In conversation with Yuvaraj Srivastava, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, MakeMyTrip, GoIbibo and RedBus
Yuvaraj is Group CHRO with MakeMyTrip Group that includes the 3 most powerful Travel Tech brands of India viz MakeMyTrip, GoIbibo, and RedBus. Prior to this, He has had long and successful stints with Asian Paints, The Oberoi Group of Hotels, and PepsiCo. During his last 23 years tenure, he performed various roles and got exposed to all domains of HR ranging from Industrial relations to Organisational effectiveness. Earlier, Yuvaraj worked with Indian Armed forces for 6 years and transitioned to corporate world in 1997. He is a graduate in Industrial psychology from Allahabad University and MBA in HR from IMT Ghaziabad.
Q-What are the biggest challenges due to COVID-19 and how MakeMyTrip has prepared its people for New Now?
Corona pandemic is the biggest contingency since the Spanish flu of 1918, it reduced the organizations’ emergency plans to an academic document. No other emergency could have impacted all aspects of human existence and survival so extensively. Factors ranging from financial to physical health to mental health to infrastructure; everything came under severe stress and challenge. We were affected in every aspect too, in my view, the biggest challenge was lack of visibility to the future and the inability to make safe assumptions. We could not predict how businesses will fair/perform in the next few weeks and could not forecast how things will improve.
In such situations, the reliability and validity of what you communicate to your stakeholders become the biggest casualty. Challenges had also been in managing customer expectations and communication due to dynamic and changing policies on the lockdown and unlocking process. Government agencies were also learning and trying to manage their stakeholders like state governments or other central agencies, but ultimately due to a lack of coordination and clarity, customers did suffer to a great extent. Besides these challenges, issues around drying up of revenues, workforce sentiments, and managing workplace expectations while working from remote locations were quite demanding.
However, I would believe that despite being part of one of the worst-hit sectors of travel and hospitality, we were quite proactive and forward-looking in our approach in handling each aspect. We assessed the impact on business in mid-march and took timely and early calls on cost and customer issues. As an organization, we have a great culture of people demonstrating accountability and ownership; hence many of the calls on compensation, etc. were the outcome of volunteering by the leaders and the workforce.
Our communication strategy and the ability to keep people updated on progress regularly did help us. In fact, post-June onwards, we had completely shifted our focus from Pandemic related depressing and confusing information to “forward-looking” communication with the workforce. Discussion and updates with the help of fireside chats focused more on how we will come out stronger after the recovery rather than harping on the string of negative impact on the business.
Q- How has the experience been so far with people working from home and what is your future flexible working policy?
It is essential to understand that there is a difference between being “Busy” and being “Productive.” In the initial period of lockdown, in every organization; most people were productive due to the sheer contingency and suddenness of the situation; however, as time progressed, the percentage of “Busy” people started increasing. I think it was quite natural. Our team members in tech, product, and other online functions made a massive leap by ramping up pending projects and stellar work related to our tech stacks and product features; this happened because of the sheer focus of the leaders in the teams. Work continued to be sporadic in some of the functions, with peaks and troughs, but I don’t think we got unnecessarily hassled with this and allowed teams to plan their schedules.
I am of the view that the final and conclusive workplace model still has to evolve. While our proposed workplace model incorporates a good percentage of the workforce to operate from home at any given point of time, I am also cognizant that once things improve, there will be practical constraints in operating, and we will solve for it as we move along. As an organization, we are not fond of creating policies and directions for every occasion and eventuality. We believe in empowering Managers who shall take decisions based on the situation and context.
In as early as 2017 we had implemented the “Uncapped leave Policy”, wherein team members could take need-based leave with their manager’s concurrence rather than getting stifled by the entitled number of days. Similarly, we held back from writing down policies and guidelines around Work from home. We do see quite a good culture of accountability and delivery focus rather than control. As we advance, the emphasis would be more on productivity and Managers taking a call on who should work from home and what flexibility shall be provided without compromising on the output, rather than rolling out a Work from Home policy.
Q- What steps have you taken to keep the employees motivated in this scenario?
Motivation is intrinsic to an individual. I believe everyone has different drivers for motivation. Organizations can only provide a safe and enabling environment for people to dream, aspire, and achieve. In reality, we all need to be self-driven, positive, forward-looking and pick up positive triggers to be motivated. In our organization, we have and would continue to focus on showing a brighter future ahead rather than wailing over the peak pandemic period.
In all our group organizations, MakeMyTrip, GoIbibo, RedBus, and other entities since we are on the path to normalcy, we dialogue about positives like improved cost structures, gains in market shares, completion of some splendid Tech and product projects during the lockdown and org structures that are efficient and agile. Positive and forward-looking communication has given confidence to our people that we will bounce back with full force. Our HR team has been absolutely on top of its game by ensuring regular connect with the team members, checking on to their wellbeing, helping them with clarity on people issues, and ensuring the creation of platforms for engagement and fun.
Q- What is your hiring strategy; campus and lateral hiring plans in FY21?
I think that after every 5 to 6 years some adverse developments at the macro level take everyone by surprise and impact each type of hiring plan in the organizations. As an organization we don’t get carried away by the ‘flavor of the year’ syndrome and rather behave maturely when it comes to making hiring decisions; we don’t over hire and believe in hiring right. We believe in giving very competitive and top of the line compensation with lucrative long-term wealth creation opportunities.
From mid to senior-level almost all our employees would have company stocks, which constitutes a significant part of their earning potential. As a part of the hiring strategy, we have already started hiring from selected NITs and other premium engineering colleges for our engineering. Plans to visit MBA campuses are already under consideration. It is vital to understand that we are a growing organization with immense opportunities, we have many new businesses that are bound to grow over a period of time and would require talent. Hence, there is no stopping of hiring for critical skills and talent.
Q- What are the three biggest trends emerging in the HR space? How can CHROs make most of these trends?
The last few months have been unprecedented, many theories and stated management models have come under severe questioning. Many naysayers for the WFH model or believers in “change is a slow process…” have wisely realigned their compass. To find out the real trends, it is important not to look at the superfluous and most visible occurrences of the last few months but instead
Challenge some of our underlying assumptions and beliefs of yesterday to find or set new trends. For CHROs, there can’t be a better opportunity to reassess some of the organizations’ policies, processes, and traditions and understand if they are pertinent in the current context. We should challenge our traditional learning and development models, existing performance management processes, and talent management tenets. We must discover ways to empower people to develop, deliver, and decide on their own by identifying their tool kits, rather than imposed processes. CHROs need to revamp the rule books and ‘Unbuild HR’ of the organizations to create an enabled and responsible workforce, which is treated like adults rather than policed and governed.
In the immediate future, when workplaces will start operating with the hybrid model of Work from home and remote workplaces, the biggest need would be to build the workplace with Managers and leaders with “Trusting Managerial Mindset’ and team members with the “Impeccable level of ownership and accountability”. I believe that CHROS will contest the status quo and help the organization lead its next growth curve.
Thank you Yuvaraj!