In this exclusive interview with the All Things Talent, Mr Shantanu Das, Chief Human Resource Officer at Amway India shares his thoughts on the role of technology in revolutionizing HR practices and processes. He further talks about the importance of employee and customer engagement, ways to achieve work-life balance in today’s competitive work culture and how Amway is building a culture of continuous improvement.
Shantanu Das is the Chief Human Resource Officer at Amway India Enterprises Private Ltd. He is a seasoned HR professional with over 23 years of experience in major multi-national companies in India with an exceptional track-record of heading HR functions at the factory, regional and corporate levels. He has extensive experience in handling multiple HR domains including business restructuring, talent management, acquisition of skill sets, employee engagement, organisational development, systems and process optimization, setting up greenfield projects, pro-active employee relations and instituting robust people processes. Shantanu’s role has also been instrumental in leading business transformations in domestic and international markets. Prior to joining Amway, Shantanu was part of the Emami Group as Vice President -HR. The XLRI alumnus has also held HR Leadership positions in organisations like Heinz India, Pepsico, SABMiller and Phillips. Shantanu is one of the founding Chairperson of the AMCHAM HR Committee.
Q. You have a rich experience of nearly 25 years across different industries. How did you carve out a niche for yourself in this industry? What has been the most remarkable professional experience that helped you evolve into a leader?
A. It has been an eventful journey so far with the learning curve still intact. I am happy that this industry has been able to offer me so much on my plate that I still thrive and strive. My formative years in the career immensely helped me build a solid foundation and form my career trajectory. My journey commenced in strong IR environments, gradually moved to regional roles and then to corporate roles. And in the process, I am fortunate to have covered the entire gamut of HR. There have been numerous experiences that helped me emerge as a leader starting from mergers to setting up new plants, rebuilding organisations to turnaround cultures and so on.
Q. In today’s digitalized corporate world AI and cognitive computing are not options anymore, they’re a must. Do you think advanced technology has the potential to transform both recruitment efficiency and effectiveness for the better? Where do you see the biggest challenge for heads of HR?
A. Yes, it does. Technology is a great enabler in revolutionizing HR practices and processes not only for talent acquisition but for other verticals within HR. It will ensure agility and the entire face of recruitment will change with the transactional aspect of HR getting handled by technology. However, what HR professionals need to ensure that the quality of talent that is getting hired does not get compromised in the process. In other words, the non-technology part of talent hiring which is mainly the interview process and the overall decision making is not left to the machines alone!
Q. Furthermore, can you shed some light on the evolving pattern which you have witnessed in the hiring processes over the past decade? What trends do you see happening in the near future?
A. Hiring in the past decade has become one of the most strategic elements for HR to deliver to the business. Right from building a talent pipeline for future leadership to acquiring skillsets for building the business has gained significant importance for businesses. There are a lot of avenues which have opened up for sourcing candidatures and the domain is no more restricted to search firms. Also, a significant dosage of technology has enabled the processes which have ensured higher levels of efficiencies and agility. In the near future, especially for global companies, I visualize Talent Acquisition operating as a Centre of Excellence and not necessarily being handled and managed at the local markets but managed centrally. I also anticipate technology playing a bigger role in the actual selection or the interview process itself.
Q. At Amway, how do you ensure success in building a continuous improvement culture? What measuring metrics are being set up when initiating a cultural change policy?
A. FAIL- First Attempt is Learning! To build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement it is imperative for an organisation to ensure employees feel secure in taking risks and experimenting. At Amway ‘Fail fast, learn fast’ is the mantra that we follow which allows employees to view obstacles as opportunities to improve and approach new experiences with tenacity & challenges with resilience. We ensure employees are empowered to make the right decisions, have each other’s back and rally around one another’s recommendations and actions. Measuring a culture change policy and setting metrics to assess the same is always a challenge, after all, how do you quantify culture and its impact. We follow two-level metrics to measure the success of a culture change policy which includes internal customer service via our bi-annual employee opinion survey and business metrics which the culture change is likely to impact. In addition to this Amway also follows stringent internal audits to ascertain the effectiveness of change.
Q. With Millennials growing into leadership roles, communication across generations is becoming the most challenging issue in the workplace. How can businesses work on paying more attention to the generation gap? Also, how can cross-generational mentoring bridge this gap?
A. I do not see any challenge in communication across generations, in fact with Millennials making their way in significant numbers, it is giving the right impetus towards new thinking and it is for others in the organisations to then become a part of this new thinking. At the same time, from the experienced skill set, it then becomes an advantage for the younger generations to get the requisite width and depth in their thinking process. It is important for organisations to ensure that the workforce has the right balance and mix. They should encourage a culture which ensures adaptation to a mixed set of generations where people take the best from each other.
Q. As the technology landscape keeps evolving, the demand for specialized skills also increases. In your opinion, is skilling in India adapting to emerging trends such as automation, AI? As an organisation how are you coping with sourcing the right skills?
A. We at Amway continuously try to endeavour to look and relook at our existing skill sets and are in fact constantly in search of the new and niche skill sets. Our enterprise plans are to set up a global CoE on Talent Acquisition by the end of this year which will take advantage of all the technology We at Amway continuously try to endeavour to look and relook at our existing skill sets and are in fact constantly in search of the new and niche skill sets. Our enterprise plans are to set up a global CoE on Talent Acquisition by the end of this year which will take advantage of all the technology and automation which it rightfully needs to ensure seamless operations and higher levels of efficiencies.
Q. What are some of your good tips for achieving work-life balance in today’s competitive work culture? What are the biggest challenges you’re up against at Amway?
A. There is no prescribed work-life balance formula applicable to all employees. Everyone has his or her own definition of the same. And neither do I believe that the company should prescribe or govern the life balance of the employees. Having said that, as a culture, we at Amway ensure that there are enough flexibility and policies in place to ensure that employee health is well taken care of and adequate time and bandwidth available to the employees to cater to their personal front. At Amway India, we earnestly believe that balance between work & personal lives is a part of our fundamental value system.
For Amway, “Work-life Balance” means when an employee delivers to the best of their abilities/potential and when they can maintain the right equilibrium and balance their work and home priorities without any stress whatsoever.
Keeping this into consideration, Amway India has put in place policies, systems and processes to help create that balance for employees which are undoubtedly trendsetter for the industry. We have a robust leave policy to ensure employees can balance their work and personal life by availing leaves on a periodic basis with leave categories like Privilege Leave, Sick Leave, Maternity/ Paternity Leave, Adoption Leave etc. We have a concept of “Leave Donation” thus allowing employees the opportunity to tend to medical emergencies pertaining to their immediate family members or themselves without the fear of loss of pay due to prolonged absence. We have a Work from Home option one day per week to balance between personal and professional commitments. There are enough instances when employees have been allowed to work from home for long durations extending for a month or beyond in order for them to meet the medical exigencies for themselves or their relatives. Another industry best practice that we have is that we do not have attendance tracking or follow-ups from HR. This is a testimony of the company’s trust and belief in the employees.
With the aggressive growth targets and creating a culture of agility, one of the biggest challenges that HR faces are to provide an adequate work-life balance cushion without compromising on the work deliverables. To handle this our focal consideration is to create a work environment where “Work” seems “Fun” and does not mean the drudgery of a daily week. With this goal, we have a cross-functional team “Sampark” responsible for ensuring that all employees are in ‘contact’ with their fun side and have as much fun at work as they can. We also have interesting platforms like “Beyond Work” with an aim to provide employees with a platform to share their hobbies or expertise in areas like photography, travel etc. with other interested employees.
In this manner, in our own way we have tried to arrive at the much- desired magical state of work-life balance.
Q. Employee engagement and customer experience go hand in hand. How important do you think it is to connect Employee Engagement to Customer Engagement and why?
A. Employee Engagement and Customer Experience are mutually symbiotic. At the very outset let me clarify that employee engagement is not merely fun at work or gaming, it is a much deeper and serious issue. We as an organisation should be equipped with systems, processes and policies which ensure that an employee is engaged to his/her role in the most optimized manner which in turn delivers results. And of course, no business result is complete without customer experience and if the customer experience has been taken care of, then the customer has been engaged. To cut a long story short, higher is the employee engagement, higher is the customer experience which is a direct result of customer engagement.
Q. As an HR leader, how important is it for you to continuously motivate and empower your team members? In this era of disruption, what do you think is a leader’s role in delivering a great employee experience?
A. One reports to one’s role and not to one’s boss, this is my firm belief. Hence, whenever we need to empower someone to deliver his/her role, we need to do that as an organisation. More so in the context of Amway, which is in the business to build entrepreneurs, it is all the more important to ensure that our employees themselves operate from an entrepreneur mindset and for that to turn into reality, we at Amway enable empowerment not only by the cultural indices but also by the systems and processes. I believe self-motivation is the biggest form of motivation and if as a leader you can inspire that spirit in the team to deliver their best then that is good enough for one’s motivation.
As a leader, you also need to ensure that you are fair, transparent and recognize the team’s efforts which if not handled consistently and sustainably can become a great source of demotivation.