Technology Has Moved From Being An Enabler To Game-Changer: Sayan Chatterjee, Director HR

In the conversation with BW People, Sayan Chatterjee, Human Resources Director at Beam Suntory India talks about the impacts of lockdown on the hiring trends; how technology has been a crucial role player and continues to be; and transformation in HR space in coming years.


How effectively are you utilizing technology in your company and the role of technology during the disruption?

HR has always been the foundation of a successful business and the importance of our function is more apparent today than ever before. For all companies, HR is playing a key role in addressing the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, and the function is being challenged to remain agile and innovative in response to these trying times. Within our company, we have strong success factors based HRIS, adding a strong analytics layer. On the learning and development front as well, we have moved to a more virtual and gamified system that also enables self-paced learning. It is also important to ensure that mobile compatibility is woven into these technologies to ensure ease of usage.

How are you effectively addressing that subconscious fear of losing jobs in the back of the employee's head?

The most effective way of addressing any fears is first to acknowledge its existence and then address it openly leveraging a secure 2-way channel of communication and then follow through with actions that support. We at Beam Suntory have been addressing this through Q&A sessions done right from Global HO to India level, where the senior-most leaders in the company have taken questions and assuaged people’s fears around job security. Also, we have given our people visibility on where we stand financially and how we are tacking the situation by both cutting non-essential / non-people related costs and seeking other channels of revenues e.g. E-commerce. In all this, we have received a high degree of support from our parent Suntory Group which allows us to not take recourse to hard cost-cutting measures which impact people directly. Of course, being a privately held company gives us more flexibility as well. I would like to really like to thank each of our leaders for walking the walk on our “People First” motto when it really counts.

What is the one powerful quote which keeps you going on?

There are so many of them but one that I feel I hold dearly is from John F Kennedy “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”. Our generation has seen more changes than any other and I feel lucky to be part of this and I am ever curious and energized thinking what lies ahead. As a nation, I believe we need to be much more open and embracing of change to realize our full potential and emerge as an economic powerhouse. The continuing rapid strides in technology in the workspace whether it be digital, e-commerce, remote working, AI, robotics, RPA, etc. will make the World of tomorrow very different from today and we need to anticipate some of these changes and make investments in that direction in all aspects of our society.

This recent disruption has made us realize the need for digital transformation across the industries. What is the impact of digitalization on HR? What are the new methods/ techniques that the HR department has adapted to, for the employees

Digitization has and continues to impact every aspect of business and the domain of HR is no exception. With COVID-19 reshaping the way we work, it has certainly led to adopting newer methods of digitization in HR practices. While HR analytics continues to evolve, HR professionals are increasingly using a data-driven approach to make decisions around promotions, compensation, development, budget planning, and agile cross-functional team staffing. The scope of digitization is no longer limited to improving efficiencies and reducing cost but spans across the entire employment lifecycle. Keeping employee experience at the heart of everything, companies are rigorously adopting newer techniques which include artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) advancements. All these components put together to create an employee-centric digitized experience by being connected, transparent, personalized, interactive, and agile in a fast-paced corporate environment to take employee experience to the next level.

At Beam Suntory, we have used digital to increase connectivity among employees. Though people are working from home, through virtual town halls and fun engagement sessions such as coffee catch-ups, cocktail sessions and yoga/meditation classes, we have enabled team bonding and maintained open communications lines with the leadership team.

How the shift to digitization has made people management more effective and convenient

As a result of COVID-19 aftermath, a larger workforce all around the world witnessed a general shift towards remote and Flexi working which has been possible due to the role of digitization in HR. During this period, maintaining employee productivity as well as keeping them engaged is one of the top priorities for the HR team. There are several tools available for re-skilling as well as upskilling which is complimented with AI-based content recommendations and virtual reality making training experience more effective. We have been conducting workshops and training sessions for our workforce with interesting quizzes and gamification to maintain interest. We have partnered with LinkedIn Learning to provide on-demand courses to our employees so they can upskill during this time.

Moreover, to enhance employee engagement, there are tools available that convert employee feedback into actionable recommendations for team leads. To continue a culture of recognition and appreciation, performance management and goal-setting tools are a great way of harnessing employee potential as well as charting career milestones.

While technology evolves, the human element remains of critical importance for successful working, and HR teams across industries should work towards developing more two-way, frequent communications to keep employee morale high. It is important for the HR departments to think of innovative ways to connect employees via fun and engaging activities. At Beam Suntory, we have regular interactions with local and global leaders, virtual & hybrid events and regularly connect with functional leads and HR to engage people and address any concerns.

What trends are you foreseeing in HR space in the coming years?

Technology has moved from being an enabler to a game-changer. The COVID crisis has proven that companies that have invested in the right technologies face less disruption. In HR, tech has moved from automating backend processes to providing real-time insights and analytics. I believe that RPA, big data, analytics, and AI are all going to be a big part of the HR function in the coming years. As businesses slowly open to new norms of social distancing, flexi-working will still continue for many organizations. This will warrant the re-skilling of employees in terms of learning and development with the help of digital adoption.

What is the impact on hiring? How have you entertained hiring during these tough times?

The most severely impacted aspect of HR during recent times has been hiring. However, I anticipate a rapid recovery for talent acquisition and at that point, companies that truly invest in nurturing talent and supporting employees during this testing time will stand to gain the most. It is important to rethink ways of working and enable a more tech-savvy ecosystem. The industry needs to prepare for virtual hiring, onboarding, and reviews. We at Beam Suntory always put our people first, and we have continued with our merit increases, internal moves, and promotions. The lockdown has also acted as a stimulus for the industry to adapt to virtual interviews and on-boarding of new hires. At Beam Suntory, we are rolling out customized virtual onboarding plans for different positions. During the lockdown, our company onboarded 29 new members and a customized onboarding plan was created for each. We are now also exploring formats to hire and evaluate employees virtually.


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