The physical workspace, which was an indispensable norm before Covid19 scenario, will now become optional & employees will be encouraged to “Work from Anywhere”: CHRO & Director on Board, Pernod Ricard India

Shrikant Lonikar

Shrikant Lonikar is a highly accomplished HR Leader in India with diverse and rich experience in multiple industry segments including FMCG, IT, Retail, Infrastructure, Pharma, etc. He is an energetic, forward-thinking and creative individual with high ethical standards. A strategic planner with a deeper understanding of business processes and result-oriented approach, he has strong capability to create value at the top management level. His deep passion for talent and resolute pride in HR function differentiates him from many others.

In an exclusive interaction with CPO Innovation, Shrikant Lonikar, CHRO & Director on Board, Pernod Ricard India shares his views on covid’s impact on the way of working and workforce, HR’s crucial role in these unprecedented times and how HR community can ensure a collaborative and healthy culture in their organizations.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

CPO Innovation: How has the Covid-19 outbreak changed the way we work? According to you, what will the profile of the new workforce look like?

Shrikant Lonikar: COVID-19 has made a deep and permanent impact on how the business will be done in future. This insinuates a significant consequence on organizations and talent. In the Pre-Covid19 world, most organizations were already moving towards new ways of working which were about being much more agile and lean. Central to this transformation was the shift towards digitization, which, surprisingly though, had been quite slow. COVID-19 accelerated it.

The pandemic made it imperative for organizations to digitally transform their work to continue to operate effectively. For companies which had strong Business Continuity Plans, who invested in Digital and IT infrastructure ahead of others, have been able to make distance irrelevant. Using technology effectively and rethinking their business model for the future, the future-ready organizations have fast-tracked digital transformation to be the ones ahead of their competition. All the above changes have been accelerated due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with teams operating remotely, the metrics of evaluation of success in a project/ task/goal has evolved drastically. The focus is much more on the result or outcome thus making the Performance Management System much more objective and transparent.

Another change that we have noticed is the classical Manager – Subordinate relationship where leaders have had to let go of their constant need to monitor their employees. With the increased focus on results, operational relationships pertaining to something as basic as office timings have become much more flexible to suit the individual needs of the employees. We are learning, which is a welcome change, though late, that time is not the right unit to measure the performance of intellectual workers working in offices, outcome is. 

However, the need to network has become more important. So does the need to constantly learn from others. I foresee huge efforts from the organizations towards engaging their employees and ensuring that structured/unstructured interactions continue to take place as, by default, employees have been functioning within physical silos as a result of remote working.

The workforce will now shift progressively towards a gig economy. Again, this transformation which was gradual prior to the Covid-19 crisis seems to have picked up pace in the wake of the pandemic. Employee contracts will progressively become short term and project-oriented which serves both the future needs of the organization as well as those of the workforce who are now looking for new challenges on a more frequent basis. Considering this changing profile of the workforce, in my opinion, a key aspect that will rise to prominence is the demand for niche individual skills and expertise that each employee brings.

CPO Innovation: Health and safety concerns and the experience of WFH have changed the way we view the physical environment in which we work. What are the new expectations around the physical working environment, and what adjustment would employers and employees alike have to make?

Shrikant Lonikar: We are amid in an unprecedented situation and the safety and well-being of our consumers, associates and employees remain our top priority. The first and foremost thing to be kept in mind is that organizations today, are taking great strides to improve their existing standards of health and safety norms or guidelines that they follow at the workplace. Safety concerns are no longer limited to injuries and accidents alone but now encompass subtle occupational hazards as well. This holds true for not only the individual employees working with us but also their friends and family whose safety we must consider before taking important decisions.

The physical workspace, which was an indispensable norm before the Covid-19 scenario, will now become optional and employees will be encouraged to “Work from Anywhere” if their roles permit.

This will require huge adjustments in the mindset of the leaders and their team members alike. Mutual respect of each other’s comfort levels for working will be paramount towards ensuring a smooth transition. Additionally, organizations must ensure that they provide all the necessary technological and other logistics support to their employees in order to execute this renewed strategy.

Biophilic designs will be a trend of future for workplaces. Since the concept of physical workspace is not going to completely disappear, organizations must ensure that they have state of the art facilities in terms of the health and safety guidelines framed by both the government and their own policies that they would like to implement. It will be the responsibility of employees to ensure that they understand these changes and act responsibly. They are expected to take ownership of their own safety and by extension the safety of their friends and family members.

CPO Innovation: According to some HR leaders, Covid-19 is really the time for the HR function to shine. How can the HR function make its own adaptations? Will the CHRO rise to the same level of prominence that the CFO did after the global financial crisis?

Shrikant Lonikar: As a philosophy, I find it very funny that people believe HR is about people, Finance is about money and Sales is about sales, etc. Each function is an integral part of the organization, like organs in human body, and they contribute to a definite agenda of business differently. Depending on the stage of business, circumstances, goals and strategy, each function’s role undergoes changes. That decides which function will be in the driver’s seat at what stage. Divergence in the nature of functions and their ability to contribute different values makes each function significant. I do not believe in placing a function as less or more important than the other.

Covid-19 is much more about human beings and life than about business and economics. Hence, it has had a renewed focus on people in organization and created a demand that the HR function is a driver at this time. This is a time to support employees to ensure that they are engaged and learning in their respective roles as well as they feel safe. If they are, they will make sure business is safe and competitive in future as well. 

At Pernod Ricard India, people are at the heart of everything we do. We made a proclamation that during this crisis, our people and their near ones are our top priority, above everything else. Our Wellness Program, ANANDA, helped us to ensure we keep in touch with our employees, keep them engaged and happy as well as help them and family members to focus on positivity. ANANDA, which addresses a person’s whole being, and not only the role as an employee, takes a holistic approach towards people’s all-round growth with 8 dimensions of human needs in focus: 

Occupational, Emotional, Spiritual, Environmental, Financial, Physical, Social, and Intellectual. Each activity pertains to a certain dimension of wellness. The Program, ANANDA, is unique in its identity, given that it is completely owned, managed and executed by employees themselves. It is a platform that provides equal opportunity to employees to participate and feel equally involved and motivated. 

At Pernod Ricard India, by virtue of ANANDA, conscious of the impact created by the pandemic, we have exposed our employees to different ways of effectively managing stress through counseling workshops, parenting and self-care techniques, online engagement through competitions like Escape Room, fitness regimes in association with market leaders like Cult and interactive in-house learning initiatives like group discussions, eLearning courses, book summaries and quizzes. We have also had the opportunity to engage the families of our employees by inviting them to such sessions relevant to them and addressing their concerns from time to time. There are several clubs formed catering to employees and their family members’ interests viz. Chef, Dance & Chess Clubs.

In terms of business continuity, at Pernod Ricard India, we have supported all our employees with the necessary PPE kits delivered to their homes, weekly self-declarations on health status, regular disinfection of office and factory premises, monitoring our employee movements and implementing several new processes that enable our employees to function effectively. Crisis Management committees have also been set up locally to take quick and effective decisions to manage the situation. Tie-ups with doctors and hospitals, availability of COVID-19 kits, priority attendance to any health issues of employee and family, assistance in movement in emergency situations, etc., have helped in not only addressing the critical situations but has also helped in reassuring employees that they will be taken care of by the company in any situation. Needless to say, we have provided our employees with the necessary tech enablement, like laptops/tabs and broadband connections at home, to ensure that they are empowered to handle any situation and stay connected.

The need for the HR function to become high-value partners to the business in this crisis has been recognized by both the business and HR alike. In the future, businesses will expect HR teams to guide and share inputs on how to effectively manage such a crisis. HR as a function must be prepared with the necessary skills and competencies to make this happen. HR is expected to help business in finding right balance between empathy and economics. The goal is now strictly focussed on achieving excellence and the benchmark of excellence has gone up significantly.

My sense is that CHROs and CFOs of all organizations will be leading this change and transformation collaboratively. “Business” is, after all, an output of “People” efforts. Also, need to underscore the role of CIO and IT function, they will have the responsibility to ensure connectivity and continuity of work from remote. 

CPO Innovation: We are stepping into the era of a post-Covid-19 digitalization, where HR and Technology leaders have to work hand-in-hand. In such a situation, what synergies do the CIO and the CHRO should have between them?

Shrikant Lonikar: One of the more common statements heard in the wake of this crisis is that “Digital is the way forward.” This statement is not untrue. Technology is going to be the backbone of the transformation that we are expecting. In this case, an important competency that all HR professionals must embrace and develop is tech-savviness. Innovative solutions by leveraging the cutting-edge technology in the market will be the expected outcomes of all HR systems and processes. It is a mindset issue and not expertise issue. One doesn’t have to be an automobile engineer to use a car but must develop the skills to drive the car. In the same way, HR professionals must know which technology is available and how it can be deployed. There are many options available in the market to support.

In such a situation, HR professionals must synergize and recognize the IT function as a strategic partner towards driving their respective initiatives. HR function will soon become one of the more frequent customers of the IT department. This synergy is critical and must be driven across the organization starting from the leadership provided by the CHRO and CIO to their respective teams. CIOs will have the responsibility to measure customer service approach of their teams and help them become responsive with speed.

CPO Innovation: A CHRO has to create and nurture a corporate culture that drives speed, innovation, inclusion, performance, empowerment, and fun. What is your strategy of ensuring this at Pernod Ricard India? And in general, how can the HR community ensure a collaborative and healthy culture in their organizations?

Shrikant Lonikar: Firstly, it is naïve to believe that leaders and employees will start working in new ways of working on their own. They will need to be trained- for skills as well as attitude. This will be the key responsibility of HR. Secondly, it will be appropriate to review organization design and structures to ensure those are relevant in future. There may be a need for delayering. This is a key to empowerment and promoting delegation. Thirdly, culture is about the experience and how people respond to different scenarios at the workplace. Organizations will have to listen more and adjust based on new learning.

In order to create a culture where we recognize the need of the employee to grow in all aspects of their life including those beyond their professional journey, we at Pernod Ricard India have Ananda – our employee wellness platform. HR is a facilitator and individual employees who are passionate about their respective growth areas drive these events. This helps us in helping our employees in their holistic development. Self-development precedes growth. 

Speed and Innovation are largely a factor of quick and effective decision making, respectively. A lot of focus through behavioral trainings is directed towards developing the minds and thinking of our employees. Globally, Pernod Ricard has implemented a new leadership attribute module where learning from failure/mistakes is encouraged and necessary support is given to our employees to do so. In the last couple of years, a significant amount of effort has been put in Inclusion and Diversity with one of our attributes being “Grow Diverse Teams”. Employees are evaluated on these parameters and their Individual Development Plans and Overall Performance Rating is finalized considering these attributes and their underlying competencies.

Managers are now empowered to take more effective decisions at the ground level and are also made responsible to give honest feedback to their teams. This coupled with our existing Performance Management System has gone a long way in ensuring that we build a culture of meritocracy and performance within the organization.

HR has the stewardship of culture but cannot be the sole owner of culture agenda. Top leadership and all leaders across the levels of organization have a critical role in developing and nourishing culture. Employees too have a significant role, which is not limited to following and enjoying the culture. All must work together to enrich and protect the culture. HR must help everyone in understanding the culture (define and explain), ensuring it prevails in the right way (protect) and take corrective actions if there are exceptions (regulate). This requires courage, maturity, commitment, consistency and accountability, which are key attributes each HR professional must possess and develop. 

Lastly, HR should understand which of their roles is most important now. In these times, HR should prominently play the Employee Advocacy role and ensure employee interest is in the priority list of leaders and management. Employees are watching companies on how they are treating their employees during this crisis. Based on that, they will decide whether in future they want to join a company or not. This is a time to protect economic health of the business but equally, it is also a time to build and protect employer brand of the company. Businesses will need talent in future as well and must ensure they are competent to attract right talent. This is a business proposition and should not be confused with compassion or generosity. HR should help decision-makers understand this.