In episode 13 of CultureClub, we meet Rajesh Srivastava, Chief Human Resources Officer at Capital Foods Private Limited. Rajesh has also worked in diverse sectors like finance, insurance, cement, etc. and has experience in HR for close to twenty years.
Rajesh believes in employee empowerment and dedicates his time to mentoring young HR professionals and organisational leaders, helping them hone their skills and become better at what they do and what they want to do. That is how Ketan (Head of People Function, Rentomojo) met Rajesh and continues to be his mentee after all these years.
Rajesh fondly calls Capital Foods a 25-year-old startup owing to its innovative approach; always looking to bring new flavours in the Indian Food and Beverages industry. An employee-friendly organisation, Capital Foods understands the importance of organisational culture.
In this conversation with Ketan and Senthil (Founder and CEO, CultureMonkey), Rajesh brings in an interesting point— the importance of proactive organisational culture. Rajesh explains how the proactive attitude in Capital Foods helped them deal better with the pandemic and make the most of it. This not only helped curb any kind of confusion amongst the leaders at Capital Foods, but also helped the middle and junior level employees find direction during a time of crisis and recognise their duty towards the organisation.
Rajesh pointed out how their organisation has always been dedicated to employee engagement and this has not changed even when the pandemic hit them, all thanks to their proactive organisational culture.
This episode is a great watch for anyone willing to see the silver lining in any dark situation. Rajesh’s conversation also sheds light on important issues like discipline while working from home and how leaders expect their employees to work around the clock because of a lack of empathy.
Listen to the entire session to gain insights from Rajesh’s practical knowledge and learn more about what it means to be a professional in the current situation.
Senthil [00:00:25] Hello all, this is the 13th episode of CultureClub. So CultureClub is the community initiative curated by CultureMonkey and CultureMonkey is an Employee Engagement Platform. To give you a quick introduction as to what CultureMonkey does - when organizations decide to listen to the employees continuously through surveys, through channels like SMS, WhatsApp and want to continuously listen to the employees, collect feedback, analyze the feedback and act on it, you will get challenges like employees located across multiple locations and employees having very diverse sentiments. An employee in sales feels differently than an employee in engineering and then there are blue-collar workers as well.
Senthil [00:01:16] So when you want to listen to all of these different sets of employees, you will have to collect a lot of data ,and CultureMonkey exactly helps you to do that in a more efficient and personalised manner. There is a philosophy that CultureMonkey sticks to where we say that managers are the ones that personalize employee engagement for you.
Senthil [00:02:13] Therefore, in CultureMonkey, we have exclusive access for all managers who can slice and dice data as to how they are performing in different drivers. So, with all of these features and modules and solutions under one platform, it's CultureMonkey for you. So with that quick introduction of CultureMonkey without any further delay, let's get started with this new episode.
Rajesh [00:02:52] . We'll have to know about you also, Senthil. A little bit of what you have done?
Senthil [00:02:52] Oh, OK.
Rajesh [00:02:56] Honestly, I should have done that little early.
Senthil [00:03:00] No problem. So I'm Senthil and I'm the Founder and CEO of CultureMonkey. The idea of CultureMonkey has been within me as an unhatched egg for a long time. After college, I was working at Infosys and then I joined startups. I worked in different places. I worked in Hyderabad, Delhi, Netherlands, Singapore. And then I started this company called Effy in 2017. And within one year I was wondering why my team is performing very high? Why are people working with me, for me, are very happy, what is going on? So that's the exact time when I also wanted to build a SaaS product. That's when I had to give a talk with PayU, the company where they said, how are you bootstrapping startups? And then I had to put a deck and that deck came out of 13 different slides and that talk was a hit and I came back and I retrospected on those decks and realized that it's because of our culture we’re successful as a bootstrapped company.
Senthil [00:04:11]: And its elements of culture, its high engagement, its absence of micromanagement. So that is when I realised my ambition to create a SaaS and my innate affinity towards culture joined hands. And we explored this engagement space and said, let's do this employee engagement platform, which is so much aligned with our passion as well but we are still a bunch of engineers, 2018 is when we started. We were like 10-12 engineers and we said, ‘hey, we have built all these features but lack the flavour of the real human’. There are no HR elements around it. We don't know what the HR team, what the slang of HR is. Towards the end of last year, we started talking to hundreds of HRs within the country. And then we said this calls for coming up with a community. And yeah, now we are here. Rajesh and Ketan.
Rajesh [00:05:15] Oh, excellent. Very nice.Congratulations. When did you start this company?
Senthil [00:05:25] It's August 2018.
Rajesh [00:05:28] Oh, 2 years almost now. So what are the specifics? How do you do, what do you do?
Senthil [00:05:41] Right. So what we do is initially send out employee engagement surveys, culture surveys, manager related surveys. That is the inception of the organization using CultureMonkey, that's the first module. Once the surveys are sent out, we collect all these responses anonymously from the employees and we can challenge that our in-depth analytics are super in real-time and very meaningful. You can see that in Mumbai, in my sales team, female employees in this employee tenure feel this way about innovation in their team or purpose alignment. And we take those data and present it to the HR whose actual action is to take some psychological suggestions instead of crunching data. Instead of wasting time on all the sheets and all that. So that's the second module.
Senthil [00:06:39] We give very in-depth analytics. And the third module is actions where based on the performance of all these teams, we tell these are all the three things for this quarter you can plan. We also benchmark all of this data against industry benchmark, which industry you are from, and now you are acting on this. You are taking action from within the platform. And then I talk about managers where managers will get access and managers will be given a mirror of themselves, where they are seeing their strength, their innovation, autonomy, their weakness is, let's say, recognition. And they can engineer actions.
Ketan [00:07:21] Senthil, Rajesh has worked with Aditya Birla Group and he's seen about, I think, 17-18 years of OHS, Rajesh sir, if you look at what CultureMonkey does and one of the reasons I'm helping them is I saw a lot of those problems that we were trying to solve using OHS, where there is a Gallup question, there is a group-specific question then administering the question online and the good part of it is manually triggered and also automated so you can create a custom weekly trigger also. So you make the feedback continuous or time-bound. And the second challenge for us is that then a consultant will come and give us data saying this is what people are saying, this system throws the data right away, you can live track on how many places, what's the completion score, which section you click on.
Ketan [00:08:10] I think that's what helped me at Rentomojo, very important, which we were struggling with in Aditya Birla if you remember, was developing an action tool. Now, imagine, say employees have given feedback and the systems say, look at these are the pockets where it's mostly red and you need to do something. You can go to feedback and attach it to an HR guy or a business manager or the factory manager saying that, keeping the employee’s name anonymous we can say that this is a trend that I'm hearing that people are saying that the drinking water facility in your unit is not good. Now, this goes suddenly into their dashboard. The HR guy can act.
Rajesh [00:08:50] This application, Ketan or Senthil works on any HRMS it sits on or standalone?.
Senthil [00:08:58] See, that's another unique thing. So we integrate with any type of HRMS, as long as the HRMS has an API.
Rajesh [00:09:07] API is available. Can it be integrated with that in real-time?
Senthil [00:09:12] Absolutely.
Rajesh [00:09:14] Very Interesting.
Ketan [00:09:16] I know Rajesh has a hard stop at four. I'm going to steal the momment now and for our audience, we have with us, Rajesh Srivatsava who is the CHRO for Capital Foods Private Ltd, before Capital Food he was working with Aditya Birla Groups for close to 20 years. He's worked across any possible industry you can think of: food, financial services, insurance, trading, and he's known for leading successful teams and establishing robust HR practices in the areas of organization design, capability building, talent development, change management, and all restructuring. He has been a mentor to a lot of folks.
Ketan [00:10:01] And that's where my connection with Rajesh happened. I was fresh out of campus and landed up in Aditya Birla Group. There are these cool senior folks who are like the practical guy and realistic guy who will talk less theory and give real-life experience and what happens in the business. I have looked upon Rajesh for that, one of the friendliest of seniors that I've ever worked with. I never directly worked under him, but I'll continue to share a very inspiring space with him. We have stayed connected even after a long time. It's a personal pleasure of mine that he has come and joined the session because I'm going to ask him some interesting and tough questions. That's what I have to say about Rajesh, Rajesh if you could tell us something more about you and about your organization for the audience, that would be super helpful.
Rajesh [00:10:57] Thank you all. Honestly, it surprises me that we never worked together in a team. And all along we have been in touch. The media has provided the opportunity for all of us to have that connection. I'll tell you a little bit about myself and Capital Foods. I'm a student of psychology, born and brought up in a place called Allahabad. I’ve worked for ABG for more than two decades in different industries, settled in Bombay, and now working for Capital Foods.
Rajesh [00:11:51] Capital Foods, as I call it a 25-year old startup. It seems like an oxymoron, but it is not so. The spirit that we experience is very similar to a startup. I never worked for a so-called startup. But in the early days, I worked with Birla Sun Life Insurance. I was among the founding members. The first policy of Birla Sun Life Insurance was sold after two months of my joining, so I qualified to be a founding member. That was one place where I had this experience of a startup, not in the classical sense but that was the organization that was created from scratch. Capital Food owns two very popular brands. I can assure you and your audience would be our consumer, you may have tasted our Ching's Secret Schezwan Chutney which is one of the flagship products and different kinds of noodles or masala, sauces. So, anyone who cooks would know Ching's sauces for sure. Typically we are the only brand of hakka noodles. It's a national brand so to say.
Rajesh [00:13:45] Smith and Jones is another brand, we have our products like ginger-garlic paste, soups, etc. that are popular. Recently, we have launched another noodle in the Smith and Jones category. It's a very innovative company and I joined here two years back. I was, in fact, a user of this brand. So when I told my wife, she said that we use some of these products and there was a bouquet of spices and sauces. And that's when I started recollecting that this brand has been around. I've never looked at it as an employer then. Honestly, we knew Ching's and Smith and Jones but many of us didn't know Capital Foods as an organization or as an employer the way all of us know it now.
Rajesh [00:14:53] From 1996 to now, this is what Capital Foods has done and has brought terrific flavours to our homes. We aspire to provide different flavours three times a day, all 365 days a year to every home in India. That's our aspiration. We are unique. If you look at some of the things that we produce. I don't think that we compete with others. We are unique in that sense. We are innovative, call it quirky as an organization, as a brand. So that's a little bit about Capital Foods, the fastest growing food company.
Rajesh [00:16:05] It's a company of young guys, very passionate folks. Culture has been one of the defined, stated philosophies of this organization. We heavily invest in nurturing specific elements of culture. The CEO himself says that my primary responsibility is to create the culture. We measure it in different elements, and that's why I would be keen to explore most of the opportunities that we have. We are very clear on cultural elements and transparency. Of course, barring and keeping the sensitivities. Communication has been a very strong forte for most of the employees. In July, when we did our employee survey here, our employees told us that they know what they need to know.
Rajesh [00:17:21] Culturally, professional dignity is very dear to us as an organization. Behaviours like shouting, reprimanding or abusive language, if there is any, is something that is completely non-negotiable. Our stated position is - non-performance is not a crime. The absence of a will would be a red flag. As long as you have tried hard and you have put in your best effort, it's fine. We say that human capabilities are unlimited. Just before this meeting we, a couple of colleagues were talking on some subject and we said that our business tests human capability.
Rajesh [00:18:44] So we still believe that the human soul on fire is phenomenal. If you have that element. No dream is beyond your reach. Yes, we expect a disproportionate time on some of these subjects. We did have occasions of tough decisions being taken and as soon as that decision was taken we were the first ones to inform everybody on a conference call across India. Of course, keeping the sensitivity around the person and everything in mind. We would not consciously like to create a culture of grey points and rumours and different cliques talking about different things. We will go upfront and inform you.
Ketan [00:19:59] Very interesting.
Rajesh [00:20:01] We have got lots of accolades on certain occasions, some of the people said that in their previous experiences elsewhere, they have not witnessed the speed at which we decide something. With the clarity and transparency with which we communicate with some of my colleagues, they said that they have never experienced something like that. So we would like to experiment with some of those first of its kind.
Senthil [00:20:35] I'm worried that you have a hard stop at four now.
Rajesh [00:20:41] No, unfortunately, Senthil because that's another external commitment.
Ketan [00:20:49] I'm sure that hearing from you about real things that matter and your experience would be super amazing for the audience.
Rajesh [00:20:58] Post lockdown, in July, we announced our increment, annual performance, bonus, promotions. Normally, HR guys will be resistant to do an employee survey then. My hypothesis was that let's test it. So we launched after a week of the announcement of our increment, bonuses and letters were sent. We launched our employee survey. There was one question that we asked people to describe in one word. What is the culture of Capital Food? Ninety-eight percent of people said pride, feels like home. One percent, one and a half percent was not sure types or mixed feelings. That was the response we had. So we think that we are on the right track, of course, lots of things need to be done.
Ketan [00:22:19] Rajesh, what are the challenges you think the CXOs had to deal with, especially when the world went remote, every machine was running fine. And I think your business is as complex as it could be, there are central functions, sales functions, manufacturing, very different kinds of pieces of business. But when this happened, how were the CXOs or when you spoke to CXOs outside the industry, what do you think were the biggest challenges that they were facing? And probably to add to that, what are the good things that something like a COVID has done to organizations, to matters about culture and engagement?
Rajesh [00:23:07] As I mentioned, I don't think that we had challenges to deal with. I would rather put, we had lots of opportunities to deal with and encash. I don't know how much we have encashed frankly. We knew that lockdown was coming. Three weeks back, we had anticipated that this would happen in India sooner or later. So we did some worst-case scenario planning, etc.. We didn't know how lockdown will pan out, how it will impact the business. We were acting ready, we were very sure, sometime in the first week of March itself, that in a worst come scenario, if we don't sell even a single rupee, we will sustain.
And how long we can sustain. We were clear that we are not cutting, even then. That was not announced though. But within the three of us i.e. CFO, CEO, and me, it was clear that we are neither going to reduce a job nor the salary, we will sustain as much as possible. We have also calculated the minimum selling and how much we need to do and we figure out how to do that so that we are on a break-even period basis month on month.
Rajesh [00:24:43] Lockdown happened on the 25th of march if my memory serves me right, our plants were operational on the 28th of March. We got permission and everything is part of essential services, and our two plants have started operations on 28th March itself. We used to meet twice a day as a team. Some of the things that happened are huge technology adoption, people who might have been averse to typing themselves were converts, phenomenal converts in a week, logging on to teams and sharing documents and sending documents, and all that started happening.
Everybody figured out the corner in their home to be on time. Another thing which has happened is efficiency has increased. Because nobody was loitering around here and there, which generally happens in the office if five people are supposed to meet three is always outside and we have to call and pull them in. All were on time. There was also a sense of national duty. We realize that these supplies are going to be drained soon and we were given this license to work or permission to operate. So very few industries then were permitted to operate. There was news that people are holding.
Rajesh [00:26:17] You might have heard in some foreign country, people fought for toilet paper, etc which was all trending. We felt that in our kind of space in India, food is essential and we should be able to produce as much as possible. Fortunately, we could manage all, in fact, during the lockdown period we grew substantially. We added manufacturing capacities. We ran our plant in full capacity. From a business point of view, we grew. Lots of people in Capital Foods have said that this is more a national duty. If you go on LinkedIn and read their comments, they have said that this is a national duty, that we are doing. Of course, we said that everybody will remain at home. We will have to follow government guidelines, national as well as locally. Within that you left to venture out. We empower people to decide, we didn't monitor their attendance to numbers. We heard the information from our sales team that some of the companies have deducted salaries or asked people to go and there was a little bit of anxiety.
Rajesh [00:27:43] We called the entire people and told them that as long as we can sustain nobody is losing their job and we will not even cut salaries. And lots of people have come back and thanked us. They said that this is unheard of, in fact, we have announced all the bonuses, etc. And whoever has done exceptionally well, we have given them surprise bonuses also. There were a lot of opportunities, the senior management team as a team gelled very well, we spent lots of time together, which in a normal course would not have happened. It is very difficult to get all 10 people together in one room every day. The speed at which we decided things was phenomenal because all of us were together, we were in lockdown, but we were connected. So the decision-making has been phenomenal.
Rajesh [00:28:41] Morning issues were solved by evening and evening issues were solved out by next morning. Everything happened virtually. The machines were checked on a video camera, especially the nuts and bolts. And everything was observed by the technical guys here. The reports were sorted online, parameters were checked and all that has happened virtually. If you look at this it's a huge opportunity, honestly, in three months, nobody has thought that they would have spent so much time with their families as well.
Ketan [00:30:02] Whatever you have seen now during COVID with the changes, whatever ups and downs and opportunities that you see, what are the things that you want the HR fraternity to refocus on or focus more on as we move ahead with the world being a bit different from where it was yesterday.
Rajesh [00:30:22] See Ketan, I'm taking this question more as an organization, because I don't think that the HR fraternity or HR community can work in isolation. The basics of human engagement and motivation are not going to change, to my mind. It will take a few generations to change, the expression and the way it happens could change, for example, there is a huge need for us to connect, face to face is gradually changing itself virtually and a lot of us have gradually started to appreciate and adapt. It is far more productive.
Rajesh [00:31:21] I have been able to do work and migrate to any external engagement seamlessly in a minute. Number one. I'm a little shy to go to lots of so-called networking events, sitting in Mumbai this itself demands your time. So that was another deterrent. This period has provided the opportunity for you to close work and the next second you are in a different world talking to some of your peers or colleagues and come back again without wasting time. That's an opportunity. The whole issue of how you will build capability is going to be different. I think it can be far more efficient and far more impactful. Some of the things which need to be done in person would possibly take time to get virtually, for example, you can't party virtually. I don't think that we've evolved anything.
Rajesh [00:32:34] Now, when I say party, see the party is another expression of how you connect with your guards down and with a little bit of ease. You're talking to people not just at work, but you are connecting at a personal level. I think those elements will continue the way they were and post-pandemic also we will miss that. I miss it and I'm sure that all of us miss it. I think the workplace will transform, to my mind. So for example, lots of companies already come back with this announcement of work from everywhere. I don't think technology adoption is going to be any challenge. It is evolving.
And with 5G coming, I'm sure that there will be far more superior experience on the virtual platform that we will experience. So combined with that, I think this migration to Metro over some time will get rebalanced. We have started discussing and creating work from anywhere. So lots of people whose families are in Delhi, they are here in Mumbai because of kids education, etc. We said that as long as your job is amenable to that, one can work from anywhere. We will come out with detailed guidelines post-Diwali. Whole technology, IT security, etc, will take a different dimension. Personally, if I say I'm still not sure how secure the whole world will be, and therefore I think that is something an organization will invest heavily.
Rajesh [00:34:28] The Office Design will change. My reason to go to the office will be more to connect than to work. I may fix up a team meeting or a team lunch or a team evening rather than doing a work discussion or working on a project, which I can do virtually now, that might be a little far-fetched. But the fact is that the whole office design could be a club design. Barring jobs, which may need to be in office, there are certain jobs and certain organizations, for example, R&D. The R&D labs can't go to individual homes because lots of food technologists have to work together and you need whole paraphernalia in the lab where you do. So I think that those kinds of things are still going to be working physically. And we didn't operate our R&D facility when we were in lockdown, in June, 10% of people were allowed to come to the office otherwise we still don't allow anybody barring this 30% into the office. But lots of people have this need to come to the office. So people have volunteered, including me.
Rajesh [00:36:07] So on average, I would be going to the office with 70%. I have roasted myself most of the days, so I feel like going there. HR needs to think and create innovative ways of how you will create this whole ecosystem to deliver. So, for example, the very concept of leave would be very different now. We were just discussing something internally that, should we have a virtual or technological office shut down? That after 8 pm, if you're at home or working from home regularly, you should be given a break. Your system should not work. You cannot be called.
When I was working and I felt I am sitting at home only, why shouldn't I work extra hours? But if I am doing that unconsciously, am I expecting the same thing from someone else who I'm calling. Should there be a discipline around that, or for that matter, whole things around how you facilitate work from home? In a space like Mumbai people have a smaller home? It’s very difficult to create a very secluded environment to do work, is there something that the HR folks can do, is there something that we can create to facilitate that. Rentomojo is one of the things that we are evaluating, is there something that we can do to create those kinds of stuff? Those are the things that the HR fraternity should be looking for.
Ketan [00:38:22] Definitely need session-2 and part-2. A lot of insights coming from you, one personally helping me understand and get a perspective. And I'm sure our audience is going to love every bit of it. But what I can promise is that there is going to be a part-2
Ketan [00:38:46] Just one question that I wanted to throw to you Rajesh. It's kind of a rapid-fire, but one question. If not HR, as a profession? Where would you have ended up?
Rajesh [00:39:05] Well, I always wanted to be a teacher and I would have been a teacher.
Ketan [00:39:09] Wow.
Senthil [00:39:14] Thanks a lot, Rajesh. So keen to meet you again. I mean, which we will have to organize and also meet you again for CulturalMonkey separately. Thanks a lot for this. I'm looking forward to part-2 and getting more insights. I already stole that policy from you, which I'm looking to implement in my company that after eight, let's shut down. Nobody calls nobody. We've been suffering from that. I mean, honestly, we've been suffering. It was all on me, so I think I should take this very seriously. Thanks a lot, Rajesh.
Rajesh [00:39:52] Thank you, Senthil and Ketan, thanks for all those nice words. I look forward to chatting up with you guys next time, we will fix it up, it was a pleasure. Talking to both of you Ketan and Senthil. All the best. We will connect again. Thanks for your time.
Ketan [00:40:07] Thank you, same here. Take care. Bye-bye.