Crisis Tests Relationships But I Put Consistent Communication Above Everything: Rajesh Mehrotra

In the conversation with BW People's Resham Suhail, Godfrey Phillips India's CHRO, Rajesh Mehrotra discusses about the importance of consistent and compassionate communication; the major areas to focus in the New Wolrd, and challenges faced while keeping the people of the organization happy and engaged during the recent crisis.


As a leader what will be your major area of concern as we are heading towards the New world?

I think there are two aspects to it. As a leader I am personally concerned about how we quickly adapt to the new environment, reorganize in the present circumstances, and lead with confidence while keeping the fundamentals.

The other aspect would be, how we organize the employees. With this pandemic, some jobs have become redundant, and some practices obsolete. We have to upskill, reskill, and at a pace that will ensure that no one gets left behind.

How efficiently you kept the workforce engaged, happy, and well connected during the lockdown?

Keeping employees engaged, safe, and happy today is a totally different ball game than even a few months ago. In Godfrey Phillips, we have always put ‘People First’. So much so that even our Group Chairperson, Dr. Bina Modi, is personally involved in all decisions related to employees.

I feel the most critical part of all our initiatives was ensuring that employees were made to feel safe and secure. Not just from the health and safety aspect, but we consistently reassured our employees on their job securities - no pay cuts or layoffs. Dr Bina Modi, Bhisham Wadhera, CEO, and the entire leadership regularly communicated and conversed with our workforce across levels to address all anxieties, fear, and doubts. Virtual Townhalls and mails were used extensively.

The second aspect was to have the employees stay meaningfully engaged. We created cross-functional teams that looked at present business continuity and another that anticipated the new normal like consumer behavior, new distribution channels, employee management, operations, etc. This also helped the employees use the crisis as an opportunity to learn, innovate stay focussed on the way forward then allowing confusion, the anxiety of the situation overwhelms.

Besides these, an extensive communication initiative that had HR personally reach out to every single employee to have sincere conversations, created a daily check-in for health, access to online training and courses to upskill, fun engagements on providing guidelines on how to work effectively and productively from home, being safe, employees sharing their experiences, using talent to create song, music, and videos internally, surveys to keep a check on the pulse are just a few of the initiatives.

We managed to retain the trust, confidence of the employees, and keep the organization happy. That is a momentous task we have managed. I am proud to share that we got tremendously positive feedback from our employees on our dealing with the COVID pandemic lockdown. For us that is validation enough.

What are the three major challenges that you faced in keeping people intact and also to look after business continuity?

The first challenge that I would say all companies were hit with was the suddenness and swiftness of the lockdown. While we adequately pre-empted the lockdown and had shut down offices, it was still a challenge to get every employee equipped, ensure connectivity, keep data secure, create and have employees adopt the new processes in Work from the Home scenario.

The second challenge was connectedness with customers and consumers, especially digitally which was not the norm. Both for ensuring the emotional connection and for business. Our confidence came from the way we were able to handle our employees.

We reached out to our partners and associates, stayed in touch and communicated regularly, made sure any assistance required for business or otherwise was quick, created a complete program on safety & precaution for them, and partnered in social outreach programs for distributing safety kits and groceries for the marginalized. Few but intensive initiatives strengthened our bond with them.

Lastly, I would say the big challenge was and continues to be, business continuity in the wake of extended lockdown. Consumer behavior changed, channels changed, factories were closed, the supply chain was impacted and the situation was different in each region so no standard processes could be rolled out. I think the most difficult was the uncertainty of it all.

Do you think that during this disruption; unexpectedly people have come up and shared their valuable ideas? Do you think the people-first approach can encourage employees to do much much better?

Godfrey Phillips is a live example of the ingenuity that is possible in times of crisis. Employees used the opportunity to learn, unlearn, adopt, adapt, be bold, and take risks. We saw some truly innovative ideas come up and we empowered the employees to implement it. This would not have been possible if the employees were not feeling secured and confident. Without the fear of redundancy, employees and workers could focus on business solutions. Of course, the People First approach works! Also, a good time to share that we won Best Companies to Work For 2020 with 29th ranking over our last year’s 37th.

Technology is taking over. Do you think it will harm people's relationship building or that people's vibe?

I feel the pandemic only hastened the process of pushing technology to the core of business operations. It was but writing on the wall.

There are both benefits and detriments to anything you pick up. I would like to believe that technology has in fact brought people closer together, opened up avenues to communicate, share, create, be transparent, collaborate. Most of the time the detriments that are discussed in relation to social relationships can be resolved with etiquette, regard, and responsiveness for another. It also a matter of balancing.

However, the perils of not being able to meet informally and create a personal touch remain; and we are still trying to find solutions to those.

Do you think communication, trust, and happiness will play a major role and can help people grow and develop, especially in these tough times?

Personally and professionally I put consistent communication above everything and fortunately in our organization right from the top with Dr. Bina Modi, to CEO Bhisham and every leader is a proponent of it.

Here is how I look at it. In every relationship, within the family, friends, brand, and consumer, employee and organization, society, and lawmakers open and honest communication build trust and confidence. It increases happiness quotient. And only when people are happy, confident, and secure, they work on themselves, learn, evolve, and contribute. It is a natural order.

Crisis tests these relationships. And therefore we have to work harder at it. How many brands and companies took the brunt of people’s ire due to some short term and ill-thought-out actions. Relationships take years to build. Mature organizations nurture them.

What is that powerful phrase or lines that keep you motivated and sane?

Be optimistic myself by maintaining the positivity of thoughts and actions. Create positivity through Trust, Empowerment, and Communication. Provide opportunities to take up challenges and support people in creating success.


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