Meet Amit Narain, Director of Human Resources at Nestle across India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives, commonly referred to as the South Asia region. Responsible for over a team of 10,000 people, Amit took up the role at the helm of the Maggi crisis. From liaising with unions and ensuring Industrial Peace, to institutionalizing the positive cultural shift that took place during the crisis, Amit led the efforts to building a fast, focused, and flexible organization. Prior to this role, Amit headed the Global HR Excellence Intervention at the Nestle Headquarters in Vevey.
In all, Amit has spent 15 illustrious years with Nestle. During his tenure as the HR Director, Nestle India has been recognized as ‘Diverse Company of the Year’ by Ask Insights and Business World, ‘Employer of Choice’ by Business World, 3rd most attractive employer in FMCG and 6th most attractive overall by AC Nielsen (2018) and ‘Golden Peacock National Training Award’, 2017. A strong voice for Diversity, here, Amit shares the journey of D&I becoming a way of life at Nestle.
Diversity and Inclusion is no more an HR agenda; it has become an organisation imperative. But how do organisations build an inclusive workplace where diversity prospers and grows? In a conversation with Mr Amit Narain, Director, Human Resources at Nestlé India, we understand how organisations overcome unconscious bias and discrimination to ensure equal treatment for all employees irrespective of gender, ethnicity, and political, spiritual and cultural beliefs. He also talks about some key initiatives at Nestlé India that echo their core value of ‘Respect for Diversity’.
Q. With your rich work experience of almost two decades in Human Resources, how has your journey been so far? What successes are you most proud of in your current role?
A. My journey in Human Resources so far has been challenging, and rewarding at the same time. I have always found myself in a completely uncharted territory, whether it was moving to the Headquarters in Switzerland as the Head of Nestle Continuous Excellence from an HR Business Partner role or coming back to India as the Head of HR during the Maggi crisis. But taking challenges is what helps us grow. It is daunting at times but I have always seen this as an opportunity to excel. These challenges have made me resilient and given me the courage to try new things. Even right now, HR at Nestlé is undergoing a transformational journey, which is definitely setting new benchmarks for us as a function and as an organisation.
I think one of the biggest successes in my current role has been the way we rode the storm in the wake of the Maggi crisis. Besides what was happening externally, a lot was at stake internally. What we did right at that point was to see an opportunity in adversity – an opportunity to build people connect and to question the status quo. The trust of the employees was integral, and communication was the key. Which was the one thing we got right.
Not to sound immodest, but we never had to convince our employees to continue working. This was a result of the transparent communication with consistent employee connect and engagement led by our Leadership team and it worked really well for us. The workaround Employee Advocacy helped employees in reaching out to their family and friends about “the Quality of our product” and the values that we live every day.
What’s more? We wanted to make sure that we not only addressed the hurdle but leveraged it as an opportunity. While the crisis in itself was hard for us, it helped us become more fast, focused, and flexible as an organisation as we had to relook at our ways of working to match the need of the hour. It is not an end, but a journey that we are on.
One of the key aspects which always helps me going is to keep in mind “my expectations” from my leaders in my initial days and whether I am living up to my and my team’s expectations.
Q. HR is not just undergoing a small-scale change, but a fundamental seismic shift. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest trends fuelling workplace transformation today? What role will technology play in HR of the future?
A. In this dynamic environment, or as it is said the VUCA world that we are in, HR has to transform along with business. In future, I see HR focus being primarily on speed and efficiency, backed by analytics. As an organisation, we have embarked on leveraging technology which will help the business take faster people decisions and be better prepared to address talent management challenges.
Another focus area for HR, whether inside or outside Nestlé, would be to build line manager capability for flawless employee experience. An organisation can excel only with an engaged workforce. Building that connect with a widely diverse, multi-generational workforce would be a critical aspect to look out for.
Q. Women are often overlooked for certain roles due to loosely-formed biases and gender-stereotyping. Do you think Indian companies need to scrutinise the unconscious male bias in the ways they hire, develop, promote, and reward in order to optimise female talent?
A. Women are often overlooked for certain roles due to loosely-formed biases and gender-stereotyping. Do you think Indian companies need to scrutinise the unconscious male bias in the ways they hire, develop, promote, and reward in order to optimise female talent?
Good thing is that the world has owned up to it. We know we are biased, yet we accept it as a mass. The individual accountability is missing. When we see some bias being exhibited, we accept it is wrong. But, we seldom think or say…. ‘I’ am wrong in doing this. It is essential for individuals to realize how these biases affect their decision making at critical junctures. And at the same time, it is important for us to design processes in a way that limits biases, a simple way is by involving a diverse team in decision making.
At Nestlé we are addressing the unconscious bias through an intervention which initiates a journey of realization for the participant. With the objective of driving people to introspect, the module has been customized to make it local, relatable and interactive.
Not just focusing on the awareness of ‘I have a bias’, it also talks about why we have a bias and in what forms and situations does this bias affect our decision making. Another unique aspect of this intervention is that this change is driven by our colleagues on the shop floor in factories and sales managers in the field.
This ensures that the accountability of driving change rests with the employees. It empowers them to create a workplace environment that they envision as fair and unbiased. When people from their own teams facilitate these sessions, apart from imparting more credibility, it also leads to a better connect and in turn a more powerful trigger for evaluating individual thought processes.
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
Q. With diversity being a significant conversation throughout our country’s workforce, how important is it to make diversity, equality, and inclusion central to every business? Also, what according to you should be the top D&I priority for any business?
A. Diversity & Inclusion is not just a reflection of the societal fabric in which we live, it actually makes business sense.
Back in 2004, Catalyst research showed that companies with more women on the board statistically outperform their peers over time. In the 2015 report ‘Why diversity matters’, McKinsey research suggested that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to financially outperform their peers. This was reiterated more strongly with an expanded data set in 2017, with the number rising to 21%. For us at Nestlé, 70% of our shoppers are women. It thus becomes important for us to reflect the same in our workforce.
The top D&I priority for any business should be to create an environment which enables all employees to grow. While we can create policies and processes, but unless we give equal importance to building a conducive environment, we cannot implement inclusion in its true spirit. This environment should be fostered by every individual who is a part of it and is driven by the leadership at the top. Hence, focus on unconscious bias and effective communication become key to enable this within the organisation. At Nestlé, D&I is owned and sponsored by our senior leadership, including our CMD.
Q. In your opinion, what conversations need to happen that maybe aren’t happening to help build bridges between different groups? How does inclusion play an important part in making diversity programs successful?
A. With the new age expectations of employees from their workplaces and with the changing team dynamics, what is critically important is the ability of line managers to manage diverse teams.
With diverse teams, come diverse needs and perspectives and it is important to be aware of that. As managers, are we really calling out behaviours which reflect a bias, are we taking ownership of ensuring a conducive environment in my team for every member?
These conversations need to happen not just at a macro level for an organisation but at a micro level too, within each team.
As has become a popular phrase, “Diversity means you are invited to the team, inclusion means you are allowed to play and perform.” It is just the difference between representation and involvement. This, in my view, underlines the importance of inclusion in making diversity programs successful. You can go ahead and give someone a seat at the table, but what’s the point if you do not give them a chance to speak.
Q. Which of Nestle’s D&I initiatives are you most proud of? What metrics do you use that enables you to track results and be successful?
A. With ‘Respect for Diversity’ as one of our core values, D&I at Nestlé is at the core of everything we do. We have always tried to do things which are simple but impactful. One such initiative is the travel benefit for returning mother. An industry best practice, it allows mothers to travel with their child and a caregiver on business trips until their child turns 2 years old. Another initiative I would like to share here is Project Sanjhi, which aims at enhancing menstrual hygiene awareness among our women employees in factories.
In our journey of gender diversity over the last few years, one milestone that stands out for me today is that we have one of the highest percentage of women in the field force in the industry. We have been able to achieve this through multiple interventions like an opportunity for prospective employees to shadow a sales/ nutrition officer to ensure clarity of expectation, enhanced travel entitlements, identification of safe territories and provision of sanitation facilities at distributor points.
What is of significance here is that besides diversity, inclusion is integral for us. Our policies such as Work from Home and Adoption Leave are gender neutral. We pride ourselves in being an Equal Opportunity Employer and our initiatives go beyond organisational boundaries in the hope of building a more inclusive society. Our cross-locational presence ensures that diversity becomes a part of our structure in many ways.
Any benefit or policy that we define, its effectiveness is defined by the impact on employee well-being. We ensure we actively seek feedback on the same from time to time. An example is the ‘Be the Change’ survey which not only gauges the overall perception of employees with respect to gender balance but also their awareness of new policies and benefits. We work under the aegis of Attract, Retain and Develop, and our metrics are also centred on these three pillars.
Q. Today almost 60-80 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates. How has social media and digital in general become a strategic tool in hiring and recruitment and how will this continue to evolve?
A. Social media today is a part of every domain of our lives. When it comes to hiring, social media is serving multiple roles whether it is sourcing direct candidates, creating talent pipelines or aiding candidate research.
In a scenario where we are fighting a war for talent, building an employer brand becomes a necessity.
And the need is to engage with the millennials through a platform or channel they are most active on. This is where the power of social media comes in.
The kind of reach and impact that this platform can provide is massive. Social media platforms have thus, come to the centre stage of our communication strategy from being the vehicle of giving a sneak peek to our campus audience into life at Nestlé to being a great tool for tapping into the sought-after pool of potential candidates. We made our Insta debut last year and have gained a considerable number of followers since. Apart from helping us expand our reach with the external audience, it has also enhanced internally the employee connect with the employer brand.
Q. 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. The evolving trend in the hiring process is to focus on the experience of all stakeholders involved. While candidate experience is at the centre of the entire process, it is equally important to cater to the expectations of the internal customers. This is where leveraging technology becomes an integral part of the process. As I mentioned, we have to use technology to help the business take faster people decisions which in turn contributes to better candidate experience. From the point of application to joining, technology has opened up multiple and more creative avenues of touchpoints between employer and prospective employee and each of them have its own contribution to make in building an employer brand image.
Apart from this, candidate expectations are also evolving.
People want to get associated with purpose-driven organisations which provide them challenging assignments and flexible work environment. Gone are the days when people work with the intention of earning an income.
Remuneration is important, no doubt, but it’s more of a hygiene factor today. Employees particularly want to work in companies which they know are adding value to society and in companies where they can see themselves contributing to that end.
At Nestlé, globally, in view of this changing trend, we changed our purpose to read “Enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future.’’ In India, we also launched NestléChangemakers – a Social Sabbatical policy which gives our employees a chance to work with an NGO partner on a socially relevant project for four weeks. And it is an extremely value-adding and long-lasting experience for our people.
Quick Facts About Amit Narain
Hometown: Patna, Bihar
Passionate Pursuits: Living my values
Favourite Books: Thinking, Fast & Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman; ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell
One Quote that Inspires You the Most: “Everything is within your power and your power is within you”.
One Person I Look Up to the Most: My Father
If I weren’t an HR Professional, I Would Be: International Volleyball Player
Relax Button: Talking to my team and working on ideas that challenge the status quo