'M&M provides an empowering workplace, abundant learning chances and recognises top performers.'

Emrana Sheikh, VP(Human Resources), Mahindra & Mahindra, on the company’s employee empowerment initiatives, hiring women, leveraging social media and some advice for prime minister Narendra Modi.

By Brian de Souza calendar 10 Jan 2015 Views icon4860 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
'M&M provides an empowering workplace, abundant learning chances and recognises top performers.'

Emrana Sheikh, vice-president (Human Resources), Mahindra & Mahindra, on the company’s employee empowerment initiatives, hiring women, leveraging social media and some advice for prime minister Narendra Modi.  

The auto sector is going through a slowdown and at a time like this, it is only natural that employee morale is affected. How has M&M handled this?
At a time like this, one needs great leaders. In fact, you need such leaders at peak times and even more leadership during tough times. A leader plays a key role in retaining the faith of an employee, he must communicate to the team both the business and market realities.

In addition, he must also communicate the strengths of the organisation that will help it tide over this. I believe that at M&M, we have done this very well. Our communication takes place in a structured manner; there is also informal communication.

We have people who go out into the field, meet and talk to workers and officers and try and understand what they are doing and give out a message. The idea is to convey the fact that leaders are not just up there in an ivory tower.

How do you get your employees to provide feedback on their functions?
We need to reinforce the strengths we have as an organisation, its culture and vision. The challenge is for us to blend this with the market realities. If we do it this way, then the workforce will not be gloomy. It is important for workers to work well together, and put forth their best.

We have an idea generation platform called the i4 in which we encourage the employee to strengthen our culture of continuous improvement. We believe that this programme has the ability to create empowerment aimed at bringing about change that is within his capacity. They feel empowered to do their bit, and that helps.

How do you take the ideas part forward?
We do get an enormous number of ideas. So the challenge is to eliminate the not-so-good ones and select those that can be implemented. We also have a recognition programme. Employees get a chance to present their ideas to the top brass, be it ideas from the unit-level to the plant-level and then the sector itself. This gives the workman pride in what he has done for the organisation.

What kind of ideas can you talk about that have had a resonance across the company?
We do get a host of technical ideas that contribute to the sustainability objective. 

By this I mean green or eco-friendly ideas. In addition, we have received ideas on reducing wastage and reducing worker fatigue, so the overall idea is holistic. It is not just about improving business results.

Another interesting platform we have is the Young Mahindra Council. Out staff here, nearly 60 percent, is Generation Y. These are typically employees between 20 and 30. The Council gets support from the leader of the workplace when they generate ideas. They look at the impact and scalability of a potential idea. As an example, we have one YMC (these are brand advocates) that aims to contribute to the organisation’s plans.

We have had a leads generation plan across the Mahindra Group. It has been done for the farm and auto sectors. It is a pilot at our Chakan plant at the moment, and the ideas here will be presented to the top leadership.

What kind of leads have you got?
These are basically from customers. We are aware of the power of the brand and have internalised the role of the Mahindra brand. This can help us generate business, and enable the employee to become more passionate about the brand.

Typically, how many ideas do you get?
We get an average of about 17 ideas, per person, in a year. It does not matter where the idea originates. We have contract workers who may have ideas that can be replicated. Overall, the aim is to foster interaction across the organisation, and you will see it for yourself even if they work on the shopfloor or as an officer.

One issue that underlines the HR issue is communication. How do you handle this?
At the plant level, all communication is in the regional language. At the corporate level, where communication is in English, we believe that communication is two-way. I believe we should go out into the field, go to the shopfloor and connect with people where they work. We have several formats – it’s down-up as well.

I believe that HR can be an enabler to help business progress, and so we have to relate to employees as they experience their workplace. So it helps us better create those enablers. We try to have discussions in an informal atmosphere so people open up. This helps us to create the right eco-system.

Another platform is the idea-drive campaign. Ahead of a new policy launch, says the e2o from Mahindra Reva, instead of just announcing a policy, we put out a proposed policy framework and wanted employees to react. We got 550 reactions quite quickly. This feedback helped us to frame a better policy. It also gave the employee a kind of buy-in. If one of the ideas was about the e2o, the other was our compensatory-off policy which we formulated in consultation with staff.

Can you dwell on the training aspect of the HR function at M&M?
Our belief in training and development is strong. But this development is not of recent origin. Needs and requirements have changed and in recent years, has intensified. There are two aspects to training: the soft kind of treatment – leadership and behavioral – and then the capability or functional training.

This includes technical inputs as well. We have a role-based functional curriculum, which is a kind of road map that charts out the requirements by role.

Included under training is change management, business writing skills and leadership skills. Our training includes how to respond to dealers and customers, ensure that presentations are of high value. There is also training for first-time managers and leader training.

What are the areas that training you give is because of the patchy quality of our engineering colleges?
In the online space, there is a huge opportunity. Today’s digitized workface needs smaller bytes of information; they do not have time for long training sessions. 

The challenge is to digitise but blend it with classroom, project-based kind of training. There are many Ivy league universities that have institutionalised this. There are open online courses that we look at try and match with competencies that we require. So then we see if we can blend this for a particular individual’s requirement.

Automotive jobs are considered tough for women. What is your take?
All organisations, not just the auto, have a big role to play in building a women-friendly eco-system. It is an opportunity for corporates, in general, to do much more. At the same time, women themselves can play a role in changing this perception, and there is a role for society at large.

Any organisation is essentially a reflection of society. So if society encourages women to see a job in the auto field as good for them, that helps.

When you speak to a potential woman candidate, what kind of messages do you get?
Let me try and give you an example. At Zaheerabad, I was talking to an employee who was transferred from Igatpuri and if you saw her pride and passion in the role she plays, she is a shining example for women. She has tried to motivate women to move to Zaheerabad which until now had no women employees. She spoke to her fellow women colleagues, tried to give her own example. The bottomline is that one gets a few women who are passionate, then you can inspire more to join.

How much of M&M’s workforce comprise women and going forward do you have a target?
This is an area in which we are putting all our energies. Women currently comprise five percent of the workforce, at present. This year, we hired 30 graduate women engineers in some of our plants. Overall, we have found people a lot easier to hire straight from the campuses; we have the opportunity to groom and farm the talent.

Having said that, we have a diversity council at M&M that looks to a variety of diversities including generational diversities, differently-abled, LGBT and socially disadvantaged. Its aims are to integrate the power of different generations that may be working in a company that could include older staff and younger staff, working shoulder to shoulder

The aim is to bring in inclusivity. We want to talk about it, focus on it and will proceed step by step.

With SsangYong under your belt, what notes do you share with them?
I do not deal with SsangYong directly but it a part of the AFS. So we do keep an eye for best practices at the workplace. We have sent two colleagues from HR to Korea in their HR function.  So this helps us know what we can learn, do better.

We also have had our Korean colleagues visit our plants to see how we work, and we send people from here. SsangYong's union has also visited us. This gives us practical exposure.

We also have a shadow board from M&M and SsangYong that come together to look at strategy. The SsangYong shadow board visited us last month. It is blend of young minds with the more senior members. Last year, the discussions were around the CRM theme and this threw up ideas and concepts. Each board comprises 12 people and we have an annual competition, after which an idea is presented to the Board. The best idea gets awarded. Being a presentation, it doesn’t last a long time but the rest of the time is used to meet people at the plants.

Social media is the rage now. How do you incorporate social media in hiring for auto?
Social media is a powerful source of information and our challenge is to leverage that. For example, LinkedIn is very effective in sourcing talent, networking with people and engaging with potential candidates. It is useful in doing a background check on a person whom we may wish to hire.

We also use other sources as well as a part of selection process. But that is not the only thing. There is the interview, selection and psychological tests and so on.

Do you have a social media policy?
We do and the essence is to tell people what to do and what not. Social media is a new area and people we hire may not understand  the implications of what they do. Our social media policy seeks to create some awaresness about this new medium and how to use it. We tell them what not to do so that an inaccurate perception of a company is not generated.

What would you tell prime minister Modi about skills if he invited you to a brainstorming session?
I would like to tell him how he can play the role of a catalyst to build our tomorrow through education. When we take in new hires, we have often found that they are not ready for corporate roles. It is a company’s responsibility to them to be ready for the world.

In a larger sense, we need to improve our study methodology – it is very teacher-centric and not progressive. Prime minister Modi can be a catalyst to help us do something on this front.

What in your view will be the challenges in HR in the future?
Going forward, talent will get very diversified, and the need is going to be for a personalised  learning experience. Business itself will  get increasingly demanding. In this context, I would identify three challenges:

- How do we utilise talent in the organisation?

- Building functional or organisational capabilities to build competitive advantage. Technology and design is changing fast so we have to be geared up for this. In a global world, differentiation is shrinking, so in such a scenario, we need to have the edge.

- How do we try as organisations to foster greater collaboration which will become more and more important? Cultural transformation is very, very important and we need to collaborate despite this.

And, finally, what makes Mahindra & Mahindra a great place to work?
We provide an empowering environment, abundant learning opportunities and recognise out-performance which is basically defined as what an employee contributes to the organisation to achieve its goal. These are the three pillars of our employee-value proposition. In a recent all-India study, we ranked No 2 in manufacturing & employer brand (Google was No 1) and we got this rank for our employer branding strategy which was highly appreciated by the jury.

What makes us unique is that we are a caring organisation, you get your space and we are willing to invest in your development. 

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