Bala V. Sathyanarayanan EVP & CHRO, Greif Inc on Talent Optimization amid the COVID crisis

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Bala V. Sathyanarayanan EVP & CHRO, Greif Inc on Talent Optimization amid the COVID crisis
Greif has enabled world-class remote working through enhanced technology, continuity in global collaboration, featured learning resources, and a focus on colleague engagement.

In Conversation with Bala V. Sathyanarayanan EVP & CHRO, Greif Inc Director, Board of Directors @Balmer Lawrie – Van Leer Ltd, India

Bala V Sathyanarayanan serves as the Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at Greif Inc., a global leader in Industrial Packaging, operating in over 44 countries. He is focused on delivering a world-class, diverse, and engaged workforce that can execute Greif’s vision of “in industrial packaging, be the best performing customer Service Company in the world”.

Prior to Greif, Bala served as Executive, Vice President for Business Transformation and Human Resources at Xerox Corporation. Bala also led the human resource function for the Americas Enterprise Business at Hewlett-Packard Inc. and has had leadership roles at Avaya Inc., Coca Cola Inc, and Otis Elevator Company.

Bala earned a Bachelor of Electronics and Communications Engineering and Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Madras in Chennai, India. He also holds a Master’s in Human Resources from Rutgers University and graduated from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

Q. What are the key challenges that you’re facing as CHRO when it comes to Talent Optimization amid the crisis?

Our largest challenge as it relates to Talent Optimization has been a heightened focus and need to ensure we are able to attract and hire the talent needed to align with our business needs in the increasingly tight labor market across the globe. This includes balancing the need to hire and maintain our essential workers at the plant while optimizing our approach to creating a flexible, responsive, and engaging environment for those who have been working from home.

We’ve been faced with rethinking our approach to learning and have pivoted to the launch of a completely virtual Global Greif University to continue meeting the need to educate our colleagues and ensure our investment in their continued growth is evident. This will also result in us revamping our Leadership Development approach to stay in front of the trends in learning approaches that will likely be sustained post-pandemic.

We’ve maintained a strong focus on our commitment to Colleague Engagement and executing on our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion mission.

Q. What is your business continuity plan amidst covid-19, and how do you manage workplaces?

First order of the business continuity plan is care for our colleagues and families and care for those who care for our colleagues and families. So many people have been directly and indirectly impacted by Covid-19 and it is critically important that we maintain our position as a compassionate employer genuinely interested in the day-to-day well-being of our colleagues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to adapt at every changing phase, to develop, adapt and update our protocols and to closely monitor the safety of our workplaces in the over 44 countries where Greif operates. Throughout this pandemic, we have developed protocols and either needed to emphasize and reemphasize them or change them as more information became available. From the outset, we followed the science and we’re guided only by the best scientific organizations. We put global and regional task forces in place which remain active today to lead us through this pandemic.

Workplace of the future is yet to be decided but clearly our colleagues have adapted amazingly well, and we are a stronger company for it.

Q. How are you enabling better Remote Working in your organization?

Greif has enabled world-class remote working through enhanced technology, continuity in global collaboration, featured learning resources, and a focus on colleague engagement.

  • Ensure all colleagues are equipped to effectively work remotely through means of technology and virtual meeting tools
    • Company-issued laptops and smart phones
    • Zoom (video-enabled, whiteboarding, polling, chat, break-out rooms, etc.)
    • MS Teams (File Sharing, Project Management, Chat, Meetings/Touchbases, etc.)
    • Remote Network Access through enhanced VPN
    • WhatsApp
    • Spark! Recognition Platform
  • Increase in global collaboration and inclusivity in meetings; virtual meetings give everyone the same platform and visibility and enable other means of in-the-moment collaboration for less vocal colleagues through polling, chat, etc. 
  • Created virtual platform to maintain and enhance key programs and initiatives, i.e. Virtual Development Sessions through Colleague Resource Groups, Virtual Onboarding Program, Virtual Townhalls, Virtual Plant Tours, etc.
  • Colleague and Manager Virtual Resources deployed and highlighted as Featured Learning Content in weekly newsletters, examples:
    • Virtual Meeting Tools & Technology Training
    • Navigating through Change
    • Business Continuity
    • Virtual Team Building
    • Personal Productivity & Time Management
  • Pulse Surveys & Ongoing Engagement Activities to stay connected as teams and to equip managers with resources for facilitating discussions

Q. What are the HR Practices you follow to keeping employees safe and supporting their mental health?

The HR function has a key role when it comes to the health and safety of employees, whether in the physical or emotional area. In times of crisis like the one we are in right now, it is particularly important to provide employees with ongoing and appropriate support, and to develop additional strategies with a focus on the well-being of our colleagues. An environment of calm, professionalism and, in particular, timely, precise and intensive communication is particularly important. In addition, communication needs to be honest, open, and as transparent as possible to maintain credibility.

Security is fundamentally an essential pillar in our global approach. In addition to the already very high standards, we have introduced additional measures in the last 12 months. Here are some examples:

  • Provide mental health awareness-raising activities – work towards a culture where it is acceptable to talk about and seek support for poor mental health.
  • Psychiatric and psychological counseling (not psychotherapy) are added to health insurance coverage.
  • Supporting activities that encourage physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing like webinars for stress management, breath exercise, ergonomic etc.
  • Availability of trauma counsellors in the event that an employee is going through a traumatic experience – in some cases ensuring that all impacted family members are treated.
  • Implementation of ‘how are you today?’ practice in plants: Each supervisor and/or team leader asks their direct reports individually everyday their state.
  • New virtual meeting culture: starting the first five minutes of every (virtual) meeting with something that is not work-related; include fun exercises and reduce the meetings duration to a minimum
  • Financial Support for employees requires time off linked to different circumstances related to the crisis
  • Communicate regularly on wellbeing and mental health support like regular Newsletters, Video messages, posters, YouTube messages, CEO touchbases, WhatsApp groups, translated in local languages

Our colleagues safety is our highest priority and we need to look at our mission and our people together.

Q. Any concluding remarks?

We are living through times, the likes of which we have never experienced ever. This calls for a unique approach that will need to draw from all our individual and collective reserves. The tiredness, the

fatigue, the feeling of helplessness that we experience is real. Beyond that we also have hope. Never in the history of mankind have we seen the triumph of science as we see today. Have we ever heard of a vaccine being produced in such record time? That’s the power and beauty of humankind. A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to the original shape. Make your crisis learning, greater than your experience. We can rise to the challenge. We need to believe that we have it in us to handle any challenge. While extremely difficult, just know that…this too shall pass!

Thank You, Bala!

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