In this special interview with All Things Talent, Geetanjali Wheeler gets candid with us about her journey as an HR professional, and why she loves her job. She also talks to us about the importance of having well-rounded employee wellness programs in the current times. Geetanjali also shares her insights about building a successful learning culture in organisations and tells us what she believes is the true calling of leadership in an organisation.
With your rich experience of 16 years of conceptualizing, designing and implementing training & development strategy across geographies and various industries, how eventful has your journey been like? Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
I’ve to admit – I’m truly amazed when I interact with so many young professionals today who are absolutely clear in their head about what they want to accomplish in their professional lives! While that was not the case with me, it is also the reason why I feel so blessed and grateful today to have found my passion and to be doing what I love! I can attempt to explain my passion for people development with a quote by Harvey Firestone – “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
The feeling of seeing people develop, excel and drive business outcomes is probably like scoring a century on the cricket field for me! In July this year, I’ll be 16 years old in my professional experience and my journey has been like a road full of discovery and learning. The curiosity of working in different industries and geographies has challenged me to expand the boundaries of my knowledge about other verticals, domains and disciplines. Every time I have moved into a new company or industry or taken up a new role, it has made me uncomfortable and I have understood that it is where the true “learning” takes place.“For H&W programs and policies to be successful, they must be owned by the people who make the organisation rather than it being tagged under “employee engagement” activity by the HR team.” Click To Tweet
In my journey so far, I have come across many inspiring stories and people, who have set an example. When I think of answering the question about my biggest inspirations, the answer would be incomplete without mentioning a list of names. Some of the names on this list are people have I worked with and some are celebrities in their own profession. So, instead, I’m going to list what in them has inspired me?
- Dreaming bigger and higher than you can think
- The attitude to “Never give up”, “Being persistent”
- Maintaining high integrity
- Leading by example
- Investing in life-long learning
So, I’m enjoying the journey and I look forward to the exciting journey ahead!
EMPLOYEE WELLNESS AND WELL-BEING
Promoting employee health and well-being has become a key focus of some of the world’s most successful and innovative organisations today. Why do you think it matters so much? What are the key factors to consider?
It’s true that for many organisations today, employee health and wellness (H&W) is no longer just a compliance obligation. Many successful and progressive organisations have made it a significant part of their Employer Branding Strategy to attract and retain talent. The reason to do that goes beyond the statutory and legal requirements as it makes a strong business case for organisations to promote and invest in H&W at the workplace. It’s an established fact that focus on employee H&W has a positive impact on employee productivity, motivation, engagement & loyalty. My belief is that if an organisation is sensitive enough to invest in H&W of employees, it is more likely that they believe in the principle of “employee-first” because they clearly know that happy “employees” make happy “customers”.
While more and more organisations are now becoming conscious and bringing employee H&W in their executive meeting or town-hall agenda, we cannot ignore the fact that we are not seeing enough execution of those agendas. So, some key factors to consider are:
Start with the objective: The battle is already lost if the managers find H&W programs a waste of time. It is therefore important to be aligned on the objective as the success of the initiatives depends upon the support from the senior leadership and management in the long run. The plan must include the need for resources along with how the programs will be measured for its effectiveness.
Taking it beyond the drawing board: As Steve Jobs said – ideas are worth nothing unless executed. Action indeed speaks louder than words. There must be an intent to implement, drive and govern. For e.g. there are organisations that will not do business at the cost of violating their H&W policies and putting their employees and partners at risk.
Of the people, by the people, for the people: Organisations that are serious about H&W, make it a part of the company culture! For H&W programs and policies to be successful, they must be owned by the people who make the organisation rather than it being tagged under “employee engagement” activity by the HR team.
Many traditional corporate wellness programs only recognize the physical component of health ignoring other significant elements of employee well-being. Do you think it is time to rethink employee wellness strategy?
I believe that we tend to naturally focus on the “physical component” of wellness programs because it is more visible. The business environment in which we operate is changing very rapidly and keeping pace with it can get extremely stressful. The situation or events in our personal lives can also be a source of stress. Today, even though we are aware of the importance of mental well-being, it is still not easy for people to come forward and accept that they may be stressed or need help.
If we continue to ignore the need for the well-being of our employees at this level, it can have a negative impact on their behaviour, attitude and relationships at work. How can we expect them to communicate, collaborate or be creative to innovate in such circumstances? It, therefore, makes a strong case for change in the outlook of organisations to care and take relevant actions. After all, it is said that we spend about one-third of our lives at work! … And so, the scope of employee H&W must be extended to include emotional and psychological well-being as well.
The number of companies becoming aware of this dimension of employee wellness is increasing. Some of the top companies known for their people practices have even connected to a greater purpose by aligning their H&W plans with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Good Health and Well-Being & Decent Work and Economic Growth.
While knowing all this is encouraging, the truth is that we still have a lot of ground to cover. Imagine, if we were to draw a global map of all companies in the world taking some real tangible actions – what would we see? Also, what would it look like for the small and mid-sized companies who may not have the exposure or the resources to manage such programs? We need education and awareness as not every H&W program requires a budget e.g., not many managers understand that an aspect of their role is to be responsible for their team’s H&W.
Let’s look at another example – The whole world today is battling the COVID-19 pandemic which is causing fear, stress and anxiety. With more and more companies moving towards remote working for business continuity, people are juggling their personal and professional space all under a single roof. It is important to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and help each other deal with it. While there is the issue of keeping ourselves safe, we are vulnerable to mental and psychological distress. I see a lot of companies making efforts to launch remote engagement programs focused on employee H&W programs. Thanks to the digital world today, it is possible!
Furthermore, how can employee wellness be measured? Are there any good practices in this area?
There has been a lot of debate on whether evaluating everything under the lens of ROI (Return on Investment) is really required. Now, while this debate can be ongoing, the truth is that if an organisation neglects H&W practices, it can negatively impact organisational outcomes – there could be a dip in productivity, low quality of output, absenteeism, attrition, low morale and even poor employer branding. Similarly, following good H&W practices can enable an organisation to positively drive the people factor resulting in the achievement of business outcomes.
Today, employee wellness is also a key component in driving innovation in the workplace. If we just study the top companies known for innovation, we will see that H&W of their employees is part of their core people plan.
I remember reading a Forbes article that talked about considering VOI (Value on Investment) as a more useful way of measuring effectiveness. I remember reading a Forbes article that talked about considering VOI (Value on Investment) as a more useful way of measuring effectiveness. In this approach, “value” is achieving the objective aligned with the stakeholder.
As the founder of modern management, Peter Drucker said if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it! So, in my view as long as the intent is to measure, whether the practice adopted is ROI or VOI or any other, it is okay. Some simple yet effective approaches could be:
- Doing a basic “before” and “after” comparison of people opting for healthier lifestyle choices or the programs created
- Running a leaderboard competition between teams or functions. This could include a host of activities e.g. counting the number of steps taken, exercises, healthy food choices etc. within it that allows people to score points and help their team win. One can build momentum by using the company’s social platform to showcase participation & trends by even tagging people… and it’s so much fun when the leaders and managers play along!
- A simple survey asking employees if they feel healthier & happier? What is the impact they see in their personal and professional life?
- How engaged are people in the programs? What are some simple metrics you can come up with?
According to a Harvard Business article, H&W service companies are creating models based on algorithms for organizations to measure the impact of the programs more accurately. The increasing use of digital health tracking platforms resulting in data collection will thereby enable more effective measurement. However, it is critical to ensure that when using employee data for evaluation of wellness programs, we must:
- Provide clear information to employees on why and how the data will be used
- Provide confidence and build trust that the data is safeguarded
- Be compliant to applicable privacy & statutory laws
- Be certain that the third-party partners involved must also be compliant to applicable laws
Another best practice that I came across to keep the spirits high is to create a core group responsible for H&W programs with representation from different functions or divisions. These representatives would champion and drive the programs at the ground level. They would give us true feedback about the pulse on the ground that helps tailor the programs to meet the objectives. A tip – make sure that the representatives are people who are enthusiastic and can use influence informally. This is to ensure that the programs get wings and we don’t end up with someone who can just be “spared” to do the so-called “engagement activities”.
I’m again going to reinforce that support from the senior leadership and management to make it a part of the company culture is critical to the success of the H&W programs.
“Today, even though we are aware of the importance of mental well-being, it is still not easy for people to come forward and accept that they may be stressed or need help. If we continue to ignore the need for the well-being of our employees at this level, it can have a negative impact on their behaviour, attitude and relationships at work.”
LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT
The development of a learning orientation is seen as an organisation-wide responsibility but how can HR practitioners play a significant role in the promotion of learning in the organisation? Also, why is a ‘learning culture’ crucial to any organisation?
Well, not so far in the past, many organisations would have not cared about getting disrupted. The “giants” were more or less confident that there were not many “Davids” out there who could defeat them with a slingshot! … (if you know the David & Goliath story!)
An organisation can exist only if it creates value – simple! The ability of an organisation to continually create value for its customers, shareholders and the other stakeholders depends upon its ability to reinvent itself. Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline speaks about the art and practice of the Learning organisation and explains that people at all levels in the organisation need to commit to life-long learning. This is how organisations evolve to create value.
So, what do Learning organisations do? There is a very interesting HBR article on “Building Learning organisation” that answers this brilliantly:
- They use a systematic problem solving approach
- They experiment and take risks to raise the bar
- They learn from their experiences and that of the others which includes success, failures and even best practices
- And most importantly, they apply their learning and transfer knowledge effectively and efficiently throughout the organisation
A learning organisation is a result of learning culture and that’s why I think that HR can play a very central role in the making and sustenance of a Learning organisation.
HR works with the leadership team to influence how the employees learn, internalize and socialize the organisation’s purpose, vision and values
- How do we facilitate the success stories?
- How do we celebrate the success to encourage the right behaviour?
- How tolerant are we to behaviours detrimental to our culture?
A learning organisation will require the employees to demonstrate certain core competencies
- How are we developing these competencies within the team?
- Are we identifying the right talent to make careers and succession plans?
- How do we hire “right” to fit into the culture we want?
- How do we structure our R&R programs?
The investment made in terms of efforts, time and money in training and development should support learnings that translate into value for the organisation. There is no use of the training if the ecosystem does not encourage and support the employees to implement their learning.
I also think that managers should be trained more on the learning management framework such as 70:20:10 and it should not be something limited to the knowledge of HR or L&D professionals only. Click To Tweet
The framework allows them to be a partner in the employee’s learning journey:
- Peer Learning Programs, Job rotations, leveraging leaders to teach leaders can all be a part of a carefully drafted people strategy to support a learning culture.
- Finally, there is a big concern if the HR functions are not integrated – Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, Talent Management, Performance Management systems need to talk to each other to support a learning organisation.
For a learning culture to be built in successfully, it is important to encourage the behaviour of sharing knowledge, up-skilling, applying learning, collaborating and being open to continuous feedback on “what went well” and “what could be done better”.
It is observed that employees stay longer at a company if it is invested in their career development. In your opinion, how can L&D initiatives help in reducing staff turnover rate? Are employees able to apply the skills received from training to their jobs effectively?
The competition in the market today is not just for customers but also for talent. Just like the customers have alternatives…so do employees! Organisations, therefore, create compelling Employee Value Propositions to attract talent from outside and retain the talent they have inside. If you see the trending reports, providing opportunity to grow and opportunity to learn have earned a prominent position in most of the EVPs today. According to a 2019 Gartner report, organisations that effectively deliver on their EVP can decrease annual employee turnover by 69%. I think that happens because it demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to investing in people and empowering them to take charge of their own career.
I don’t believe that it’s only the Gen Y or Gen Z interested in opportunities to learn and grow. We discussed the unpredictable environment in which the businesses operate that make it complex and disruptive. I read somewhere that most likely in the near future there will be 2 kinds of jobs – one who will tell computers what to do and others who will be told by computers what to do! We are already seeing the impact of Industry 4.0 and the technological trends on skills, tasks and jobs. A report published by the World Economic Forum last year and many other experts on this topic say that the changing business models and new global landscape will give rise to new jobs! Another report from NASSCOM predicts that in India, nearly 40 percent of the estimated four million workforce will need re-skilling over the next five years due to digital disruption. So, anyone who wants to stay relevant will be interested in investing in learning and if an organisation provides the platform to do that then it is indeed a compelling reason to stay!
Many times, employees are sent for training without any background on why they are attending it… why are they spending their precious time in a classroom or on an online course? This in my view derails the learning experience of the employee for any value to come out of it. In a scenario like this, more often than not, you will find that the employees who really need training, are pulled out of it for a business need or the ones who are attending are those the managers could spare. In other situations, employees after attending the training do not have a follow-up plan with the Line Manager, reinforcements and check-points that ensure that the learning is applied.I have learnt with experience that just like market research, customer analysis, product research, etc. the capability needs of an organisation have to be reviewed and redefined continuously in alignment with the business need –… Click To Tweet
When you become a Learning Partner for the business, the ecosystem begins to become conducive for learning and growth.
I’m personally a fan of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation framework that enables you to begin from the start so we set ourselves up for success. It does not limit the measurement of the success to the feedback for the training but focuses on the change in behaviour because that is what we need to ultimately move the needle required to achieve the learning outcomes. It also pays attention to aspects like the employee’s confidence about the learning and commitment to implementation as learners.
Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed in this article solely belong to the professional and do not reflect that of the Organisation she works for.