The pandemic has raised a significant challenge for talent management. In the face of mass layoffs and resignations, a potential trust deficit between employers and employees, the demands for flexibility, the urgency of overcoming skill gaps and changing business priorities, leadership has had to devise new strategies to hire, develop and retain talent if it has to keep up with the rapid pace of digital transformation.
In an interview with People Matters, Seema Padman, Sr. Vice President, Human Resources, Epsilon-India and APAC, shares her insights on the talent trends impacting the world of HR and the key focus areas for leaders as they enhance their employer branding and attract the best and the right talent.
Seema has worked in all areas of HR in a career spanning 20 years across different industries and has held regional and global HR leadership roles. She is passionate about collaborating with the business to design and implement innovative HR, leadership and talent initiatives that bring value to Epsilon and its associates. She joined Epsilon as they were setting up the India office and has partnered with a diverse set of stakeholders to grow and scale the India organisation to over 2,500 associates.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
The pandemic has raised a host of challenges for organisations all over the world. What has been some of the biggest challenges for HR and how has your company overcome them?
The initial phase was definitely about keeping things running. It was essentially about having to remotely carry out all our HR processes, be it hiring or development. We had to really flip the switch, transform everything and manage everything, to continue our processes without a lot of disruption.
Once you’ve managed to do this, then comes the bigger issue of how you stay connected within the organisation, ensure employee engagement and ensure culture stays intact. We carried out several initiatives to ensure all this including investing in technology. For hiring, we employed technologies that included video interviews and carrying out assessments online. Our learning content was shifted to the virtual space where we carried out stock summits, facilitated workshops and even ran two-day development initiatives.
Epsilon’s culture is built on three pillars, which is to belong, grow and connect and this became the values we relied on to make sure we were doing the right things in terms of making sure people were heard, felt included and a sense of belonging was instilled.
Inclusion was a big part of our initiatives as well. We also hired our VP of diversity and inclusion as we were deliberating on how to grow the organisation and staying remote. Along with communication, building a sense of connection among employees and not forgetting what we needed to do as an organisation were also our focus areas.
Given that the future of any organisation rests on hiring the right people and taking them along for the greater haul, what have been some of your greatest learnings when it comes to talent management?
The war for talent is not going away with The Great Resignation intensifying. Another key insight is that it is really important to deepen the connect in the organization because a lot of the interaction among people tends to be work related in the virtual set-up. In the office environment, one finds a lot of informal connect. And that informal connect and sense of community is a very important aspect which has been emphasised by the ongoing situation.
When it comes to talent management, one of the underlying beliefs that I have is that organizations need to look at it as an adult-to-adult relationship. Instead of telling people what to do, individuals need to take ownership of how they want to grow in the organisation. We will provide the space as an enabling function but the accountability lies with the individual.
In light of the pandemic, the expectations that employees have from their employers has drastically changed. There is a demand for greater flexibility and for D&I initiatives to encourage employee engagement and ensure employee well-being. What are your thoughts on this?
Epsilon had a big focus on improving gender diversity. We implemented initiatives around well-being and flexibility even prior to the pandemic. Our employees had the option to work from home and we had flexible working hours. But with the pandemic, the emphasis on that deepened and we had to go back and re-evaluate what we had initially offered. In terms of flexibility, organisations had no option but to accommodate this practice. For us, it was making sure that managers understood the personal situation of the individual and recognise that it was not the same for everyone. And having to cope with that was challenging.
Being mindful of the employee situation was one of the hallmarks of flexibility. Managers in our organisation allowed people to choose their own times and made sure they found a way of communicating and staying in touch.
We also had an Employee Assistance Program — a confidential helpline for people to benefit from. And our people did use that. We also reminded people to leverage support networks and to that end goal, set up sessions by counsellors to educate managers on, for instance, how to recognise signs of anxiety and how to go about it because it’s a new situation for everybody. We also had sessions with employees’ family members on emotional, mental well-being.
One of our inclusion initiatives is called She Rises, which is about opening up roles for women who had taken a career break.
Can you give us some examples and your insights on what should be the focus areas when it comes to enhancing Employer Value Proposition?
There are a lot of companies putting their voice out there and to get noticed amongst that noise is really hard. But making sure that the authentic voice of the organisation is coming through is the most critical. As an organization, we’re always conscious that it should reflect the reality that the person experiences as well. Otherwise, in today’s age, it just falls apart. It can just become a marketing hype and not the reality. That’s one thing.
The second is, how to make sure people get to know the industry that we operate in, which is specific to Epsilon. How does one make sure that the specific aspects about your technology and your platforms shine through and the individuals are aware of what the organization and its business is an important factor. The values and behaviours that are critical to us, how our clients see us, what we would like to showcase and the company culture are important. Finally, authenticity is the most important thing when it comes to employer branding.
In this increasingly data-driven world, people analytics has been a key tool for overcoming the challenges posed by talent management. What is your opinion on the benefits that can be offered by people analytics in recruitment and development of talent?
I’m a big believer in people analytics, tech and data. And this aligns with our business. From an HR perspective, it is really important to have great technology which captures the right data which is then transformed into insights. We have created a function that looks into reports; a dashboard that leverages data visualization tools like Tableau to present data from these reports to the business. There are metrics we track on an ongoing basis to see the effectiveness of what we’re doing in HR.
Our applicant tracking system also leverages and puts out relevant data to track the kind of diversity that is coming into the organisation and other demographics from our talent perspective. We also have a learning management system that captures all of the learning initiatives that we run as well as participants and attendees, but we transform that by connecting it with outcomes as well.
Finally, in your opinion, what are some of the lessons that HR and talent leaders must keep in mind as they plan for a successful organisational future?
I feel remote working is easy. Hybrid is going to be all the more challenging because remote work makes it a very level playing field for everybody.
Inclusion will become a big factor when we go hybrid because it is very likely that not everybody will be back in the office and people, some might join in immediately, some gradually which means that people who are unable to come to the office immediately might feel that they are losing out on information as well as communications with colleagues and leaders or participation in the ongoing projects. Managers really need to look at how they can have inclusive teams and how they can operate inclusively so that nobody loses out just because they’re not in the office. There’s this thing called the proximity bias where greater reliance is placed on those close by and we have to be very conscious about that.
The second thing is creating a sense of belongingness for the new team members. The third is encouraging a micro-culture of the teams that is aligned with the macro culture of the organisation.
And, of course, a lot of times I feel that our people practices have just been what we do in the offline world, all that we’ve done is try to replicate that in the virtual world. So we have to modify that, we have to be deliberate about our people practices, unlearn some of them and adopt new strategies.