S02 E05: Autonomy for Managers - A Must in Driving Employee Engagement

Soumya Samuel
18 min read

In this episode of CultureClub, we are joined by Anil Monteiro – CHRO at Tecnotree Corporation, a telecom software company from Finland.

Tecnotree is listed as one of the top 80 companies for Diversity & Inclusivity by Financial Times in a study covering 15000 European companies and is also recognized as a Great Place to Work.

In this session, Anil discusses the criticality of autonomy for managers in driving effective employee engagement.

With more than two decades of experience in Strategic Human Resource Management, Anil has been instrumental in developing global HR strategies, leading organizational development and change management, innovating HR processes related to compensation management, performance management, learning & development, competency planning, employee engagement and more.

Prior to Tecnotree, he worked with Dell Services, Mahindra Engineering, CG Maersk, and Satyam Computers.

Anil is also a Gallup Strengths Coach and has worked across continents including Europe, Latin America, Asia, Middle East and Africa.

In our conversation with Anil, he drew a rather humorous yet on-point parallel between burgers and organizations to signify the importance of managers in a workplace. He said - "Managers are the patty in a burger which organizations cannot do without. While the roles and responsibilities of managers evolve with time, they are crucial to not only drive business delivery but also engage employees."

In this video, you’ll hear Anil share insights on:

-     How Tecnotree built its culture bottom-up by actively engaging employees in the process of defining their culture

-    How empowering managers can make them the game changers of employee engagement at organizations

-   Why the role of a manager should be a balance between business delivery and people management

-   How important autonomy in decision making is for managers to effectively engage their teams

-    How the role of a manager is evolving with the changing workplace - digitization and new generation workforce

Listen to this episode to hear a CHRO’s perspective on all things people managers.

Do share your thoughts and feedback on the session in the comments below.


Senthil [00:00:14] Hi all, this is CultureClub, and this is the second season, where we are discussing topics around sustaining and growing employee engagement - the evolving role of managers. CultureClub is a community created by CultureMonkey. When we started CultureMonkey, we were all engineers. Engineers don't know about culture, engagement and people science. So for me as an engineer, I was struggling with this problem.

Senthil [00:01:14] I worked in multiple cities across the globe, but wherever I went, I felt that it's employee happiness that's enabling the employee to deliver their maximum productivity. I wanted to share this point of view with my managers. I had multiple feedback sessions, but nothing moved and I was scared to open up with my managers because things were not anonymous. Even if I managed to communicate all these points to these managers, there was no action and it felt like all my feedback went into a black hole. There was no closure and no traceability. So I lost hope in this process.

Senthil [00:02:01] That's when in 2017, I came to Chennai and started a software consultancy. I started with Joseph, my co-founder, and it's called Effy. Whatever work we did, we were successful. We saw zero percent attrition from customers, employees and all the stakeholders. Everyone was happy. That is when in 2018 we realized it was because of our culture that we had zero attrition. It is the same year when we also realized that service companies are hard to scale.

Senthil [00:03:07] We picked up the SaaS culture software. It was 2018 when we started CultureMonkey, and now we have a lot of enterprise clients. It is so fulfilling right now because whatever problem I faced, now we can solve it for ten thousand unique employees, and we also have 2.5 million individual data points in just the last three years. With all this data, we realize that managers play a key role in engagement, and that's why we have a separate module for managers, even in CultureMonkey.

Senthil [00:04:09] In this journey, the product has been awesome. But as I said, we were missing a significant piece, which is the people science and the HR methodologies. They were not in our DNA. So that's when I met Ketan two years ago. We already met more than twenty CHROs in India. We are so happy to have you in the session Anil, let's get started.

Anil [00:05:11] Thanks, Senthil. It's so interesting to see how you moved a problem that you were facing, and created a product to solve it. I’m sure CultureMonkey is going to enable these managers and HR to bring solutions and not sit on the problems. A nice transition is what I heard in this process. Congratulations, all the very best.

Senthil [00:05:51] Yes. And I think for anyone who is genuinely facing a problem, it is inevitable that they will pick it up and solve it and then as a serendipitous effect, it will serve a larger population and impact a lot of people.

Ketan [00:06:21]  Thank you, Senthil for that introduction and for our audiences, we have a very special guest today. I have Anil Monterio with us. He's the CHRO of an organization called Tecnotree Corporation. Over his 20+ years of work experience as an HR, he has worked with brands like Dell, Plexion, Maersk and Satyam. He's also an alumnus of XLRI Jamshedpur.

Ketan [00:06:52] He's a Gallup Strength Coach, and for those of you who don't know what Gallup Strength Coach is, do read about it and take that assessment; one of the most powerful, fundamental things that I also believe in, and we had some conversation around that. He worked across countries in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and now in India. He's very well known in the industry for his Organization Development and Change Management practices.

Ketan [00:07:24] A few days back we were talking about human potential and strength coaching. We were talking about the humane side of people and what people function brings in that. Anil, welcome again to CultureClub Masterclass powered by CultureMonkey and thank you so much for your time.

Ketan [00:08:03] As Senthil said, this season, we're talking about sustaining and growing employee engagement, the evolving role of managers. Before I shoot the questions, could you tell us more about yourself and your organization and your journey? That would be super amazing to hear.

Anil [00:08:22]  Thanks, Ketan and Senthil. Thanks for setting up a wonderful platform like this, which I see will be a lot of learning for many more aspiring people out there who are hungry to learn and to grow. I feel very honoured to be on this platform. I was very fortunate because, at a very early stage, I picked up the whole concept from my boss who said, if you don't have a mentor or a coach, you're like that dangling leaf that will just fall off anywhere.

Anil [00:09:32] My mainstream role is HR. I had my boss as my coach, and to date, he is my guru. And he continued to teach me a lot of things. One important thing that he always taught me is, life is a race. As a manager, I will become the General Manager, Director and the V.P. I know my path is clear. If you don't eye my chair, you will lose the race, so you should always have your eyes cast on your boss' chair, else you're off the race. Wherever I went, I aspired for all my boss' jobs.

Anil [00:10:16] A little about Tecnotree, we are a telecom product company. We provide products to mobile service providers. The billing product is our core. We do the whole billing of a mobile service provider and then a lot more adjoining products is what we started creating. We had been through a lot of bad times and downtime. And like Senthil said, when you're in troubled waters is when innovation comes your way and you tend to become an innovator.

Anil [00:11:02] We've been a part of rebuilding and recreating the whole organization from seeing the worst to what we are seeing in the last 8 to 10 quarters of absolute successful numbers that are going high, whether it's a top line or bottom line, our revenues, our employee satisfaction, it's been going very well. And I think it's very true to what Senthil said. It's all about culture. I'll take a minute to explain what we did on the culture piece.

Anil [00:11:35] Every company has these massive orderings and dashboards to say what your values are. If you ask employees what's the meaning of that value, nine out of the ten will look at the dictionary explanation of that term. Maybe two out of the ten would give you some understanding. So when we were rebuilding our whole image at Tecnotree we were rebranding ourselves, we were rebranding our products and redoing our digital products.

Anil [00:12:15]  We did a massive activity with the employees where we asked our employees, what do you think are the company's strengths and the areas they thought the company has to get better. We did a similar exercise with some key customers. It was nice to see that the strengths that our employees and customers spoke about were absolutely the same, maybe with a little miss here and there.

Anil [00:12:48] The areas that we spoke about and the areas that customers spoke about were also similar, and that became the bedrock for us to create our values. We created our values and defined behaviours for each value. For example, winning for you and winning for me is an absolutely different term.

But in Tecnotree, if it's about winning, what are the behaviours I expect from you to make it a winning organization also got crafted. It happened collectively as an organization with close to about 200 employees getting surveyed and 80 plus employees sitting in the whole think tank.

Anil [00:13:33] Today, two years down the line, people exactly understand when I say winning and when I say futuristic. We say, ‘One Tecnotree for Winning’. F is for futuristic, O is for organized, R is for result-driven, W is for winning; these are our four values. Whether you're in Latin America or UAE, whether you're in India or Finland, we all resonate with the same.

Anil [00:14:04]  That was a massive exercise we did to create the culture of being one organization, and we take pride that we were able to do it together, and that's why we as an organization are winning. That's where the whole change management comes into play, where, when we make changes, let's take our employees into confidence and build our programs and processes that are more employee-driven and not management-driven.

Ketan [00:14:36] That's inspirational. It brings me to the first question on this topic, which is sustaining and growing employee engagement, the evolving role of managers. Do you think that organizations without a manager could be a reality of the future? You can take sides. Just trying to get a perspective from you.

Anil [00:15:43] This is an interesting thing. I talk about it in my induction quite a few times. It's like having a burger without a patty. Managers play the most important role in an organization. If they don't play it right, then the burger is useless. So I truly believe that managers do play the most important role in an organization because they have the sole responsibility of making sure the employees are taken care of.

Anil [00:16:37] They also drive the organizational goals to success. That's why I find it very hard to see an organization that will run without managers. Probably a couple of years down the lane, if we say we have an organization run only by robots, then probably yes. But as long as we have organizations that are driven by humans, managers are required. They are always the game changers in any organization.

Ketan [00:17:21]  So Anil is very clear that managers are required and they are the game-changers. I loved that example that you gave. Now there's one side of the world that says engagement is mostly impacted by managers. And if you look at Gallup, the old statement said that 70 percent of the time people leave because of the managers.

Ketan [00:18:00] There's another school of thought which says it is supposed to be HR’s responsibility, managers have a limited role to play. What's your point of view? Why do you think the world is divided on this approach for quite some time? What is your view in terms of roles that both of them play in the concept of engagement at work?

Anil [00:18:22]  I will always say the divide in this is because of the organization's direction. As an organization, it's important what we want to do and where we want to go. If that clarity is missing, that's when the divide of saying whether engagement is an HR’s responsibility or manager's responsibility arise.

Anil [00:18:57] Let's take the current context of startups. If the whole concept in the head of a startup is to build a product, sell it, make a couple of millions and walk out, it's fine, it can be an HR’s responsibility. But then if the founders are saying, look, I'm going to make that change in the ecosystem through my product in the environment and the ecosystem ,and I'm going to be around, that's where I see engagement becoming the manager's responsibility, obviously supported by HR.

Anil [00:19:47] Organizations should start empowering managers and helping them understand that they are the most key players in this process. If your manager does not believe that he's the key, he is the game-changer, then he will always wash out any people's responsibility. He will say training technology, mentoring technically process-wise is my job, anything with emotion has to be HR, anything with the policy process has to be HR then it's like junk in junk out situation.

Anil [00:20:24] So the manager has to have a lot more empowerment. The manager has to have a lot more liberty and authority over there to manage his team. That's where organizations are divided because, in large organizations, they will have a process set. Medium size, small size organizations have this agile ability to make every change possible on the run. So as long as the organizations quickly pick up the pieces and say managers need to be empowered, I don't think the organization will be successful.

Ketan [00:21:11] This is phenomenal. Anil talked about how important it is to empower the managers because they are the face of the organization. When I started my career, many times when I would ask a question, somebody would come and say, management has decided this and I used to wonder, who is this management? Is that an individual? And I realized with time that for me, management is my manager.

Anil [00:22:37]  We face it at the appraisal time. When it comes to giving a good hike and a promotion, it is the manager. But if it comes to a low hike then this is a management decision. If you look at those organizations that have uplifted managers and given them that credibility and the positioning, that's where this problem gets sorted out. It makes it a much more sustainable organization.

Senthil [00:23:27] I am a part of a  product startup and seeing the community and the attitude of founders, I'm able to completely relate to all the answers that you gave using the examples of startups. I admire how all the things that you're talking about include employees in your equation.

Ketan [00:24:55] It's so amazing to be part of these sessions. We do our best not to miss them. I pick up a lot as an individual. As Senthil said, we started this as a little project. As we go through this journey, we're getting a lot of confidence and knowledge to enhance the product. That brings me to another question here. Do you think recent changes in the workplaces going overly digital impacted the expectations organization and employees have from their managers?

Anil [00:26:26] Yes, the organization's expectation of managers continues to be the same, deliver on time. That has not changed. But from an employee perspective, we are seeing a great deal of change. So let me give you an example. We were talking about covid and what's happening around covid. So for us as an organization, it's important to know which employees or their dependents are infected. There are two parts to it - one is the human part of it the other is the business part of it.

Anil [00:27:26] Let's talk about the human part of it. We said let us know who has been infected, whose family members are infected so we can pitch in and help them at any point in time that is needed. Guess you've heard of Bangalore being in such a chaotic state, not getting beds, not getting oxygen and so many other problems.

Anil [00:27:51] We rolled out the covid leave policy and set a special care program. Managers constantly keep talking in their meetings and their catch-ups and say, if you or your family have been infected, do let us know. So earlier, employees would go to HR and share this. Now they are reaching out to their managers and sharing it. Employees are looking up to their managers to help them and support them.

Anil [00:28:43] They are in tough times. They need help. The employees are also worried about the projects not going live, so the managers should start preparing themselves to see where backup is coming in. So you see the shift, the whole employee community today is going back to their manager. So the manager who had no role to play in the past is now holding an additional responsibility

Anil [00:30:00] Employees reach out to their managers and share their career aspirations, which never happened in the past. The managers are still holding major responsibility, and employees are going to the manager rather than the HR. We were looking at a very interesting conversation in the organization where we said we have scrum teams so why shouldn't HR be part of the scrum.

Anil [00:30:48] The manager is going to be focused only on delivery, so the HR person can take care of the human part of it and collaborate with the manager to make sure both the human aspect and the delivery aspect is taken care of together. And at Tecnotree, we are working on that model. It's an elevation of a business partner concept.

Senthil [00:31:18] I worked for a start-up in the Netherlands. I felt this in the scrum team. There was the absence of the human side of things. It was all super robotic. I was able to superimpose what you just said on that team. Right now, the scrum team only has a scrum master, some developers and product owners, that's all. This would be a great addition.

Ketan [00:32:13]  You spoke about the expectation of employees from their managers that have changed and it's evolving. What are the few things that you would ask or nudge the managers to learn new so that they can cope up well with this? Because the employees are expecting a change. Some managers may be ready to change and some may not. How should they evolve?

Anil [00:32:53]  The first and the most basic thing is with the change that we're going through, managers should start understanding whether they want to become people managers or technical specialists. That's the first step because, in future, there will be people on the technical side who will continue to push the technical agenda. People who are becoming managers and people managers should have complete clarity that the role expectation will be far beyond delivery.

Anil [00:33:42] Empathy is where it starts. The ability to listen is going to be the most important piece. Managers should make a conscious shift in taking an hour off their schedule and talk to the employees in a non-office conversation. Managers should now start having that personal conversation. It's more about making the employee feel good than making the employee feel important. The employee needs to feel good about having a manager that he can bank on for anything.

Anil [00:35:08] The second thing, as an organization, we invest a lot in simulation-based training to help our managers upskill themselves in the whole concept of people management because they were never able to do or never thought about doing it. We need to train them, help them understand and give them an environment and a platform where they can learn about managing people well and taking care of people.

Ketan [00:35:58] Do you think, in future, engagement would shift more towards personalization? Because that's what I'm hearing from you, one thing that covid has done is people are speaking to their managers and you're saying managers also need to take out time and connect at a human level.

Is that taking the entire piece of engagement towards personalization rather than one size fits all approach? What is your point of view and how do you think organizations can enable their managers in a journey like this?

Anil [00:36:41] Absolutely. I picked up this thought a couple of months ago, obviously after reading a few things. We made a small trail around it at the leadership level. In the past, you gave an achievement certificate in public, but today there's no public. Everything happens behind a closed-door with a video. The leadership team and the board decided to recognize the leaders for the good job done. So they wanted to give them a certificate.

Anil [00:37:30] So I started thinking about it, and I said, the certificate is fine, then immediately sat with the marketing team and created a personalized trophy. It had the CEO's photo and along with that leader's photo. So, when you give them a trophy that has a plaque and his photo with the CEO's photo, the whole place gets elevated, and I could see that impact. So in the future, I think a lot of personalization is going to happen.

Anil [00:38:25] Currently, a practical thing that we are doing from HR perspective in this covid period is, we are maintaining a tracker at a crisis committee level where we say these are all my people infected. Employees don't come to HR directly. Few come to HR, few come through the manager, and we fill up this particular sheet and every morning, young HR folks on the team identify and say these six employees are your responsibility for the next 15 days.

Anil [00:39:05] Morning, pick up the phone, call everybody and check how they are doing, how they are feeling, how the company can help them. What can we do for you? I talked to a prospective candidate to join Tecnotree about ten months ago, and for some reason, the role got shut down. When we said it's not happening, he became a friend. So he called me and said he was down for 40 days with covid, and for him to get paracetamol in Delhi, he had to get it from a friend who stayed 30 kilometres away.

Anil [00:39:46] So what we did in Tecnotree is we created a team to provide paracetamol, meal, oxygen, bed, etc. Every morning the team calls the employees. In those conversations, if there is any concern, it is tracked and shared back with the manager. The managers take this in their style, and he talks to the employee. So in the future, we should understand that personalization is the way.

Ketan [00:40:56] Thank you, so good to hear. Empathy has come out in a very different form, and it feels nice. We've been dealing with something unprecedented, and the kind of help people are giving is super amazing.

Senthil [00:41:22]  I wanted to add a point about personalization. We're talking about personalization from manager to leadership to the employee level. But in my experience that personalization already exists from an employee to manager level. In my first job in an MNC, I worked on an amazing project for the first one and a half years. I was performing very well, and they moved to another project where it's a different manager.

Senthil [00:42:03] My manager and I had a conflict of interest because the new manager didn't like my way of delivering. Then after a year, I filed a resignation, and somebody else is coming and talking to me. That is when I came to know there is an HR team. Personalization has already occurred with my managers. It is from employees to managers.

Anil [00:43:29] I'm looking forward to this platform to be another enabler where personalization becomes a habit. Managers should be able to connect with employees rather than wait for an HR to do the survey. So if you can have the managers quickly latch on to some platforms like this, the pressure comes back to you like, how you start building more algorithms in your system to make it manager ready.  

Ketan [00:45:13] That brings me to five more questions, these are rapid-fire rounds. This is the first one for you,  if not HR as a profession, what would you have chosen?

Anil [00:45:29] If not HR, I would have been in the hotel industry.

Ketan [00:45:51] Second, between cooking, cleaning and mopping during the lockdown, which was easy?

Anil [00:45:56] Cleaning and mopping.

Ketan [00:46:23]  Third, what's your next personal, professional milestone or larger than life goal that you've been chasing?

Anil [00:46:40] I believe my strengths are what got me here. So I want to create an environment to help people understand that strengths will take them anywhere. If there's an opportunity to switch off from the corporate side, I would probably get extensive in coaching and using strengths as a tool because here I am an example of what it is.

Ketan [00:47:07] Any book that you would recommend that has the maximum impact on you?

Anil [00:47:15] A Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. A book that's always been there and I've become a fan of Robin, so every week without hearing what rolls out new, I don't feel my week is complete.

Ketan [00:48:01] One thing that you thank lockdown for?

Anil [00:48:09] A chance to be at home with family. I also get time for my introspection a little more. And gardening is something that I picked up about a month ago.

Ketan [00:49:04]  We are at the closing of the session. It was phenomenal speaking to you. Thank you so much for your time.

Senthil [00:49:14] Thank you. There are many points for our audiences to grab and make use of. For me, you said playing their strengths can take them to success. We have a lot more sessions, a lot more topics, a lot more very interesting things coming on. So thanks a lot Anil and Ketan for the great session. Have a great day ahead of you. Let's meet soon.

Anil [00:52:31]  Thank you very much, Senthil. I wish you all the best for trying to change the manager's life, make it better, and as a result, make organizations better. So wish you good luck. And Ketan, great talking to you. Bye.