In a candid interview with Seema Padman, VP - Human Resource at Epsilon India we understand how true leadership can play a key role in a crisis like COVID-19 to overcome silos and encourage communication and collaboration across the company. She also shares her insights on how Epsilon is keeping its employees productive and engaged during these difficult times and various programs that are in place to support the health and wellbeing of its employees.
Q. With your rich work experience of 15 years in Human Resources, how has your journey been so far? Please tell us about your career and your current role?
Looking back at my professional journey over the last twenty years, the biggest takeaways for me have been in building great teams that build great organisations and challenging myself to keep learning, reflecting and renewing.
I began my career in Bangalore in HR in 1997 and worked for a couple of years in the IT sector. The next few years were spent in the UK, working with a leading fast-food company in Management Recruitment before plunging headlong into an intensive MBA program. Following on from that, I joined a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company and led L&D and HR projects.
I moved back to India in 2007 and joined a global semiconductor and software design company. I led L&D for India and then moved to head HR for India, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan markets. And in 2015, I joined Epsilon India as Head of HR. At Epsilon, I am responsible for Talent Management, Organisational Development, Employee Experience & Engagement and People Analytics for the India and APAC regions.
While each of my roles has been special and memorable (a big shout out to all my wonderful former bosses and colleagues), the time at Epsilon is very special. I was Associate #1 at Epsilon India and in these five years, we set up the India office, built a great leadership team and grew from literally nothing to a 2,500 strong family, creating a vibrant culture that is underpinned by our values of Passion, Accountability and Collaboration. It’s extremely heartening to see this transformation and I feel very humbled that I not only witnessed it but got to play a significant role.“Leaders will have to balance realism with optimism (Stockdale Paradox) in response to all of this. They need to be honest and transparent without hiding facts and creating false perceptions that everything is ok.” Click To Tweet
“Leaders will have to balance realism with optimism (Stockdale Paradox) in response to all of this. They need to be honest and transparent without hiding facts and creating false perceptions that everything is ok. But they also need to show credible hope on what opportunities exist for the organisation to stay resilient.”
Q. Silos in the business environment are the result of a conflicted leadership team which makes it hard to disperse information and knowledge. In your opinion, how can a true leadership during a crisis like COVID-19 overcome silo mentality and encourage trust and collaboration across the company?
A. The current coronavirus pandemic is a crisis, the magnitude of which nobody had anticipated. It’s unlike previous downturns because we have a global health crisis at the centre of it. With this level of uncertainty and apprehension, it’s now more important than ever for leaders to step up and play a key role to see organisations through these challenging times. During these uncertain and fluid times, people will look to leaders for guidance on what to do, what to expect and how to act. They will ask questions, ask for responses and solutions. There’s no “playbook” or easy route through this, however, effective leaders can do a few things that will build confidence amongst employees.
Leaders will have to balance realism with optimism (Stockdale Paradox) in response to all of this. They need to be honest and transparent without hiding facts and creating false perceptions that everything is ok. But they also need to show credible hope on what opportunities exist for the organisation to stay resilient. Communicating frequently with empathy is also crucial to building trust.
This has been a great example of harnessing the Power of One across Epsilon and Publicis. We have had immense support from our global leadership team. The leadership team at Epsilon India has stayed connected to each other to ensure we are all aligned but also to draw on each other’s energies so that we are collectively stronger. One of the commitments we have amongst the leadership team in India is that we all have to “Think 2,500” – so that there is no room for silos or being fragmented in our approach. This has been the commitment even before the crisis and has deepened now with the changes we are adapting to. We also know that sharing our learning and ideas is what makes us better leaders.Balancing Realism and Optimism: The Need of the Hour Click To Tweet
“So while remote working has been on the rise world over, this situation may well be the tipping point for workforces operating in the digital economy. Leaders can approach this unusual situation as a petri dish – to carefully examine restructured workplaces, redefined roles, rapid learning, and reserves of trust – for this may soon be the future of work.”
Q. It is a time where the world around us is always changing and handling change becomes critical to an organisation’s success. According to you, what is the right strategic approach to ‘change management’ and how can one ensure preparedness and stability for change by empowering the workforce?
A. Change is a constant, and as individuals, professionals, societies, organisations we are all familiar with change. But when we are talking about a change of this current magnitude – the word itself takes on a whole new meaning.
No organisation could be adequately prepared for this level of disruption and change. And change management becomes difficult when navigating uncharted waters and uncertainty. In this scenario, I believe agility, authenticity, honesty, rational thinking, and over communication have been our go-to as we continue to build resilience and focus on employee wellbeing.
Q. Many organisations believe that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt beyond six months. In your opinion, how is the pandemic disrupting work?
A. Work from home has been debated for many years now. Are some days better than others? Does the commute time get effectively used to work more? What about team building and in-person collaboration – and those sorts of things. And then came the largest work from home experiment ever in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak.
So while remote working has been on the rise world over, this situation may well be the tipping point for workforces operating in the digital economy.
Leaders can approach this unusual situation as a petri dish – to carefully examine restructured workplaces, redefined roles, rapid learning, and reserves of trust – for this may soon be the future of work.
Q. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is sending shockwaves around the entire world and is forcing millions of employees to work from home. With office closures happening all around the world and a shift to remote working, how does Epsilon ensure its employees remain productive when working from home?
A. While we were forced to adopt remote working of this magnitude, it took us just a few days to get into the swing of things. We see work being carried out as usual and alongside life – true work-life integration. We have kept the lines of communication open and free-flowing since we understand that the opportunities to connect and collaborate are what people miss the most. We are leveraging technology to stay connected and emphasize to all our people that nothing except our work location had changed. Reinforcing this message through our leaders and managers has ensured work continuity and productivity.
Q. For the workers who have never worked from home, social isolation will be deeply felt. How is your company supporting the health of your employees and putting employee well-being ahead of productivity issues?
A. We’ve seen a mix of responses from our employees – some have embraced the shift while others can’t wait to get back to the office and their colleagues. In addition to the social isolation that people might feel, we are going through a challenge that has impacted all our lives and can be a cause for anxiety. At Epsilon, we have our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place as part of our wellness initiative.
Employees can seek free counselling sessions for mental and emotional wellness. The EAP provides assistance from qualified counsellors through telephone, mobile-based application and an online portal. Employees can also access exclusive written materials, webinars on various topics like work-life enhancement, coping with stress, crisis handling, etc. through self-help library and assessment tools.
We are proud of our vibrant culture at Epsilon India. And it’s truly come alive in the most innovative ways now. Not only are associates constantly connecting with and supporting each other – but they are also using Skype and Microsoft Teams for yoga, jamming, storytelling sessions, coffee chats and more. There’s even a book club and virtual happy hours that’s strengthening social connections and keeping morale high in these challenging times. We have an engagement platform where our leaders and associates share pictures of how life and work come together while working from home.
So, while communication and empathy are key focus areas for our leaders – we see our employees too, leading the way with greater connection and collaboration.“We have kept the lines of communication open and free-flowing since we understand that the opportunities to connect and collaborate are what people miss the most.” Click To Tweet
“We have kept the lines of communication open and free-flowing since we understand that the opportunities to connect and collaborate are what people miss the most. We are leveraging technology to stay connected and emphasize to all our people that nothing except our work location had changed.”