In Conversation With Prathima Prabhu, Chief People Officer, Marlabs

The philosophy of 'Making Your Presence Felt' is pervasive within the organisation fabric at Marlabs. In the BW People HR Voices segment, Prathima Prabhu, Chief People Officer of Marlabs shares her views on the challenges HR leaders face in nurturing and retaining top talent with Savi Khanna, Correspondent BW People.


Pratibha, can you shed some light on what this philosophy actually is and how it transcends workplace duties and becomes a comprehensive approach, which influences personal as well as professional interactions at work?

Making a presence felt is a very powerful behaviour in my opinion, while it may seem a fairly simple statement, the underlying message that we give to folks around us, be it our colleagues at work, family, friends, and beyond is that it indicates the ownership and responsibility that we take for anything, whether or not it is expected out of us.

In this context, I believe that there's a very thin line which differentiates. It's professional as well as personal interactions. It doesn't really matter what role one is playing, but what matters is how we show up or how we take responsibility for a situation. And that is all that matters. This is about looking for opportunities and every problem statement and taking ownership without any expectations.

And it's such an important trait in today's ever-changing world. Organizations today are battling with so much uncertainty, Adapting to change is the key differentiating factor for any individual. At work, if I have to give a context, It is about how we show up with our stakeholders, customers and even our team members as leaders.

For example, if I make my presence felt, I can expect that my team members will pick that up as a behaviour and do that with their team members or with their stakeholders. if I have to draw another context here in a sales role, for example, how often are you showing up with your customers?

Do you understand their problems? Are you the go-to person for them whenever they want a solution to be developed? Ultimately, I believe that making your presence felt is what defines success for an enterprise or an individual. Furthermore, when you make your presence felt, you are the person who is most sought after in an organization. You are the one who's being noticed, and, these are the folks who are on the fast track to success, right? 

If I take responsibility, I will be the one who's always, being reached out to and with the confidence that no matter what, I will either provide a solution or I will enable a solution, and that is the power of ownership today. It has multifold benefits, I would say, and if you look at the current challenges that organizations are grappling with of getting people back to work, there is so much of resistance, to coming to the office from employees, including because all of us have sought the comfort of working within the four walls of our house, right?

But what people are missing here is the social connection. 

With every organization process that can be handled online in today's world. It is about putting a face to the name. It is about how well we understand our team members and the message that people are missing here today is it's not about organizations wanting to manage productivity.

It's not about utilization, and so on and so forth. It's about how much as a manager I understand my team members personally, even in this flexible working world, right? And I believe that unless you have met them, you will never be able to make that personal connection. We know Zoom meetings work fantastic. but I sincerely believe that If you do not show up, the personal connection will always be void.

As we're speaking along the lines of employee ownership and responsibility as an HR leader, how do you think you can create a balance between employee ownership versus fostering a team environment, which is more collaborative and there's more team cohesion?

According to me, ownership and collaboration go hand in hand. I firmly believe that ownership is more intrinsic in nature while collaboration is something that we learn through observation. And both these traits are imperative to drive enterprise success today.

In my experience, successful people are those who take a lot of ownership of any work that they do as if it were their own. They just don't see a problem. They just take it up. These are your hidden warriors. They are not concerned about the rewards that follow, but they're more focused on identifying the solution or solving the problem.

I am of the firm opinion that, it all starts with our leaders. 

For example, one of our core values is to be purpose-driven. What it means is that it's all about ownership, collaboration and big-picture thinking at Marlabs.

We started by educating all of our leaders about the core values, and it happened through a series of dedicated, interactive and fun sessions, the engagement initiatives that we drive at Marlabs. All of this focus on focuses on propagating this culture.

It includes activities which centre around the behaviour of collaboration and the realization and the impact of such behaviours. We share a lot of learning nuggets with our folks within the organization, use video quizzes, and, drive the message home. The other thing that we also do is that we feature culture champions who live by these values.

So now we're talking about multi multi-generational workforce. You did mention about the Gen Z and millennials. They have their own career expectations. They expect a certain sense of flexible work arrangement, especially during the pandemic. So how do you accommodate your talent management strategy to adapt to the expectations that these different generations have? 

It is interesting and intriguing at the same time because if you look at the current workforce today, right, about 70 per cent of them, or I would say even over 70 per cent of them comprise millennials and Gen Z, their priorities are very different than the earlier generations.

If you look at it, these folks are driven by constant change. They are not under any pressure to build any financial security as it is already provided for by their parents. At the same time, money is important for them for short-term success. They're constantly comparing themselves with their peers. They believe in pursuing a passion and for them, a job is only a means to get there.

Interestingly, this generation also associates with a larger picture. And when I'm saying that what interests them is, how do they get to be part of a customer solution? They are constantly awed by the latest technology enhancements. They're hungry to always be updated, right? At the same time, we have seen how this generation is so heavily influenced by social media.

It is very confusing. If you ask me with such diverse behaviours and personalities, we must constantly reinvent the wheel to keep them engaged. And this is what we're all striving to do. And like I said earlier, it is important to understand what drives and motivates an individual because at the day, each one of us is motivated by something different, right?

Based on our own intrinsic needs. If I have to quote some of the initiatives that we undertake at Marlabs, we encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of every Martian. We call ourselves Martians. For instance, at a project level, every process owner is the leader of that particular process, and it doesn't really matter if it is a fresher or if it is a team lead. By doing so, what we have seen is they automatically take up ownership and responsibility. They are empowered to drive change within their function.

They have a voice and they are heard. And this makes a huge difference in the way they deliver. We also encourage our Gen Z workforce to partake in a lot of key organization initiatives. this gives them an opportunity to connect with the senior leaders and have access to the leadership. For instance, one of the initiatives that we are currently driving is the ESG charter from our labs and the implementation team comprises of several Gen Z Martians, this is their way of contributing to a cause and being part of a bigger picture. of course, there is this need to be on social media at all points in time. So what we also do is. Every achievement of a Martian is propagated on our social media handles. And these are true achievements, learning certifications, any sort of mentions, awards, recognition, everything is made public.

We also, in collaboration with our marketing team, run a program called Martian Unearthed. what this does is it showcases not just the work that a Martian does, not just his or her work personality, but also the passion behind the individual. and we encourage our employees to pursue their passions through social groups within the organization.

And I believe that this also is a generation which appreciates candid conversations, and we encourage a lot of this in open forums. And like I said, this is an ongoing and continuous initiative. 

Now, as we speak along the lines of challenges that come with talent management strategies, how do you nurture and retain the top talent at your organization? What are some of the ways and also how do you identify the high-potential employees at the organization? 

I work in the tech industry and if I have to draw a parallel here, the technology landscape is changing so fast that it is almost becoming impossible or difficult to keep up with the emerging and latest skills, and I'm sure this is a challenge that many organizations are facing today and somewhere it has a rippling effect on how we deliver with our customers or what expectations our customers have of us, right?

So most often, incidentally, the belief is that talent retention is attributed to pay increases. What we forget, though, is that by addressing only this part of the problem, we're only pushing the problem, but not really solving it. The question to ask is, how do you determine who is critical to you?

Would you understand what their needs are and where our focus should be? And this situation can keep changing at any given point in time. Every employee's need is different. They're driven by a lot of personal factors. What we attempt to do here is understand what drives an individual. If you were to ask me our retention strategy, I would say it's a mix of compensation, rewards, tangible, and intangible, learning the role that somebody gets to play, higher order responsibilities, and needless to say, work-life balance as well. For example, What we do is pair them with the right set of mentors, mentors who can inspire them at work.

We involve them in customer conversations, which gives them an exposure to understand how they're, helping, solve a problem for the customer. We create platforms for constant learning and our employees get to keep themselves abreast with the latest technologies. Something which is very close to my heart that we implemented in Marlabs is that we created something known as the Red Exchange, and this is a platform where Martians come and participate in a showcase where they get to present some amazing project works that they have done for our customers. This is a showcase which is hosted on the last Thursday of every month. And pretty much every employee globally gets to witness the showcase.

The outcome has been phenomenal because suddenly there is a lot of awareness amongst employees.  And, another intervention that we did from a retention perspective was that we developed a program called the Managerial Excellence Program.

And this forms the crux of addressing the needs of every single Martian. Today, for example, if I am leading a team of 40, do I understand that one size does not fit all, we created this program, which also included gamification, and more importantly, the outcome was that every manager who underwent this program is now able to understand and appreciate the differences that the team brings, the strengths that they bring to the table, the challenges that they have, and they're able to work around them and allocate responsibilities accordingly.

Secondly, as and when an employee decides to move on, one thing that I believe is they never put the true reason for moving on from the company. So to understand this, we have brought a lot of initiatives trying to understand people's mindsets. We also partnered with an external agency that conducts exit analysis for us.

And this team comprises of psychologists who divulge the actual reason for any exit from the organisation. While many people quote compensation as a reason for moving out, that's the least of all the reasons. So what we do is we use these reports.

When we talk about the changing landscape of technology, we know that generative AI is coming into this space. Meta, AR, VR, all these technologies are automating the tasks, right? So how do you leverage these technologies to enhance your talent management strategy?

If you see our tagline, it says driving digital agility. And this is something that we do not just with our customers, but also with our stakeholders, investors, and our employees.

While traditionally we always focused on applying data to drive outcomes for our business leaders, COVID actually opened up a lot of avenues for us to go digital completely. That is when we started focusing on digitizing the entire employee lifecycle, right from hiring to exit. More importantly, we used our systems to drive efficiency within the organization.

While we have focused on developing all these applications which drive meaningful outcomes for our leaders and help them make informed decisions, I would say the goal for us is to have a single source of truth across the organization, and that can happen only through digitization and systems.

We have a lot of dashboards within HR, which gives a view of not just employee demographics, and the traditional HR dashboards, but also the key organization information, which is accessible in real-time by our leaders. The goal here is to ensure that there is no dependency on any one individual for data. And this is all available in real-time which helps us, in, quicker decision-making.

One example that I would love to share with you is how we manage our entire talent fulfilment process within Marlabs. And when I'm saying talent fulfilment, I am not just speaking about talent acquisition or hiring, but the entire process of ensuring that our employees are future-ready or project-ready at any given point in time.

Accessibility of Information is available for all the stakeholders throughout the process, but more importantly for me, the goal was how do I ensure that this flow happens in the right manner. Every process within HR is currently automated, and I think that truly makes us an agile organization. We also make efforts to measure the impact of some of our interventions, I would say. 

Pratima, most of our readers are HR leaders, employers, and employees. What would be your last piece of advice to them? 

This is for everybody. I wouldn't limit this to the HR fraternity. I'm a firm believer in seizing every opportunity and making the most of it. I think rewards automatically will follow, but, how do we adapt to change, how do we take a problem and delve into a problem without surely wondering whether it's part of my problem or not?

I think these are traits and attributes which are very much required in today's world and I would urge everybody to look at it that way.

Watch the full interview below:  

Note: The automatic transcription has been lightly edited for a better reading experience. Some names and parts of the transcription may carry inadvertent errors that we are in the process of editing. Thank you for your understanding.

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