S01 E12: Role of Trust and Accountability in Influencing Employee Engagement

Kailash Ganesh
20 min read

Gitesh Karnik has been heading the Human Resource department at Nearby Technologies Private Limited for the past year. He has also worked with companies like Tata Capital, Deutsche Bank, GE Money, Magma Fincorp, Hicare, e-Nxt Financials, Integreon, and Cyquator Technologies.

Holding twenty years of experience in the field of Human Resources, Gitesh understands its nuances aptly. Apart from that, he is a technology evangelist and has also led multiple transformational and change management projects across companies.

In this episode of CultureClub’s videocast, Gitesh, Ketan (Head of People Function, Rentomojo), and Senthil (Founder and CEO, CultureMonkey) talk about the current global situation from the perspective of company culture. During their conversation, Gitesh points out how trust and accountability have become crucial aspects in both the company's as well as the employee’s journey.

He also goes on to say these are reciprocal to each other—both employer and employee need and expect the other to trust them and be accountable for their actions.

Gitesh goes on to stress how communication is key to a better company culture. During the conversation, he also brings up a very interesting point—the true success of remote working can be determined when people work from their homes without a pandemic, and to check how productive they can be then.

This conversation touches on other vital aspects of the relationship between employee engagement and company culture. It also brings into focus the significance of the HR fraternity leveraging technology and its implementation to create improved employee experience.

Listen to the full conversation to know more about Gitesh’s views on company culture and employee engagement.


Senthil [00:00:27] This is the 12th episode of Culture Club where we are attacking problems around e-culture where we ask questions and share some really important thoughts around culture with the pandemic and remote work being the new normal. I would like to welcome Gitesh and Ketan to this episode as well, and before starting the episode, I want to give a quick introduction on CultureMonkey. CultureMonkey has created this community, Culture Club as an initiative to collaborate and discuss problems around culture.

Senthil [00:01:10] CultureMonkey is an employee engagement platform, where the real question to answer is why CultureMonkey? There are many problems that as CultureMonkey we have solved, I used to work for Snapdeal, I used to work for start-ups, I am an engineer myself. So I saw firsthand problems when it comes to engagement and culture and I saw that these workplaces are really highly engaged, yet the engagement initiatives taken by the leaders came from top-down.

Senthil [00:01:47] One of the problems there is, generic. We want to solve that, we want to make it bottom-up and we want to make engagement and building culture within an organization, a continuous process where you are listening to your employees continuously and once you decide to do that, there are multiple problems where you're dealing with multiple locations, diverse demographics, and you have different sentiments between teams.

Senthil [00:02:13] Then you collate all of this data from all of these segments and then you have a lot of raw data, you need some actionable insights from all of this data you've collected and on top of that, once you have some actionable insights, you need to take actions, for that also, we have a place within the platform.

Ketan [00:02:35] Gitesh, a pleasure to have you here, thank you so much for joining us and for our audience, a little bit about Gitesh that I wanted to share, he heads people management for an organization called Nearby Technologies Private Ltd, based out of Mumbai and Gitesh has worked with brands like Magma Fincorp, GE Money to name a few and he brings with him close to about twenty years of experience in human resources function.

Ketan [00:03:31] Apart from the best practices which come with his experience and passion, he's also a technology evangelist and he has worked and led multiple transformations and change management projects across the organizations that he's worked with. So Gitesh, welcome again to Culture Club's e-culture masterclasses powered by CultureMonkey and thank you so much for your time. It would be good to know more about you and also a bit about your company if that's okay with you.

Gitesh [00:04:19] Thanks, Ketan and Senthil for giving me this opportunity of sharing my experiences with you and the audience, and I hope that there'll be mutual learning happening on either side. So I'm really excited about this. About me, as you rightly said, I am an HR professional with over 20 years of experience, also passionate about sports, passionate about photography. So these are a few of my so-called hobbies, which I try to also bring into my workplace. I'm really passionate about employees or my colleagues are also part of the sports culture in the organization. So that's about me, born and brought up in Mumbai, I've been here since my birth.

Gitesh [00:06:03] PayNearby is the brand that we go by, the company name is Nearby Technologies and we have various products in the fintech space. So we have Aadhaar enabled payments, domestic money transfers recharge, we also have a travel company, we have an insurance company where we do insurance broking for our customers.

Gitesh [00:06:26] We are also looking at building an NBFC in the future in terms of also reaching out to our customer base, the uniqueness about our business is that we are a B2B organization and we reach out to retailers and distributors to service the last mile. So our end user would be a typical maid or a driver who goes to the nearest retailer shop to recharge his or her phone, there they can also do money transfers and they can also withdraw cash. So basically empowering, enabling those people who do not have the accessibility to ATMs and banks can walk to the nearest digital centre and do a transaction on the bank.

Gitesh [00:07:30] It's more of digitising the last mile is how we look at it and we're very passionate about it because we really believe that that's the one area which needs to be catered to and we are passionate to do that, so that's what we do as an organization.

Ketan [00:07:44] Interesting, thank you. So the first thing is, with this world going remote, what are the challenges did you see the CXOs had to deal with, especially when it came to matters around culture and engagement?

Gitesh [00:08:28] In terms of the changes I have seen, in terms of a cultural shift in my experience is one is that if you look at the way Work from Home was looked upon earlier, it was more of a benefit than a facility given to the employees. It was not seen that you can work from, as usual types and actually when this happened, organizations were wondering, how will we manage this because people will be working from home and all this hinges upon two things, one is accountability and trust.

Gitesh [00:09:02] So I think when you hear about productivity not going down or it's been maintained or it is margin loss in productivity, I think it's more to do with the accountability and the trust as posed by the company in the people and people repaying it back in terms of doing the deliverables, so somewhere when the initial, it began saying, how will it pan out? But the way organization goes on to the challenge and the way, the colleagues and the employees came along and demonstrated that we can really work from wherever we can if the intent is to work, if the work is well articulated, then the output can still be the same irrespective of where you work from.

Gitesh [00:09:47] One thing that is changing is, people being accountable and people being trusting that this can work, that's one thing which I saw as a change in culture where people are now moving towards accountability and trust, doesn't matter where you work from, but you can deliver. That's one thing I've seen change.

Ketan [00:10:08] That's pretty powerful and that's a very fresh perspective. Basically, if you look at, suddenly the trust and accountability came on the platter straight and there was no option to do it and of course, the last data in the recent studies that I have been going through says, productivity is up by 30, 40 percent across.

Gitesh [00:10:34] The second one which I think that has worked is the flexibility, because people do realize that when people work from home in the current situation where there is no so-called support that we require in terms of the household support that we want or children having school and we can still work peacefully, all of that is not there.

Gitesh [00:10:54] Children are there, we have to keep our eye on the kids, we have to cook yourself, to keep your household clean all by yourself. So people also realize that 09:30 - 06:30 when I was working in the office, I was there full time with no diversions of mind.

Gitesh [00:11:14] Now, people also understand that 09:30-06:30 may not be a practical way of working in a current situation, so there is an amount of flexibility made available to the people to deliver on their output. It doesn't matter, you take some break to cook, to look after their children's studies and so on and so forth. We provided flexibility and colleagues and employees again responded back by saying, "You've been reposing this faith in us, we would also work beyond 06:30 and ensure that the work is done".

Gitesh [00:11:48] Hence, you don't see any loss in productivity or any such challenges and people must have thought they might see when this happens, because people also rose up to the challenge saying that, we understand and we're willing to stretch ourselves to ensure that the work given to us is delivered.

Senthil [00:12:34] We organisations typically spend a lot of time and energy to build trust and build accountability. But then what this has done is, it reminds me of this line that says, necessity pushes you to uncover your potential. So that is automatically happening.

Gitesh [00:12:51] The third thing that I see is care that started to come in, people do care. Earlier, you just walked into the office and then you would come on everybody in the conference call, discuss and used to talk to people. But now you're saying, can I call by 11, 11:30, you check and you start the call with asking, how are you? Is everything fine? there are no issues in your area, in your family, and so on and so forth.

Gitesh [00:13:23] I think the care part has gone up to a great extent where people have started taking an interest and people also care that people are working from home, so you just cannot pick up the call whenever you want to. But still, there is a bit of reciprocation from the employee and from the manager and from the organization that the provide an environment where accountability, trust, flexibility, and care has now started becoming so visible and demonstrated on both sides, which is what I think is making this beautiful relationship work.

Ketan [00:14:18] Based on experience on whatever you could predict, six months later, where do you think the world would stand?

Gitesh [00:14:56] I think this will be to a great extent, there'll be a hybrid model if you ask me. There will be some amount of people working from home permanently, but I believe it should be on a rotation basis so that people are able to also connect with their colleagues in the office if you make it a permanent one, then in some way, the social connection which is there can isolate people, which is not great.

Gitesh [00:15:18] I don't see 100 percent of people returning to work anytime soon and even if they return it will in rotation, I see that the new normal would be that like you're now virtual. I believe that most of the organizations will move in that direction, that people will have a hybrid model of some people working from home and some people from office, and on a rotation basis, everybody gets an opportunity to come to office and connect with their colleagues, I think that's going to be the way forward.

Ketan [00:16:04] I've also been speaking to people in my network, so at RentoMojo what we do is, provide work from home with chair and table also, I did for my employees, I realized it was just so much relaxing when the chair came to my workplace and I spoke to a lot of HR folks, most of them are anticipating that the hybrid model is going to come in, and probably one opportunity that I see is, technology would play a very important role in enabling this connect, I think some sense happening in this entire madness, I think now answers have started to come in, people are taking choices and adopting technologies. So that's one of the most interesting things that I saw perhaps over the last few months.

Senthil [00:17:06] I think Zoho announced permanent work from home, the SAAS company in Chennai, they announced permanent work from home, they have around eight thousand employees. So that's one of the news from Chennai that we had and I think Freshworks announced an extension of work from home.

Ketan [00:17:42] My sense is that human connection is very powerful and important. If you ask me, I would definitely once a week want to go to the office, I hear a lot of people would do, but looks like as Gitesh said, hybrid is going to be the way forward.

Gitesh [00:18:10] Ketan, I believe that you cannot really make certain people decide that you will not come to office, you have to give on a rotation basis, I think that will be very important for people to stay connected with the organisation and with their colleagues. So we really propagate saying that it should be a rotational based where everybody gets an opportunity and of course, it's voluntary.

Ketan [00:18:43] To come to the question that I was trying to understand from you earlier, when this happened, what are those conversations your CXOs were trying to have with you to figure out how to deal with this transition or the change where the world has gone digital, there are cultures, there are impacts on engagement, what are those interesting things that you were trying to solve for, along with your CXOs?

Gitesh [00:19:23] This initial discussion was in terms of enablement, how do you enable people to work from home, in terms of providing computers, laptops, providing their dongles, enabling people in terms of physical infrastructure, so that was the first and foremost discussion. We made a list of employees, who had what infrastructure, what needs to be provided, and so on and so forth, that's one thing we did.

Gitesh [00:20:04] We also formed a team which was given the responsibility of ensuring that we enable the organization to work from home, effectively, that's another thing that we did and we were prepared ahead of time because we thought it will get there. We were almost a week or 10 days ahead of the lockdown in terms of preparing ourselves. Of course, it spilled over because it happened certainly after one day.

Gitesh [00:20:38] We were able to create a community a platform in the organization to have these conversations and get ready for it, that's one thing that happened. The second thing was, how do you really monitor the effectiveness of what we do, and we all focused on KPIs. Luckily, we are one organisation which has very robust KPIs which were done in the month of October, so everybody had very clear KPIs on what each one of them are working on, it became much easier because the deliverables were defined.

Gitesh [00:21:19] The challenge starts coming in when people start working, it's not so difficult to plan for it, the difficulty happens when people start working, you see the challenges of speed, you see the challenges of collaboration, lack of visibility. These are three things which I think, most of the leaders experienced. One is speed because it was so much easier when you were working in the same office, the same place, walk up to the colleague, resolve the issue, get the team to the conference room, tell them what to be done, discuss, deliberate, and go on to the desk and deliver, that is not there any longer.

Gitesh [00:22:00] So although the productivity is there, I'm very sure the speed would have taken a backseat in terms of delivering the output and everything today is about the speed of execution, so how do you quickly adapt and ensure that the speed of execution doesn't suffer, so that's been one challenge which most of the companies were faced in terms of how to deal with it.

Gitesh [00:22:29] The second would have been in terms of collaboration, when you work in cross-functional teams, that's a challenge we face and in collaboration, accountability keeps shifting as the project evolves, and then coordinating that becomes a challenge in terms of how do you collaborate and ensure that you are able to deliver on the timelines and the third thing, which from the employee perspective, which I think happens is, visibility because the manager feels, I have given everything to you, why are you taking so long to give it back to me and the visibility is not there.

Gitesh [00:23:11] Earlier it was pretty much there on your desk, you walk up to them, sit together and get it done, you know what somebody is working on, you only keep changing priorities of people as a leader because you were always there, physically, prioritising for them. But when it happens over the phone or a video call, it's not the same, so the visibility of what is happening and that's where again the conscience.

Gitesh [00:23:35] The employee also might feel that am I doing enough or is my manager thinking that I am not doing enough, so these three things eventually come together in terms of speed, terms of collaboration, terms of visibility are what creates insecurity in the minds of people and that's where HR comes into play and say, hold on, we will do the balancing act for you, and that's the people's expectation also.

Gitesh [00:24:13] There's no visibility, I keep giving you tasks, but I know that it's going to be a challenge because of flexibility but still, I want the speed of execution and that's what tears apart the person on the other side saying, hope the company, the managers understand what am I going through and is there a department of function or a person we can go and talk to and innovating that, and keeping that abreast with the employees is where the HR challenge starts saying, how do you ensure that the person does not feel isolated, does not feel lack of visibility, does not feel nobody is there to collaborate and does not feel I'm going to hold off for not doing work on time.

Gitesh [00:25:02] That's where you come in saying, the key things are there which is trust, accountability, flexibility, and care but when these other three things come in, which is fear of execution, collaboration, and visibility, how you put all six things together and experience what the employee has is where the HR role comes in, is what I feel.

Ketan [00:25:37] What does this change or transition mean for the HR fraternity? What are the future things or the skills or competencies or new things that you would want the HR folks to imbibe and adopt?

Gitesh [00:25:59] One is, leveraging technology, that's going to be the key one but leveraging technology with adoption becomes a challenge. So you have the best of the technology, but adoption rates of the technology is where we have to keep pushing saying, please, we have deployed our technology, but are people coming on their platforms are creating a pull factor on that technology platform? becomes very important.

Gitesh [00:26:23] So how do you keep innovating yourself so that people can keep coming back to their technology platform, what is the pull factor which will get an employee to that platform? So that's one, second is refreshing it.

Gitesh [00:26:53] Second would be in terms of reaching out to people, you can either use the culture survey that you have or you can just pick up the phone and talk to people but I also understand that in a larger organization where HR to people ratio is 1:200 or whatever, it becomes impossible for people to reach out to 200 people and talk to them on a fortnight on a monthly basis and that's where, again, technology comes into play.

Gitesh [00:27:21] The third challenge is that earlier distributed workforce was restricted, perhaps people in operations or customer support or in sales. But now, it is the entire organization that is distributed, so how do you keep them connected with the organization?

Gitesh [00:27:46] These are a few things that as an HR and I don't have ready solutions, to be very honest, I am also evolving and discovering as we go along in terms of what will really work, what will not work, because this is something new for all of us. It's really easy to town halls in an office where everybody comes together or you come together to the cafeteria and do birthday celebrations and cut cakes, all of that is gone now.

Gitesh [00:28:13] But how do you still maintain the same flavour or the spirit of what you're doing? That's another one that we need to figure out. The good part is that, reach has improved, earlier town halls were restricted to maybe one or two people sitting in a particular office or a particular location, but now we can do it on a Zoom or a Google Meet or any of these platforms, everybody can log in, so the entire organization becomes accessible to you which has been a big win if you ask me, from that perspective.

Gitesh [00:28:47] But again, it goes back to adoption, how many of you really want to log in to the town hall and listen to what the CEO wants to say, so adoption is where, again, remains a challenge. So these are few things that I can tell you Ketan which is what each one of us perhaps is dabbling with, as HR heads. It's going to be difficult, you have to evolve beyond that and that's what evolution is. But you have to also do this because these are the ways of connecting with the people.

Gitesh [00:29:38] People might say that HR is about Rangolis, but please understand that's to connect with the people, that's the way you bring people together, in festivities and share the common happiness that you see during festivities. So we have been doing all of this, we have monthly town halls, we have monthly birthday celebrations, we have employee connect programs which could be on wellness because that's another one that is very important during this time.

Gitesh [00:30:24] We also have a cultural committee which is owned by the employees and they come and tell us what they want to do and we provide the platform for them to do it. So all of that has worked as a combination, but the rhythm has to be simply figured out because nobody imagined this would be as long as six, seven, eight, nine months.

Ketan [00:30:58] I am a firm believer in the power of technology and glad to see people like Senthil trying to bring in a lot of technology to what HR does and what people function does, somebody created a very interesting tool which is about taking this entire office virtually where people can do coffee conversations. Of course, I'm a firm believer in the power of personal connection, but maybe I'm also trying to learn that but a lot of innovation happening, and a lot to do.

Ketan [00:31:48] Now, everybody is an employee and an individual first before being in any other role. So what are those two, three things, learnings, that or piece of advice that you would have for people, in general, looking at how the world has transformed and where it may go?

Gitesh [00:32:13] The first thing I would tell people is that, take care that's most important, take care of your mental health, physical health, that's paramount and there is a very thin line between being fearless and careless, so people have to understand that. So let's not be careless, some amount of fear is good actually.

Gitesh [00:32:50] So I keep telling people, if any organization is doing any activities on mental wellness or health wellness, please participate. It might look like why to log in and see somebody doing on the screen, but I guess you people should log in and they should really spend time. It's important because we take that one thing for granted is mental health and physical well-being, that's taken for granted.

Gitesh [00:33:18] The second I would tell them is that, be accountable for what you do, it's very important and that's how the trust that the company has reposed in you will only be repaid in the form of being accountable, and third is taking ownership, let's not pass on the box. I would say the same thing to people who are on the other side if somebody reaching out to you, then please respect that and call back or reach out, even if you do it after half an hour, one hour, just do it because otherwise, the other person doesn't know.

Gitesh [00:34:25] In this situation that we're in, not knowing is the most dangerous situation to be in. I think that's what leads to a lot more negative thoughts coming into people's minds. It's very important on either side, on the employee, as well as on the managers' side, it's very important that you respond and communicate. So I would say, be accountable, take ownership, and please communicate. If these three things are done well with proper intent, then you will see this relationship of work from home and it will be really beautiful.

Gitesh [00:35:19] I keep saying, people have not seen real work from home because still, to a great extent, you're confined to your homes. Imagine a situation when malls are working, theatres are working, boxes are open, and then your maids are there, your kids are in school and you're working from home, you will experience a different joy. The pleasure would come in there, maybe today you're not feeling that pleasure because anybody can call at any time because you're at home only and I'm looking forward to that work from home, that is where the real test of work from home is.  

Ketan [00:37:06] Do you think e-culture in the future or do you think it's already here? What's your point of view when you hear that word?

Gitesh [00:37:12] It has always been there, I was just trying to go back to my G-days where we used to have those CBTs, so the induction program would be on a CD and people can at their convenience, go and check about the organization.

Gitesh [00:37:34] A new orientation happens in the room and then you give a joining kit, which has a CD, just go to your home, put it on your laptop or computers and just go through the organization all over again. Now that has moved from CDs to the cloud. So if you ask me, it's always there, it's all about adoption.

Gitesh [00:37:59] Everything is there for people to look at, including the interviews which were there and it's evolving, the evolution has gone to a great extent, it's unimaginable, but what are the adoption rates, is where it all comes down to and the companies need to start working on it and on another side, the employees also need to start accepting this as a way of working, you have to be online, you have to take online lessons seriously, you have to be educated enough to understand how to operate on an e-learning kind of a solution and adapt to it.

Gitesh [00:39:47] I think that's where the challenge lies, and again, I throw the challenge back to technology experts like Senthil, can you create a product for us where the adoption by default becomes so rich and I don't have to struggle for adoption, it just happens because the product is so powerful that people will come to this platform over and over and engage with us. So I really want to see a product which really has a pull factor, today it is a push factor to some extent, can there be a pull factor to do the technology products that we have, that people will come and engage proactively with you.

Ketan [00:40:30] Thank you so much, Gitesh, Senthil, and the audience, that's from my side.  

Senthil [00:40:37] Thanks a lot, Ketan and Gitesh, during the middle of the conversation I was really able to relate to a lot of points as I said already and it was learning for me already and I was able to validate that, am I the only one who's insecure? So I think collaboration has taken a great hit and you valid that, and not only that, a lot of other points.

Senthil [00:41:07] I would say one of your quotes that you said, not knowing is very dangerous and how over communication in this phase of work where we have to communicate, we have to be responsible in communicating and making sure that the message speaks. So that is some of the very important points, I think for audiences, this is going to be a great listen.

Senthil [00:41:39] Thanks a lot, Ketan and Gitesh.