Exclusive Conversation with Biplob Banerjee, Chief People Officer, ABD India Ltd
Biplob joined ABD in November 2018 and presently serves as Chief People Officer, leading human resource functions including talent acquisition and retention, learning and development, employee engagement, and welfare, rewards, recognition, compensation, and benefits.
Biplob has over 25 years of experience in the fields of human resources, administration, CSR, and sustainability, he has supported business growth across industries, at organizations like Glaxo Smith Kline, Pepsico, and Jubilant Foodworks.
Biplob holds a Mechanical Engineering degree from Jadavpur University and a Master’s in Human Resources from XLRI. He has also completed the INSEAD Advanced Leadership Program.
Q- You are one of the inspirational HR leaders, working with fortune 500 companies like GSK, Jubilant FoodWorks, and ABD, etc. Tell us more about your time at ABD?
Very interesting and eventful last two years. We have just had a top-level leadership change and followed by a huge transformation program across the business. Leaders are stepping up and embracing a very unique journey where profitability, premiumization, and people and three cornerstones. Alco bev as an industry is still under excise duty and hence a lot more dynamic due to State Govt jurisprudence. Still somewhere the treatment is towards a “sin industry” however COVID and lockdown made us not “saints” but at least a lot relevant commercially.
Q- What have been the biggest HR challenges for ABD during the pandemic? How did you mitigate it?
There were primarily three kinds of reactions to COVID-19; first, people were completely taken by the surprise and almost denied or wished it’s just a few week’s affairs. Second, many understood the implication and did some changes to manage the current situations. And third few tried to build multiple scenarios right from the very beginning. Like if this situation continues for the next few months what will happen, and if the sales remain down for the next couple of months, what will happen, etc. We followed the last approach.
We have broken down the annual targets into small chunks in terms of volume, revenue, sales, cash conservations, etc.
Looking at all kinds of efforts for a long term blueprint for the organization, because we have realized that all these things are opportunities to transform the organization and business model. We have also signed up a consulting house to help us in current situations and how can we run the business differently given this condition and taking this as an opportunity.
“On the HR side, most of the organizations have almost the same employee challenges like motivating, anxiety, worry, and wellness. As we are a sales and manufacturing organization and our leadership is distributed across the country and the most commonly used solution for these challenges is regular Communication, that we took up very strongly right from the day one.”
Our senior leaders, Middle-level leaders stated Zoom calls with all the employees to overcome the above challenges.
Lots of empathy also comes in the process. Leaders in normal times are completely time-oriented and task-oriented. These days there is a fine balance that has emerged in managing the team and results.
We have also launched an informal network, which is called “Yammer”. It’s a platform like Facebook, which helped employees share creativity like they are preparing some food, making drawings, singing songs, and sharing on Yammer. This has also helped employees in reducing stress and to remain connected.
Q- It has been also the period of Employee Performance Appraisals amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak. What did you decide on the employees’ salary hike and promotions?
We didn’t make the whole performance appraisal process very elaborate due to already economic slowdown and overall challenges, so we had decided that we will sit and talk, discuss the feedback. We have decided not to make any significant salary corrections this year
Increments have been almost minimal unless for a very deserving few who have done excellently. That’s how we have simplified the process and we are completing it next month. There will be hardly any increment or bonus this year.
Q- Do you have any layoff plan as a cost-cutting measure or taking this time as an opportunity to retrench the non-performers?
No, we don’t have as such any plans like that. The liquor industry suddenly has become very relevant as it contributes a huge amount of excise duty to the government’s revenue. The state governments are now allowing the online sales of liquor. In the long run, I can see, many jobs will be created and many start-ups may come-up in the home -delivery of things.
Almost all things are available online, so why not liquor. I would say it’s a good start with few societal restrictions and boundaries.
Q- What is Work From Home policy for your employees? Did you bring any innovations into it?
We are providing laptops, data connection to all who would be required to work in future too and for those who have to go to mfg units few additional travel allowances and ensuring how this can be continued in the future, because many leaders/companies have this mindset that work has to happen from office only. Across the globe now most managers have realized that work can happen from home also but it needs a little more consideration when work happens from Home.
Work from home in the normal definition is very different from what is happening now in a pandemic. Now it is working out of home when there are no facilities are available. The same person who is working at home is also helping in cleaning, cooking, bringing vegetables and also spending time with the kids and taking care of parents, because kids and parents all are stuck at home.
So, this work from home condition is entirely different from the earlier definition of working from home. So what we are doing is sensitizing their outlook, you cannot just keep doing calls from 9 to 7 in the evening because people need to step out, can get things, have to do household work, etc.
The Work from Home policy can’t be the same policy which was earlier… This has to be a lot more considerate during this time and going forward as things become normal then we can look into again.
We are under discussion and hopefully, by next month we will come up with a new Work from Home policy.
Q- How do you see the impact of Work from Home on productivity? Is WFH boosting employees’ performance or there is a downfall?
Off-course it is boosting-up the performance. Fear of survival is also a big reason because current Work from home is in unprecedented situations.
When we do video conferences, I realized people are more focused, their output, concentration is high and efficiency has gone-up. We may continue this kind of meetings even in normal times.
Q- Companies are fast-tracking digitalization post-COVID-19, how do you see the impact on HR Processes and Workflows?
We have realized that there are tremendous opportunities for digitalizing most of the core process, it also needs a little bit more investments and therefore it has to be prioritized. However I feel especially in HR as much you digitalize the process, there is a need for personal touch and understanding face to face employees’ issues and challenges. Many times employees may not feel comfortable to open up, share, and connect also.
So, this digital distance in few situations should be taken care and there should be a judicious blend of how do we digitalize the entire thing and also keep a window for connecting and understanding employees’ concerns in totality. I feel concerns are going to increase and a new kind of new concerns (personal and professional both) may come-up.
Q- How do you keep employees engaged and motivated in current situations when most of the workforce working from Home?
Whole connect is now happening through digital medium and we have 3 to 4 generations of the working-class today. The younger generations are very agile and receptive to this way of engagement but middle to slightly orderly generation, they are having little challenge in connecting through a digital medium like sharing a file, uploading documents, etc all these things are not easy for those who have not done in the past.
That’s why I see the younger generation will be very easily connected, in fact, better connected than face to face. So there has to be a balance and way to take it forward for better engagements. We have to have other ways of connecting and balancing this out.
Q- What are the HR trends you see in the next couple of years?
I feel the biggest thing which is going to happen is on the compensation front. Most of the companies will be looking at rewards and reworking in a major way because whatever is your fixed compensation or variable incentive or log-term incentive or reward & recognition have to match with performance of the next to 2-3 years. And performance is not going to be what we had thought 3 years back.
Whole cultural change will happen because of Work from Home. A few companies are allowing WFM for a year or whole life, or up to a certain period time and on another side, few employees have a great urge to go back to the workplace. Organizations now need to manage this and there could be few different innovative ways to manage it.
And I think command control with the support of Tech the culture will be a lot more about dependence and empowerment which many organizations talk about but actually couldn’t achieve it.
Various new jobs will come-up now, for example, facilitating discussion digitally because everybody is not comfortable talking digitally.
Leaders will also undergo a transformation in leadership styles. The same leadership wouldn’t work.
Q- Any concluding remarks?
I feel that we are thinking this all because of fear of contagiousness and eventually fear of death. And there is no definite proven solution like medicine or vaccine yet. Once we will get the solutions, this all may go away. People will be a lot more confident and innovative to deal with that situation. So, once the solution appears; consumer and employee behavior will change.
Thank you, Biplob!