In this candid conversation with All Things Talent, Priyank Parakh, Director HR at GSK, talks about his journey, the need for robust ethical leadership in making the right decisions related to COVID-19 and the workplace, the importance of reinforcing commitment to workplace inclusion, hiring and diversity, and how design thinking can change the way HR teams deliver value, organize work and find solutions.
Q: Having worked as an HR leader across diverse industries and functions for many years, how has this journey been so far? Please tell us about your career and how you got up to where you’re at now?
A: I am fortunate to be in HR in these times which have seen the practice take up a prominent seat at the strategy and business table. This too at a time, when the key differentiator for an organization’s superior performance is people and when people are understood loud and clear, is the time when the culture always delivers targets.
Talking about my journey, 3 key levers helped me in my career –
- Sticking to a company/ management which can enhance your values, helping you challenge yourself – Don’t leave them easily! You should have the courage and patience to go through those slow/middle overs and build your credibility to influence larger change.
- Working with integrity, genuine intent to drive growth and development, instil trust, liberate and empower people and bring a maximum possible impact in their life. It is important to build a work environment and a workplace where people love to come each day.
- Diversifying into different industries, organizations in different phases and different roles; besides being mobile and taking chances. Do your best in the job at hand each day, keep an eye on your end goal but don’t let it control your mind which asks ‘what next, don’t chase it, it will chase you on an ongoing basis for your current work. If you are working in India, make sure that you work with both Indian business houses and MNCs – don’t miss either of the two.
Q: When making COVID-19 judgments about whether and when to bring workers back into the workplace, HR needs to think about what’s right and safe for workers. How can ethics help guide HR in making the right decisions related to COVID-19 and the workplace? Also, why do we need ethical leadership more than ever?
A: Today, HR teams face a catch-22 situation, where they are stuck between deciding whether employees should return to the workplace or continue working from home. The situation is slightly better now, especially with Covid-19 vaccines made accessible to Indians. Companies need robust ethical leadership to finalize these decisions quickly, decisively and transparently. At a time like this, profits should take a back seat to ethics without exception.
An ethical company keeps its employees at the core of all its business decisions and processes. At GSK Consumer Healthcare as well, we choose the former when it comes to choosing between personal safety and fulfilling business obligations. To date, our employees have been working from home.
In the present scenario, no company is spared from the impact of this global pandemic. It becomes imperative to share best practices, learn from each other and be leaders in ploughing an ethical path forward. At this stage, one needs to take decisive action to protect their business and, more importantly, the employees. We can’t control what tomorrow or the next week or the next month will bring, but we can control how we react to these turbulent times.
In the present scenario, no company is spared from the impact of this global pandemic. It becomes imperative to share best practices, learn from each other and be leaders in ploughing an ethical path forward. At this stage, one needs to take decisive action to protect their business and, more importantly, the employees.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Q: With companies shifting to remote work following the COVID-19 pandemic, management and leaders may have to work harder to ensure that all employees are included and have equal opportunity. In your opinion, how can employers make virtual workplaces and meetings more inclusive, more equitable, and address the diversity challenges while working remotely during a crisis?
A: Now more than ever, it’s critical to reinforce our commitment to workplace inclusion, hiring and diversity. When employees work remotely, we must enhance inclusion and psychological safety and we at GSK Consumer Healthcare do this by more frequent face-to-face meetings with individuals and teams.
We have seen increased participation in virtual wellness programs that we have been running as our employees and families see value in these practices. Diversity hiring and competency building for our employees has picked up a great pace and these bear testimony to the importance of building an inclusive environment virtually.
We, as professionals, have become more tolerant of handling our work lives better despite the various distractions happening at our homes. Now, we are able to understand other people’s world as well and more acceptance has set in.
Q: While remote work offers employees freedom and flexibility, it is also making remote workers feel more isolated and thus it becomes more important to ensure that human connectivity doesn’t get lost. How does GSK Consumer Healthcare make sure that its employees are motivated and what’s the most effective way to drive increased engagement while still achieving business results amidst this crisis?
Recent surveys have revealed the same – how employees have been missing their office and struggling to stay connected to their office colleagues. Thus, arises the complexity to keep them motivated and engaged, besides having to opt to do that virtually.
Right from Day 1 of the lockdown, we introduced a slew of initiatives that allowed our employees to stay connected and engaged. We continued the momentum with various re-engagement activities for our employees like ‘Functional Cafes’ where we were able to enhance our employee experience through meaningful conversations about their career and development with global leaders.
We always give importance to continuous feedback and this pandemic has been a true blessing in disguise in strengthening the intensity and quality of such calendarized conversations. While there was entertainment indeed with sessions hosted by in-house entertainment experts, we dialled up our fun with learning concepts by using technical quizzes and have been conducting business and technical quizzes ever since.
Special sessions with Indian and global leaders to encourage and guide employees towards a growth mindset were conducted. All these activities were calendarized and hosted in a sustained manner.
Q: Furthermore, how can HR use design thinking to solve innovatively in this COVID-19 pandemic and reimagine employee experience?
A: As HR practitioners, we usually think we ‘just know’ what’s needed. Our experience and knowledge of best practices guide us in what we should do. Design thinking brings an innovative approach that will change the way HR teams deliver value, organize work and find solutions.
This form of thinking brings a “Human-Centric Approach” that is present in every single step of the design process. Teams are authorized and accountable to gather user insights that help in the amalgamation of optimism and collaboration in all people-oriented processes. In times such as these, HR needs to embed the “user or employee” at the centre of the experience in its delivery model, thereby encouraging teams to inspire new thinking and unique work processes by discovering what people need.In times such as these, HR needs to embed the “user or employee” at the centre of the experience in its delivery model, thereby encouraging teams to inspire new thinking and unique work processes. Click To Tweet
Q: Obviously reskilling has become a big topic. How do you see skills needs changing in this changing world? What advice do you have for HR professionals looking to help people find new pathways forward right now?
A: The current scenario demands leaders to possess the power to galvanize individuals and build belief in the system. They should be able to create an environment that nurtures growth through empowerment and emerge as the stewards of organizational growth. This allows employees to take responsibility and unleash innovative ways to get their work done.
Talent teams need to adopt newer approaches to digitize the onboarding process thus making remote onboarding seamless and creating better touchpoints. This indeed will help organizations respond to changes at the speed of information. Besides skills & proficiencies, companies are also looking at increasing diversity within their workforce. All these factors are stirring the hiring space with new ideation and excitement.
The current scenario demands leaders to possess the power to galvanize individuals and build belief in the system. They should be able to create an environment that nurtures growth through empowerment and emerge as the stewards of organizational growth. This allows employees to take responsibility and unleash innovative ways to get their work done.
Q: Pandemic fatigue in the form of burnout, depression and other mental health conditions is plaguing organizations and employees right now. How can organizations re-energize and inspire employees exhausted from relentless turmoil and change, and equip them for the further changes coming their way this year?
A: In the current work-from-home scenario, employees have not been able to differentiate work time and the family time leading to long working hours from one place. As a protocol, we have encouraged all our employees to take leaves during this phase. Almost all of our employees have availed their casual leaves during the lockdown.
We at GSK Consumer Healthcare have taken work-life-balance extremely seriously. Balancing personal and professional life is of prime importance and we have consciously discussed this during our leadership meetings. We have an exhaustive paid leaves policy that requires to be availed the same year, thus encouraging our employees to take good breaks throughout the year to ensure work-life balance. We also have a provision to borrow a certain percentage of the following year’s leaves for any exigency which has always been built in our policy.
We have virtual wellness programs, fitness classes, quarterly team activities ongoing since last year and we are taking these ahead this year as well. Employee Assistance programs are being utilized on a good scale by our employees and their families.
All these initiatives and wellbeing programs have received great responses and feedback.
FUTURE OF WORK
Q: Lastly, how do you think the remote work movement will evolve in the future?
A: The work from home concept, which initially had certain shortcomings is now the current way of life for the majority of organizations across the globe. It is now a success story and is certainly going to shape up the way employees are going to work in the coming few years.
Organizations are creating hybrid work-from-home (WFH) models. Despite the flexibility benefit offered by the remote working concept, there are certainly more factors that HR leaders need to take into consideration while guessing the future of this trend. While no one knows exactly what the future has in store, remote working will play a major role in how the workplace will evolve and continue changing the way we work in the coming years.