In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Mr Yuvaraj Srivastava, Group CHRO -MakeMyTrip, Goibibo, and redBus shares a tell-all tale about his journey thus far, the initiatives Make My Trip is undertaking to build the best-in-class talent capabilities, and what will it take to build future leaders. He also shares some valuable insights on how companies can increase employees’ satisfaction and create happy workplaces.
Yuvaraj is the Group Chief Human Resource Officer of MakeMyTrip, Goibibo and redBus. Yuvaraj comes with 25 years of professional experience in diverse industries. He has an extensive experience of handling multiple HR domains including strategic HR planning, Organisational development, Employee Relations, Change Management, People Development, Culture Building, Corporate Social Responsibility etc. Yuvaraj has been recognized as “LinkedIn Power Profiles of India – 2016” by LinkedIn, “100 Most Talented Global HR Leaders” -2015, by CHRO Asia Forum of World HRD Congress, “HR Leadership Excellence Award” by World HRD Congress in 2015, “100 Most Influential Global HR professionals “by World HRD Congress in 2016, “Most Influential HR Leaders in India by World CHRO forum” in 2017, and “World’s Greatest CHRO -2017 by AsiaOne, in 2017 at Dubai. He got commissioned in the army in 1992 and served in operational areas for 5.5 years before he moved to the corporate world in 1997. He is an MBA in HR from IMT Ghaziabad and graduate in Industrial Psychology from the University of Allahabad.
Q: Looking back at your career to date, you are a veteran with nearly 25 years of diverse experience in corporate HR and the Indian Armed Forces. How has this roller coaster journey been like? What were the key elements in your journey which helped you soar professionally?
A: Yes, the time has passed pretty quickly and it seems it was just yesterday when I was in the Uniform or started my journey with the corporate world. My biggest education had been in the Officers Training Academy, Chennai and then my Artillery regiment, 66 Field (now medium regiment). I still share anecdotes of my early leadership lessons, imparted to me by my senior regiment officers, with my colleagues and friends. I feel whatever I have achieved in life has distinct contributions made by some of the learnings of earlier days and people who have been with me through this journey. My wife, Anshula, who is an entrepreneur in the development sector and had been an HR professional till recently, played a pivotal role in my career decisions. Lots of time we don’t realize that the courage to take some risks in life emanates from the security of having a supportive family and spouse.
I am personally wired in a unique way due to my upbringing, learnings of my early career and in-depth self awareness, and all this has given me a few mantras which I abide by religiously. These may sound esoteric but still, let me elaborate on three of them.The first mantra for me had been “never overestimate your own delivery at the workplace”, the moment you feel that you have delivered on all your goals and expectations and that too exceeded it significantly, you may not be able to digest contrarian viewpoint on your performance. If you are honest with yourself you will be aware of the gaps in your delivery, and that would pave the way for a pleasant surprise if organisation evaluates you higher than your own expectations. It is all about focusing on goals rather than personal gains.
Second Mantra had been to “align your thoughts and approach with the organisational culture, stage of evolution, and context.” Lots of time we commit the error of looking at the organisation from our own lens and past baggage rather than viewing it from the prism of its genesis, context, and imperatives. What I learnt about working with people in Asian Paints could have not been replicated in my role with The Oberoi Hotels, and definitely not in my current organisation, MakeMyTrip, that consists of the millennial workforce with niche skills and mind of its own. It has all been about focusing on the commonality between me and the organisation rather than differences and this always helped in adapting fast. Third Mantra has been to “be inclusive and take people along”, leverage on the strength of people in the team and organisation rather than being critical of existing people, in most of my tenures I have hardly hired people from my previous organisations to build my own team, and have had huge reliance on working with the existing people in the team, and this somewhere gave me immense support of my team members.
Q: CHROs today support an organisation’s overall strategic direction across recruiting, compensation, talent and performance management, training and more. In your opinion, how is the role of HR in general expanding and making the leaps to become a true partner to the CEO?
A: Today’s business environment is far more dynamic than what it was a decade back. Hence, CHRO and CEOs partnership has become even more critical for the success of businesses. In my experience, besides areas of talent and performance, HR’s role in defining and redefining organisation structures & design has taken a huge leap. Focus on managing talent was quite broad brushed till sometime back but now the energies are to be channelized towards grooming and retaining critical talent and moving them to the “Bunker”. In the current business environment where new age industries, the advent of technology, the charm of entrepreneurship and attraction of start-ups, have redefined the role of HR, a true partnership with the CEO can be demonstrated by being extremely agile and flexible in approach. HR is considered to be an inflexible function that loves to play by the book, but I think flexibility within the rules and broader framework demonstrates the progressive culture of any organisation. In the current context HR’s role has also got a lot to do with talent insights which can help leaders manage internal talent landscape far more intelligently.
Working closely with the business leaders and CEO to provide insights on how rules of the game are changing in the talent domain, enabling decision making based on the market intelligence are some of the redefined contours of the HR role. I think that with an average tenure in the new age organisations going down, the transition period for new leaders and employees needs to be truncated and in such a scenario ensuring transition coaching becomes the best way for HR to partner with CEO in the organisational delivery.
Q: There has been a sudden shift from a people focus to a talent focus in the organisations. In your viewpoint how can companies use talent management in value creation by focussing more on talent rather than on people?
A: I alluded to this in my answer to the earlier question however, let me further elaborate. It would be unfair to say that companies can shift focus from people who are solid contributors and keep the organisations true to its course. However, I do believe that making sharper differentiation amongst different skill and capability cohorts of people in the organisation is imperative.
Impact of niche skills is clearly evident in new age organisations, the value being created by a small set of highly talented people with hot skills is perhaps more than what it used to be a couple of decades back. However, to counter my own argument, in growing organisations, there is also a huge need for institutional knowledge, brought in by solid performers, that provides continuity and information to enable robust decision making.
Hence, there is a need to have a fine balance between managing high potential talent and key contributors, and that’s where the question of partnering with business comes in. My thoughts about managing talent are anchored on the pillars of Differentiating, Communicating, and Challenging them. Traditionally we have been hesitant of implementing the above three in letter and spirit but now it is important to ensure that we do sharper differentiation of talent by using the lens of readiness to take on higher responsibility, exposure to critical experiences and exceptional functional and people skills. Once talent is differentiated, communication to the individual and other stakeholders is equally significant to give comfort and demonstrate the confidence of the organisation in the individuals. And, as the last step the organisation needs to continue challenging such talent to perform and deliver critical projects and assignments to retain their status and credentials.
I have also realised that in the fast-paced young organisations it becomes difficult to move talent from one role to another due to weak succession plans and constant pressures of business deliveries, in such scenario hoarding of talent becomes quite common and leaders would be hesitant in letting go their strong performers for other opportunities. To address this tendency organisations need to build a strong framework and mandate to move their best of the talent in diverse challenging assignments.
Q: Can you tell us about various initiatives that MakeMyTrip is undertaking to build the best-in- class talent capabilities? How are you grooming your workforce in an innovative, agile and a collaborative manner for the future of work?
A: Learning and development function in HR domain is the one which requires an overhaul in terms of thinking. Many times while designing learning interventions, HR professionals’ personal need and ambition to create ‘trophy initiative’ supersedes the realities of the organisational learning culture and they end up creating models and structures that lack relevance and find fewer takers. In Go-MMT (internally used term for all three brands of MakeMyTrip, Goibibo and redBus) our clear focus is to help people learn and develop what aligns with their career aspirations with a heavy skew towards functional skills. Our learning team is briefed to design less of programs for carpet bombing and more of team-based learning interventions. Our business leaders are the ones who are closely involved with Org effectiveness team for the need identification, content creation, pedagogy and then ensure participation and measure impact.
Our learning approach for the Go-trippers (commonly used term for team members of the organisation) follows the continuum of Org Immersion, building functional muscle, leadership capabilities and then staying relevant. Org immersion phase is to build pride for the organisation by means of workshops and sessions that cover org history, Org strategy, business models, understanding of the product value chain etc. These sessions are run by the leadership team members for the new joiners. Next phase of functional skill developments targets curated programs for the various departments, aim here would be to solve the skill level issues of the function and help people know their domain and build functional capability. Our leadership programs straddle around the various stages of career for Go trippers and are called Young Leaders Academy, CXO’s Academy and CEO’s Academy. These are conceptualized with an objective of developing leadership skills and take on projects based on participants area of interest, these projects are done with the mentoring support of leaders.
“One may not be able to succeed in creating a hugely diverse workforce in terms of gender, ability etc but it can always strive to create and promote the culture of inclusiveness.”
As an organisation, we have realized that a hybrid model that includes classroom sessions, mentoring and online, works well in our context, and excessive reliance on online or classroom session creates an impediment in the learning process. We believe in creating curiosity in the minds of people with the help of short classroom-based programs, and after sufficiently enthusing people, the introduction of Online modules
for allied knowledge and mentoring for the deployment of the learning at the workplace is carried out.
We also believe that world-class Infra plays an important role in creating a learning environment. At our Gurugram office, we have created, innovative learning areas for providing exciting learning ambience.
Q: Company culture has taken centre stage in recent years, becoming a make-or-break factor in hiring and retention. What makes culture-fit so important and how can it improve employee retention among other benefits?
A: In the demanding VUCA environment, company culture has become critical to hire and retain people. Our culture is clearly based on ‘People centricity’ which is evident by the fact that in initial years of our existence, between 2009 to 2014, we were ranked in top 10 in ‘Great Places to Work’ study for 4 consecutive years before we took a pause from participating in the study.
We went on to refresh our organisational values after MakeMyTrip, Goibibo and redBus merged in the year 2017. Our organisational values are defined in two parts as “Being” and “Doing” and we believe that every GoTripper needs to demonstrate being values of care, curiosity and creativity and deliver doing values of customer centricity, commitment to results and continuous improvement.
My realization is that for a happy and productive workplace, people in the organisation should either be culture fit or high on adaptability. While we hire people in the organisation, HR round of interview does focus on evaluating a candidate for the culture fit. I believe that a team member who is a good culture fit contributes immensely in creating a happy and purposeful organisation. We believe in some of the core cultural tenets like respect to others, agree-disagree-commit, nurturing talent, inclusiveness etc and do talk about these in our orientation sessions for people to understand its importance. As a part of immersion exercise, we hold every month meeting with new joiners with Deep (our Founder) and every quarter with Rajesh (our Co-founder). I join them in these meetings and we engage in very constructive conversation and seek feedback with the new joiners. This has established us as an organisation that listens to its employees.
I have seen that people who fit into the culture have stayed longer with us and even numerous cases of returning employees after a short break prove that they love our culture of respect, empowerment, and fun at work and thrive in this environment. My belief also is that people are at their best when they are allowed to be themselves and not made to put on a different persona while at the workplace.
Q: Furthermore, how can organisations leverage the full potential benefits of a diverse workforce by integrating diversity and inclusion into their hiring strategies?
A: My understanding is that organisations first have to become inclusive in their ways of working since inclusiveness is a choice whereas diversity is the reality. One may not be able to succeed in creating a hugely diverse workforce in terms of gender, ability etc. but it can always strive to create and promote the culture of inclusiveness. Once the culture of inclusiveness is created, the next stage is to increase diversity.
To leverage benefits of diversity,the first thing is to ensure that it does not become an HR agenda and rather is championed by the business verticals and leaders. Biggest logic to integrate diversity into the hiring strategies is to create an organisation that is a microcosm of the society, however, it is often missed that society has its own inherent issues like unequal distribution of resources, stereotypes, social and cultural issues which results in a skewed representation of various groups in the available pool to hire. It is heartening that many organisations have taken up the challenge of creating a gender balance workforce and providing opportunities for specially abled people, there is some great work being done in this field, and we at Go-MMT are not behind. Our policies and enabling environment are designed to ensure diversity of all types. Our gender diversity ratios are encouraging but for the technical workforce, we do face issues of the available talent pool. We are not a big advocate of having a quota for diversity hiring but we are all for ensuring and doing everything possible to provide equity to a diverse workforce for higher retention and a balanced workforce.
“I would say that in a happy workplace one can clearly see people stretching to deliver on goals, people don’t look at the watch and are engaged with the work even beyond working hours and days… they derive happiness and purpose in the work they do.”
I think organisations as a part of hiring strategy should not only look at numbers for diversity hiring but as a first step work diligently to create an inclusive culture, ensure stakeholders buy-in, build enabling systems and processes and then move to the hiring process. I also think that hiring strategy should clearly focus more on having the right diversity at the senior levels before this is driven at the lower levels or at the frontline.
Q: Happier and satisfied employees not only make for a better work culture, but they also improve the bottom line. So how can companies increase employees’ satisfaction and ultimately, happiness in the workplace?
A: My belief is that happiness comes from ‘accomplishments’ and to ensure that, every employee needs to have superior quality and quantity of work with the right mix of variety. I think employees are happy to do more work and go back home happily rather than having less work and spare bandwidth to engage in so-called extra-curricular activities at the workplace and outside.
Definition of engagement drivers changes for employees at different stages in their career. For example, if we take ‘Managerial Support’ as an engagement driver, it means supporting new employee with respect to role clarity and cultural adaptation, whereas the same lever means mentoring, challenging assignments for employees who are a bit senior in the system. Most of the time we end up using the same approach or solution for employees across the echelon of the organisation and this creates disharmony in the expectations of employees and solutions deployed by the organisation.
Another aspect of happiness is ‘learning trajectory’ of the employees. In organisations, employees are focused on counting on the skills and exposure they have added in their quiver. Organisations must work to ensure continuous learning for the employees by creative means like short terms assignments in different areas, working with leaders other than their own, exposure to world-class conferences and workshops etc.
My experience has been that the best way to check employee’s happiness levels is to ask the following questions about them.
- Has the role content for the employee remained the same for more than 18 months?
- Has manager for the employee changed in last 6 months and the current manager is different with respect to inspirational leadership, functional competence and credibility in the organisation?
- Is the impact of work being done by the employee lesser than other roles at his level?
- Is perceived quality of peer group lower than people in other teams?
If answers to any of the questions above are ‘Yes’ then it is critical to solve for it or have a conversation with the employee to give and share perspective.
Q: While the idea of happiness quotient and engagement at work are discussed widely, but how can we really measure happiness at work? Also, how can these happiness initiatives be driven from the top which is embedded in the culture and values of the company?
A: In my view, it is difficult to ascribe any metrics directly to happiness at work. The happiness of employees contributes to various parameters of organisational success. If I need to draw a corollary between the happiness of employees and signs of it in the organisation, then I would say that in a happy workplace one can clearly see people stretching to deliver on goals, people don’t look at the watch and are engaged with the work even beyond working hours and days… they derive happiness and purpose in the work they do. Happy workplaces also are less political and gossipy….this is mostly because of mutual trust amongst people, satisfaction with the collective impact they create and mature culture. For the second part of your question about happiness initiatives from the top, I don’t think people at the top need to participate in fun activities and such events every now and then do anything special. Their role is more to encourage and appreciate the launch of initiatives aimed at creating happiness quotient in the organisation. Believe me, positive strokes for happiness initiatives in the organisation is what is needed from the top leaders and not to participate in every cafeteria game being played.
Q: A leader’s role is to turn separate initiatives into a balanced, integrated program of change. According to you, how can organisations ensure that the right future leadership competencies are in place?
A: I must say that every organisation would normally have three set of leadership competencies that would define its success. First set would be of the competencies that are generic and applicable to any organisation and second would be specific to the organisational operating context. For example, inclusiveness or respect for people as a leadership competency would be generic and applicable to all. However, a sales organisation will peg action orientation and result-driven approach as differentiating leadership competencies due to the nature of its business and context. The third set of competencies are those which would define our future success. These leadership competencies are different from the former two, I talked about. These are more to do with learning agility, digital literacy, cultural sensitivity, and data deftness. While these are relevant in the current context too, every leader will be required to possess them in the future, agnostic to the function.
“Now it is important to ensure that we do sharper differentiation of talent by using the lens of readiness to take on higher responsibility, exposure to critical experiences and exceptional functional and people skills.”
The competencies for the future have to be taught and built in the live laboratory of the workplace rather than pulling people out for workshops and programs. While structured programs are important, future leadership competencies can be developed with the help of live projects, assignments at the workplace. My belief is that the best way to develop leadership capabilities is through shadowing senior leaders. Using specialized behavioural tools to identify gaps has also got reinforced over a period of time. Organisations need to singularly focus on helping people develop awareness of their derailers, courage to self-disclose their vulnerabilities and willingness to increase self-awareness. And if this is built in the culture of the organisation it can pave way for having a very strong to develop future leaders.