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Keka’s HR Conclave: Be fair, transparent to craft high-performance culture

12 min read

mumbai hr conclave

Fairness, transparency and upskilling were necessary for creating a high-performance work culture, said a speaker at the Keka HR Conclave in Mumbai.  

“If it is obvious to employees that an organization is fair, they strive for more,” continued Ashutosh Srivastava, Head of India HR at CITICS CLSA. In addition, a lack of transparency may prevent employees from understanding why someone was rewarded in the first place.  

Talent escalation or upskilling was important, added Mr. Srivastava. “If you don’t upskill people but expect them to perform better unless they are self-motivated, they may not be able to do it,” he said.  

Keka HR, a human resource management software (HRMS) firm, organized the conclave at Holiday Inn in Mumbai. The day-long event, which is traveling to 13 Indian cities, brings together the best minds in the sector.  This was the fifth edition of the conclave.  

The conclave featured a spirited panel discussion on the topic: ‘Building a high-performance work culture’. The gathering also included a knowledge hub where attendees were given access to practical HR uses cases, case studies, and books on HR management.  

Culture: smell of the place 

What defines a culture? Every organization has an unsaid fabric that is noticeable on close observation, believes Mr. Srivastava. “Culture is the same thing”.  

“There are some cumulative behaviors exhibited by the leadership that are percolated down the line, and it starts defining a certain type of culture,” he went on.  

What’s more? The more the same type of people you hire, the firmer the culture becomes, added Mr. Srivastava. “It’s more like regimentation. It’s more like the dos and don’ts. Over time, it becomes your natural behavior.” He further pointed out that a certain type of collective response defined culture.  

If you don’t upskill people but expect them to perform better, unless they are self-motivated, they may not be able to deliver.

Ashutosh Srivastava, Head of India HR at CITICS CLSA 

In addition, M.V.N. Rao, Head – Corporate Learning and Development (CLO), Larsen & Toubro Limited, held that culture was not an easy animal to tame as people believed in different definitions.  

In a bid to explain culture, Mr. Rao alluded to the concept of ‘the smell of the place’ that was formulated by Sumantra Ghoshal, founding Dean of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.  

“When you walk into any organization, big or small, you notice some kind of behavior that is consistent and being repeated. That is culture,” Mr. Rao clarified.  

He further asserted that an organization fundamentally existed to perform. “Without performance, there is no organization. Likewise, every manager’s responsibility is to perform. If you don’t perform, there is no need for you to exist in that role,” he said.  

While interacting with the 200-member audience, Ashish Gakrey, founder of HR Shapers who moderated the discussion, asked them if they knew the culture of the organization. Only a few audience members answered yes. “People must be aware of their own culture first,” he advised the audience.  

Since every company had a unique culture, Mr. Gakrey wondered about the ingredients of a high-performance culture.

Beating the scorecard 

Many things go into making such a culture, Mr. Rao said. “It is like preparing a delicious dish that meets the expectations of all stakeholders.” 

He then went on to explain that there were three key elements of a high-performance work culture.  

  • First, leadership expectations need to be communicated clearly, uniformly across the company.  
  • Next, there are rituals and rhythms in an organization. For instance, at a pharmaceutical company Mr. Rao worked at, the owner undertook a monthly review division-by-division for 23 years. “This ritual was well defined and became part of the organization. Everyone knew it was going to happen every month,” he illustrated.  
  • Third, make the people ecosystem – people, performance and rewards – in sync with what is defined, he suggested.    

If a company could sustain a culture underlined by these three factors, Mr. Rao continued, it could also sustain the triple bottom line – people, planet and profits.  

As for the distinction between performance and high performance, Mr. Srivastava explained that while performance involved people trying to achieve set targets, high performance meant people beating the scorecard and going beyond it.  

Hinting at the 80-20 principle, Mr. Srivastava suggested it could be tempting to expand the best performing 20% segment. But “too many cooks spoil the broth…both classes of people are important for an organization,” he emphasized.  

“The more you try to help people cross the bridge from the achiever to the over achiever category, you start transforming into a high-performance culture,” added Mr. Srivastava.  

The ‘RRR’ strategy 

Mr. Srivastava also suggested the audience deploy the ‘RRR’ strategy – recognize, make people responsible and reward them. “Gradually, you’ll see a transformation to a high-performance culture,” he added. Further, a feedback mechanism is necessary.  

And as regards the role of technology in driving performance, Keka HR Lead Process Strategist Kshitiz Sachan claimed it had the role of enabling people and not replacing them.  

Further, he outlined the dimensions for driving performance in an organization.  Goals need to be set; competencies defined. Also, core values need to be spelt out. “These can characterize how employees interact both within and outside the organization,” he claimed.  

As an HR technology leader, Keka HR sought to drive alignment across departments from top to bottom, Mr. Sachan said. “Our tools give clear visibility to employees on what they need to do. We try to create a positive communication environment,” he stressed.   

Responding to an audience query on how to build a high-performance culture at small and medium enterprises, Mr. Rao stressed that articulations could be personal. “In smaller setups, building personal connections is easier. It can be unique, closer and succinct for each employee.” Whereas larger companies depended on middle managers to carry forward the messages, he stated.   

You can have a common company culture with the scope for subcultures by clarifying what is negotiable and not.

M.V.N. Rao, Head – Corporate Learning and Development (CLO),
L&T Limited 

Bouquet of cultures 

Yet, even in multinational corporations, the culture wasn’t the same everywhere. “There are national, industry and company cultures. Even a functional head can create a unique culture. You can have a common company culture with the scope for subcultures by detailing what is negotiable and not,” Mr. Rao said.  

On the question of having a uniform culture across the organization, Mr. Srivastava claimed it wasn’t possible. “Even two people in the same house behave differently.”  

Nowadays, smaller organizations are also focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion because “you have to respect how other people view things,” he added.  

Save the ship 

But, where to situate layoffs in the discourse on creating a high-performance culture?  

Even 15 years ago, explained Mr. Rao, letting go of people was unheard of.  “Still two years ago, the attrition rate hit 30%. It has now become a whatever-suits-me-I-do-that kind of story.”  

“No one starts with the intention of letting go of people,” he explained. “Every entrepreneur has the intention of growing. When the water goes over their head, they may let go of people or shut shop.”

HR professionals needed to be humane and ensure decisions were fair, Mr. Rao suggested. “There will be downturns and uncertainties. Organizations are imperfect,” he said.   

keka hr conclave audience

Striking a unique note, Mr. Srivastava called upon employees to look at the other side of the story too. “Let’s be empathic to the leader too. Sometimes, certain plannings go wrong or productivity needs enhancement. Also, every investor needs a return on investment,” he indicated.  

“Either it is a Titanic sinking with everyone on board, or there can be some offboarding, and some people live longer. If a person is not performing, either you shape up or shape out,” Mr. Srivastava pointed out.   

Calling upon HRs to step up to nurture, create and sustain a good work culture, Mr. Rao emphasized the need for articulating the reasons for an organization’s existence and aligning people’s values with them.

Resonate, respond, reflect 

“Maybe you’re not the person deciding the culture, but you’re a catalyst,” Mr. Srivastava tells HRs. “So, resonate, respond and reflect to the management on how it’s being adapted.” 

In addition, he called personal alignment the most important. “If your personal value system doesn’t align with the culture of the firm, then probably that’s not the right place for you.” 

Moreover, HRs needed to identify the source of culture in every team, stressed Mr. Sachan. “There should be a process in place for this,” he said.  

keka innovation wheel at mumbai conclave

Get first book free!  

In a bid to encourage reading, a mobile library at the conclave offers the first book free to attendees. Upon sharing a summary of the book on a QR code, the readers are eligible for a 50% discount on the retail price of the next book, deliverable at the doorstep.   

Kickstart your HR transformation journey by joining us at the next conclave in Pune on March 23.   

The conclave will feature industry experts who will discuss the topic: ‘HR tech stack for high-growth SMEs’. 

Click here to register  

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    Meet the author

    Sidharth Yadav

    Storiesssssssss…Ah! That was a long one. I am already high. Pass me the wordstray please. I need to stub my thoughts.  A chainwriter. A stash of wit is found on me, always. Rolling Tones of sentences to suit your taste. Sniffing books for inspiration. The only addiction I ain’t giving up. And it’s natural.

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