This is the fourth interview in the series of interviews with expert HR professionals across the country. We hope you, the reader, can gain from the insights, knowledge and experience of veterans in the industry through this series.
WHISHWORKS won the Best Employer Brand Award for 2018 in an event hosted by World HRD Congress. As quoted by HR.com “The company was recognized for its continuous innovation in HR strategy”. They also increased their business by 225% this year.
How did they make this happen?
We interviewed Lekha Sishta — VP & Head of Talent at WHISHWORKS to dive into the innovative HR strategy being executed at WHISHWORKS and penned this article.
The article also includes professional advice, recommendations and words of wisdom from Lekha for the upcoming HRs.
- About the inteviewee:
- Lekha Sishta
- Senior VP & Global — Head of Talent — WHISHWORKS
- 37+ years of experience starting with marketing and then shifting to HR and delivering across entire gamut of HR roles.
- ex-VP — Talent, Zenoti
- Chief People Officer — GSS Infotech
- Connect with Lekha on LinkedIn here.
Part One: The Strategy
The strategy in discussion can be broken down to three parts:
Let’s look at this part by part.
- Employee Engagement
- Performance Management
- Connecting Engagement with Performance
Lekha mentions, “Engagement is not just fun activities. This approach, which is pervasive in the Indian corporate sector has to be changed. In the long term, Employee Engagement is about loyalty in employees. This can be done by various methods and activities; quizzes & outings are only some of those.”
Once this perspective shift happens, companies can identify how employee engagement needs are different across different groups. This defines the methods, processes and systems that are needed for a particular group’s engagement. Other factors like L&D, career growth and age group play pivotal roles as well.
For example, a young employee in 20's from India will have completely different engagement needs compared to a similar person from US or UK. Employees in their late 20's are different from those in their late 30's. As age tends to increase, metrics like work-life balance became more important than career growth for employees’ satisfaction.
For engagement strategies to be effective, the level of engagement of employees must be tracked through various metrics from time to time. ENPS — Employee Net Promoter Score is one such metric. Employees are ambassadors of their companies. ENPS measures how likely it is that the employee would refer the company or its products to friends and family.
This metric derived from the book ‘The Ultimate Question’ is calculated based on response to a survey. A biannual survey of about 25 questions is conducted. The penultimate question in the survey is, “How likely are you to refer this company to someone you know?” This data is then used in calculating ENPS. This metric is also supplemented by or verified against the actual count of referrals coming from employees. Such additional validation makes metrics more reliable.
Honest, anonymous and unbiased feedback from employees is crucial for knowing their opinions. Glassdoor is an option to gauge that, especially to collect honest feedback from the leaving employees. Like WHISHWORKS, other companies can also track and their Glassdoor scores.
Tracking such metrics gives interesting insights on a company. For example, tracking the attrition numbers showed that WHISHWORKS had a hump in attrition of young software engineers after two years of work. There was also a noticeable hump after 5 years when people filter out instead of moving to a project manager role. The reason for this could be that some employees do not want to take up a leadership role and want to remain individual contributors.
To sum it up: Engagement is not limited to a one time activity, instead it is a process. Engagement activities should be customized to an individual or a group depending on their preferences. The output from engagement activities should be feedback from the employees. This feedback should be churned into metrics and HRs and Talent managers should constantly track and optimize these metrics.
Performance Management at WHISHWORKS is frequent, dynamic and pro-active.
A continuous goal setting process is established and goals are set for all teams pro-actively. By March 31st, goals for all the departments and teams across the globe for the next year would be set.
Lekha mentions, “What is unique in the WHISHWORKS way of doing this, is that these goals are based on the quality of work and learning of individual.” Such goals are lead indicators of performance because if an employee has the learning and quality of work, the results will automatically be better. There are very few lag indicators of performance used in the system.
For example, the number of calls a sales employee makes is irrelevant as it is a lag indicator of performance. A gap in such a metric will be seen only after the harm to the revenue is done. Instead, the focus is on the quality of work, level of commitment and continuous learning.
The PMS — Performance Management System keeps track of both the goals assigned and the performance of employees. Throughout the year, performance is analysed and action with regard to variable, as well as mid-course corrections or help to the employee is given quarterly. At WHISHWORKS the last 20–25 days of every quarter are spent on performance management.
When an employee is transferred from one project to another, a sign off is given, in the form of a project transfer document by the employee’s manager to the Talent representative. The document is consistent with the evaluation criteria of the PMS and this information is later used in the quarterly and annual analysis.
To sum it up: Goal setting is the first step to performance management and it should be done well in advance. The metrics and indicators of performance being used for analysis and optimization should be lead based instead of lag based. The performance analysis systems and processes should be developed in such a way that they are able to give a here and now picture of the company.
Connecting Engagement with Performance
Improvements in engagement level of employees reflects directly in performance. Higher amount of ENPS, activity participation and Glassdoor scores have had positive correlation with higher growth of the company. In fact, the hallmark reason of growth and achievements at WHISHWORKS is that the employees were able to identify themselves with the mission of the company and had the readiness to collaborate and deliver.
“… the only reason we have been able to achieve this, is because of employee engagement in a sense — but more due to employees identifying themselves with the mission of the company and the readiness of the people to collaborate.”
The systems and processes at a company must be designed to optimize for these soft factors. At WHISHWORKS, the ‘Level of onboarding’ of a newly joined employee is measured to ensure that the person understands the mission of the company — Doing this assures that the employee is in sync with the values, processes and vision of the company and fully capable of delivering on the company’s expectations.
Similarly, there is a constant reiteration of the corporate values and the mission statement to all the employees in the company.
Since most of the goals are quality based, companies must also invest heavily in the Learning and Development of employees. At WHSHWORKS, every time a new contract is received, employees are trained to ensure that they are agile and capable to change from project to project. Constant rotation across projects has also helped the company remain productive.
Finally, the robust system in place at WHISHWORKS is the sync between PMS, Engagement and L&D.
During the quarterly reviews, the PMS itself creates an overall score of every employee. This score combined with behavioral metrics (derived from the survey).
Any gap in performance is identified and a box within the PMS speaks about the development need of a person or team or department.
If the scores for an entire team are low, the reason could be the manager. Either the manager has not taken up charge of the team, or is unable or ineffective in taking the charge. Training is needed to enhance managerial skills here and this is an example of how the L&D department is triggered based on the recommendations by the PMS.
There are three in-house trainers, two focusing on the technical skills while the third focuses on the soft skills. An Individual Development Plan — IDP, spanning a 30 or 60 day schedule is put into effect and reviews are taken every 15 days to see if there is any change in the score.
To sum it up: Improvement in engagement levels reflects as improvement in performance. Hence, it is important to include engagement metrics in the HR systems and processes and optimize them. This bridge between engagement and performance is the key element of the HR architecture of the company.
Part Two: The Role of Leaders
We asked Lekha about 3 important points that she constantly keeps at her fingertips to make sure that she’s performing well on her role as Head of Talent. Here’s what she had to say:
Every company must have a mission, vision and set of values. These are the defining principles of the culture of a company. People in the company should always be in sync with these and only then it is possible to create the culture that a company wants. It takes strategic intervention and policy changes to make this happen. For example, at WHISHWORKS the young generation loves to be constantly updated. Policy level interventions are often the gateway to creating the desired culture at a company.
Don’t be an HR:
The role of an HR is to ensure compliance to rules. However, senior managers and leaders need to move beyond that. The lesser the compliance and the faster managers move beyond it, the sooner they are available to make strategic decisions. The era of HR being a process facilitator is over. Automation and technology has replaced that function of an HR. Talent management is the new role that HR leaders perform. The focus of Talent is engagement, retention and growth while HR used to be maintenance and acquisition. The beauty of talent is that it is dynamic and accommodates change unlike the rigid policies of HR.
Treat Employees as Customers:
Lekha asks her team to constantly ask themselves the question: “Supposing it was in the hands of the employees, to choose if they want you to be their Talent representative, how would they respond?”
An authoritative attitude is widely prevalent in the general HR circles. She mentions an ex-colleague who joined her in the Talent team. The team would regularly visit employees’ desks and talk to them about how they feel at work. The said person found this tough as it goes against the expectations that employees were supposed to come to HR, instead of the reverse. Obviously, that employee had to be coached to change the perspective, and is today valued as a contributor in the team.
Talent executives need to have the willingness and eagerness to serve and facilitate growth of everyone. Employees should be treated by them just the way sales treats customers. Employees are after all the internal customers of the talent team, their raison d etre. A perspective shift and change in approach towards the execution of policies is required for this. For example, instead of nitpicking on absenteeism, which cannot be changed or worked upon, we should focus on presenteeism. The goal is not to check how many hours an employee reports to work, but to check how committed the employee is, to deliver.
Part Three: Advice for others
Lekha’s stellar career was built on the strong foundation of her values, habits and beliefs. In this part, we jot down the pillars that uphold a successful HR professional.
Affinity of being with People
The best HRs and Talent Managers are the ones that treat employees as customers. This habit or tendency stems from a much deeper affinity of being with people.
Being from a Marketing background, Lekha was able to look at things from the customer’s perspective. She also worked in academia and taught students. This experience has kept her updated with the behavioral characteristics of the upcoming generation of business executives. Her own personal experience with helping people and companies added to this mixture. It is this mixture of experience, academia and marketing that she quotes as the reason behind her success as a talent manager.
When a person has a deep seated desire to help others, they would definitely make a good Talent executive
A good Mentor
Prior to being at WHISHWORKS, Lekha worked for SumTotal Systems where her role started as a Head of Training and then she moved to senior roles such as HR and Talent positions. This growth, she mentions, was facilitated by having a good mentor.
At SumTotal, her manager — Mr. Sudheer Koneru taught her principles that she still abides by today. He taught her not to look at things in just black and white. People managers should be agile and not rigid. Looking at things from different perspectives helps in thinking creatively and devising out of the box solutions and strategies to problems.
(Mr Koneru went on to be the Co-Founder of Zenoti)
Similarly, it is very important for upcoming HRs to choose and learn from veterans. This is the smartest and quickest hack towards growth.
Lekha’s style of career decisions is almost entrepreneurial. She loves solving problems.
This is why, when she enters a company, she figures out the top 3 problems the company faces. She stays at the company for the amount of time required to solve the problem and moves on to the next company and next challenge in the market.
The key attribute to learn from this is that HRs today need to stop being complacent. Most of the time, an HR that stays at a particular role in a company for more than 2 years is only pushing paper and learning nothing. HRs, and specially Talent focused professionals need to constantly shift from one challenge to another, be it within or outside the company. This helps in adding perspective, staying productive and keeps the job challenging and the career growth steep.
The new breed of HR is coming and we at TeamGraph want to give people the knowledge and experience from people like Lekha and other leaders to keep their edges sharp. At TeamGraph, we enable managers and senior leaders take better decisions which impacts their companies’ performance.
TeamGraph is an employee engagement analysis tool that tracks 30 KPIs, some of which were mentioned in this interview, that impact business performance.
Every quarter, employees are sent a 30 question set. The questions are adaptive, multiple option choice and crafted by experts. Our AI in the backend makes it seem as if it’s a HR manager talking to the employee.
Responses from the questions are analysed by our machine learning algorithms in the back-end to churn out 30 KPIs such as Conducive Culture, Relationship with Manager, etc.
These metrics are lead indicators of performance and managers can track these metrics quarter on quarter and optimize them. This ensures that managers are never surprised about the performance of the company in the next fiscal. And if ever a problem or issue pops up, business leaders can look back into TeamGraph and pin-point the exact department>team>cause of the performance. Plus you also get recommendations on what actions to take to solve the problems.
- You can read more about TeamGraph and its benefits here.
- You can sign up for TeamGraph and start using it at: www.teamgraph.io
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- Or you can watch a video on YouTube of the demo here.