Empathy and Communication – Paving Way for High Performance and Trust 0

For the Spotlight feature, we connected with Ms Sharmeen Khalid, CHRO Info Edge (India) Ltd. (naukri.com, Jeevansathi.com, 99acres.com, and Shiksha.com). She got candid about her 25-year long journey in the industry - the challenges she faced and the lessons she learnt. She also shared with us her beliefs about meritocracy and empathy at the workplace. Speaking of empathy, Sharmeen also sheds light on the need for remaining connected with the employees and how that leads to high engagement, alignment, and trust.

JOURNEY

What were your main challenges when you started out? How did that help you evolve into a leader?

I began my career about 25 years ago. The journey has been exciting but also full of challenges. While it was easy for me to get along with colleagues, a key challenge I initially faced was being assertive, especially to senior colleagues and stakeholders. That’s when I started to work hard on being an effective communicator and learnt how to respect yet not to be cowed down by senior colleagues. Another skill that I had to work on was prioritizing and juggling multiple responsibilities. Therefore I  also honed on my time management skills.

Over time, I got to learn a lot from my experiences. Apart from that, reading self-help management books also helped me to be more assertive and evolve as an HR leader. Actually, those skills come in handy even now.

Tell us about one of your key values and beliefs that has guided your career path so far.

I am a great believer in meritocracy. I believe that there is no shortcut to hard work. Being true to your work is the only thing that will lead you to greater heights and new achievements. Ultimately, things will fall into place if you work hard and believe in yourself.

Another thing I really value is the importance of being empathetic to your employees. Human Resources is ultimately all about human interaction. Nothing we do matters unless we are kind and empathetic to our employees.

I value the importance of being empathetic to your employees. HR is ultimately all about human interaction. Nothing we do matters unless we are kind and empathetic to our employees.

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Disengaged employees add to significant overheads. In order to prevent such losses, how can businesses move away from traditional employee engagement techniques and adopt a more holistic, integrated and real-time approach?

In this era of instant gratification, and the constant urge to achieve more, it has become even more challenging to have a motivated and engaged workforce.

Today, modern workplaces offer many tools, like employee engagement surveys, dipstick studies, focused group discussions and exit & stay interviews, which help them to have a more integrated and comprehensive approach. There are several bot-based solutions as well to know how engaged our employees are.

Business leaders should drive high engagement by meeting more and more employees, listening to them, being available and remaining connected. They should communicate more and share their vision and plan with their teams. Once the employees feel free to communicate with their leaders, the right decisions can be taken, leading to high engagement, alignment, and trust.

Many people have had long stints at Info Edge, which is not common these days especially in internet/tech companies. What is the reason and how have you managed to retain your people over the years?

We have always been a growth company and that, in turn, has created many jobs over the years, and also enlarged people’s existing role. Many have moved from one business or function to the other in larger or different roles.

I think what we have done well is to create an empowering culture where people feel energised to give their best. Employees like the independence they are given and the trust that is bestowed upon them. While the goals are agreed upon, how they get there is largely left on the employees. People agree that the Info Edge culture grows on them, and after some time it is difficult to leave.

Also Read:  Why Trust is Important in the Workplace?

By the virtue of being one of the earliest consumer internet companies, we have some of the best leaders from whom youngsters can learn a lot, and that also creates a lot of stickiness in the initial years.

Our compensation and rewards strategy is aligned to having a high performance and meritocratic culture, and an attractive incentive and ESOP plan have also helped us retain better.

Business leaders should drive high engagement by meeting more and more employees, listening to them, being available and remaining connected. They should communicate more and share their vision and plan with their teams.

SPOTLIGHT 2

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Diversity and Inclusion have grown into a cultural phenomenon and has a direct effect on the bottom line. From an HR executive’s perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges in promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace?

Diversity is essential for creating a thriving workplace. However, we need to understand what diversity really means. Diversity need not be looked from the narrow lens of only gender, race and community. It also means providing equal opportunities to people from varied personal and professional backgrounds and skills. It’s only when employees with different backgrounds are allowed to flourish, the company benefits from their ideas, skills and engagement.

At Info Edge, diversity is a part of our culture. At the core of this is the understanding that each one of us is unique. Hence our motto is – let us celebrate diversity, not tolerate it.

Our competency framework professes ‘teamwork & collaboration’ which serves as the backbone to define desired behaviours within the organisation across all hierarchical levels. Brainstorming and open forums are encouraged to gather a wide spectrum of ideas and explore multiple viewpoints before decisions are taken.

HR TECH

When we talk about Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Machine Learning on strategy, innovation and execution, how is Info Edge undertaking some unique experiments in this area? What can HR do in order to support the digital transformation within an organisation?

We are a consumer internet company with strong brands like naukri.com, 99acres.com, Jeevansathi.com and shiksha.com.

Millions of consumers use our sites every hour of the day generating a vast amount of data about their preferences and search behaviours. We have been using Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and Machine Learning technologies for many years now to continuously improve our search and match algorithms to create exceptionally satisfying consumer interaction. We have many Data Scientists working closely with the product management and engineering teams to help deliver cutting edge products using some of the latest Machine learning technologies.

Even our HR function is data and automation led, and over the years we have really progressed in this area.

Our overall goal is to improve people analytics to help businesses make smarter, more strategic and more informed talent decisions in the area of hiring, employee performance and retention etc.

We have recently invested in a sophisticated world-class HRIS which will aid us in areas like talent management, learning, manpower planning etc. We also make use of user-friendly technology platforms to analyse our engagement levels, attrition, recruitment trends etc.

INNOVATION

In the same breath, a word on disruptive innovation. Can you give our readers a few hints on how HR can manage volatility and enhance adaptability, and enable a company to stay agile in markets that change faster and faster?

In the space that we operate in i.e. Consumer internet, disruption is a way of life. The only way to be ahead of the curve is to continuously innovate.

At Info Edge we drive a culture of innovation wherein we empower teams to look at new ways and solutions. The engineering teams run Hackathons wherein they build prototypes and showcase them to the Business leaders. We run an innovation series called ‘Brown Bags’ where teams who have worked on something new or developed new products and solutions present to an audience across the organisation, and whoever is interested can attend.

Also Read:  Digiwork- Is It Really the New Norm?

We also enhance our business by acquiring new skills, either by hiring people who have new skill sets or by making strategic acquisitions. We also promote an environment wherein continuous upskilling and rotation of existing talent takes place.

We encourage our employees to participate in various platform led training available online. Apart from that, we continuously keep investing in our technology and making sure employees actually are certified so they grow constantly. Info Edge’s is iLearn academy is one such platform where online courses are curated based on specific employee needs.

The walls between workplace and home are dissolving, which is leading to more flexibility and HR teams are responding to that. However, key skills like ownership, collaboration, diligence, result orientation continue to be of value to organisations. HR need to devise systems to measure these aspects in a workforce that may have varied work contracts.

HR STRATEGY

With the rise of the Millennial and Gen Z workers to the increasing proliferation of freelancers and ‘gig’ workers, employment trends are transforming the workplace. According to you, how can organisations revamp their HR policies to suit the changing demographics of the workforce?

Technology has freed up a lot of time and that is a win-win for both the employee and the organisation. Hence in most technology-enabled companies, HR is moving away from time management to driving a high-performance culture coupled with high engagement.

The walls between workplace and home are dissolving, which is leading to more flexibility and HR teams are responding to that. However, key skills like ownership, collaboration, diligence, result orientation continue to be of value to organisations. HR need to devise systems to measure these aspects in a workforce that may have varied work contracts.

They need to figure out ways to stay connected with virtual and remote employees to keep them engaged. All this is possible with the use of technology and platforms. The core is being open to the concept and consider it to be an opportunity to work with the new-age employees.

SPOTLIGHT 4

What are some of the biggest HR initiatives you are currently working on at Info Edge? How do you ensure to convert organisational change into a community-building process?

HR initiatives at Info Edge are designed keeping in mind our mid to long term vision. Our endeavour is to be an employer of choice, have an empowered and engaged workforce, and have a robust talent pipeline. Our initiatives are designed to fulfil these goals.

We have launched our intern hiring program in some premium engineering colleges this year with an intent to attract top-quality software engineers. We have also increased our intake across premium campuses like the top 3 IIMs, FMS, IITs, NITs and NID.

Initiatives like being a coach leader, ensure that our leaders are a coach to their people and not just their managers. When it comes to building careers with us, our people have the power of choice. As their career progresses, we enable them through a host of learning avenues like digital learning, classroom training, leadership journeys for our top talent with development programmes and knowledge sharing platforms like Brown Bags. Finally, our employees tell us what works for them through our iSpeak employee surveys that are acted upon and taken to closure.

In order to drive a meritocratic culture, breakthroughs are celebrated together through Info Edge Merit Awards and hands are held when teams/employees go through a not-so-good time. Apart from those activities, performance conversations, regular check-ins, authentic dialogues, face times, and leadership lunches, have formed the bedrock of our performance philosophy and ensures our people know where we are heading and how they are a part of it.

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CHRO Info Edge (India) Ltd. (naukri.com, Jeevansathi.com, 99acres.com, and Shiksha.com).

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