the last year. It's a book called Autobiography of a Yogi. I never thought that spiritualism would appeal to me, but it has and when I read through that book, I must tell you, I picked it up four times, put it down four times the fifth time I actually read it, then I read it another time and I read it another time. What it has given to me is in this crazy world, it's given me a sense of purpose.

Bhavna [00:40:19] I am experimenting a lot with Hindi these days, So I do a lot of coaching in Hindi also. The Autobiography of a Yogi enables you to just look within and find your peace, it suddenly impacted me very positively.

Ketan [00:41:04] One thing you will thank COVID for, personally?

Bhavna [00:41:10]  Time. I don't think I have everybody in my life, not traveled for a period of six months, it has never happened. I come from a defense family, so travel is part of my life, I've been to multiple schools, my father moved around the country quite a bit and I genuinely enjoy traveling. I think I had reached that stage where, on multiple consulting assignments, you would be in multiple cities and there were a couple of times and I would open my eyes and I would think to myself, which hotel is this, which city is this, why am I here?

Bhavna [00:41:53] I think the gift that COVID has given me is the time to spend with my parents, my brother, loved ones and of course, the gift Netflix. I'm enjoying it.

Senthil [00:42:17] Thanks a lot, Bhavna. Actually, it's more of coaching for me, I was just blown away with a lot of points, honestly, some of the points that you made, I was stopped on and I really think the energy also that you brought to us, I'm worried that the session is ending now.

Senthil [00:42:45] I think we should mention that it's just a season one, we will come back to you with season two with a new theme and new topic, and of course, as you said, thanks for giving us that gift of time. And you topped that gift with another gift where you're giving us the lessons and attention as well. So this is going to be super valuable for all of us, this is brilliant, and thanks a lot for being here, Bhavna and thanks a lot, Ketan.

Ketan [00:43:33] Thank you, Senthil, thank you, Bhavna.