Leadership Interaction Series

Interview with C K Ranganathan - Leverage culture for growth

Covid-19 has been a catalyst in driving organizations to change their ‘ways of working’ and made it imperative to redesign themselves, to move faster, adapt quickly, learn on-the-go, and embrace change at a speed of sound.

 

Based on a recent survey we sent out to several executives and leaders, 53% of the respondents want to make a serious effort to enhance innovation and creativity in their organization and 65% of them are looking to significantly improve agility and collaboration.

 

However, surprisingly, only 38% of them are looking at empowering their employees to take decisions.

 

As many organizations are widely embracing remote work options, we are seeing a need for organizations to improve their efforts on employee affinity and customer centricity. This requires a strong culture of collaboration and high accountability.

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We sat down with C K Ranganathan, Chairman and Managing Director, CavinKare Pvt Ltd  a pioneer himself in driving a positive company culture, to understand his views on what organizations are doing today from a culture perspective and what they should do to be a leader in the new business paradigm.

Effilor: CKR, first of all welcome to this Leadership series interview and thank you for your time.

C K Ranganathan (CKR): Thanks very much for having me on this series.

Effilor: We have seen a lot of indicators on economic recovery though many businesses are treading cautiously. Similar to the 2008 financial crisis, currently many business leaders seem to be in a mental trap on how to grow their business and gain from the recovering economy. While some sectors such as travel and hospitality have higher impact compared to others, what should CxOs and Leaders do to build a “growth mindset” and turn the crisis into an opportunity?

CKR: The Pandemic will take time to subside. There’s a lot being written and reported about the pandemic and a lot of “word of mouth” messaging is doing the rounds. It’s important to stay positive and optimistic at times like these.

If you hang around with optimistic people, the positive vibes rub on you and your outlook turns positive. That is very essential to convert the situation at hand into an opportunity to tap into. If one is surrounded by people with a pessimistic view of the pandemic, that might induce fear and forces leaders to behave like a cat on the wall. You need to hear the positive stories around you to wake up.

Effilor: Many organizations have doubled up their employee engagement initiatives with live online sessions and other virtual modes of communication. Despite these efforts, employee affinity has not significantly enhanced, especially for new hires. What can leaders do enhance employee affinity in today’s context?

CKR: I would say Work From Home is not fully embraced by industry. Regardless of the vaccine, some companies will not go back to an office. Whether WFH is temporary or long term – only time will tell. However, there is phenomenal productivity jump in remote working.

Leaders need to engage with employees with the right topic that makes them enjoy work. More than what leaders want to convey, its about what employees want to hear.

Leaders need to be story tellers. The stories should have energising topics layered with Strategic, Ideating sessions, Operations, etc

If leaders can create 2 stories every day relevant to the org culture they want to see, that would be ideal to bring more employee affinity

Another important leadership practice would be to listen to employees while conducting an open house. Its OK to allow employees to vent out. Key point is to engage more frequently. For new joinees, may be speak to them every day for 15 minutes until they settle down.

HR has to play an important role and be proactive in creating the processes that enable these. But the leader has to make it happen.

Effilor: What do you think will be the top 2 or 3 cultural changes necessary to be driven organizationally to build high performance culture?

CKR:​ Creating a culture where “change” is embraced is very key. The mindset should not be “Oh! One more change”. Leaders need to demonstrate energy and passion.

Achieving self-management could be a big challenge. When leaders ponder about Person vs Process, it’s important to bear in mind that eventually it’s the person who makes a difference. Process and their purpose should be an enabler and well understood. Understanding Long Term Orientation and being proactive builds a culture that drives performance.

Businesses should also invest in embracing technology. An AI led digital change initiative would help in a lot of data-led decision making which is important for businesses to thrive. Gut feel based decision making is no longer in vogue. To reap the benefits of an AI led initiative, people and processes need to be tweaked.

Effilor: It seems that the jury is out on remote working. What can organizations do to ensure high productivity without the need to micro-manage? Is there a CavinKare experience to share?

CKR: If one has a mindset that “I want to supervise” then it fosters lack of trust. In such environments, its difficult to put in place clear productivity measures. Today, several jobs can be done at backend. And a lot can be achieved with collaboration.

If we move towards a clear Input / Output based work, its easy to take a call on what needs to be outsourced, what can be done from the office and what can be done through remote working practices.

In our experience, when the inputs are not measurable, it resulted in poor workload distribution and employee utilization was sub-optimal. Once we sorted that out and brought clarity to the inputs needed to execute a business transaction, we were not only able to measure the inputs, but also the outputs and the throughput of the team. Once all three – input, output and throughput are measurable, decisions on outsource or remote working or on-premise working can be easily taken.

Today most companies have employed productivity monitoring tools for employees working remotely. These should not be used to find fault with individuals whose output is low. Managers should use the data and discuss with their teams on workload balancing. The data can also be used to explore opportunities for automation. For e.g. Most of the work done operationally using excel sheets are good candidates for automation.

Effilor: As business leaders own and nurture company culture, how do you see HR/Talent Management function transforming itself to cater to the business needs?

CKR: HR function should never be undermined and organizations that look at HR as non-value adding in a remote work scenario are dramatically wrong. HR professionals look at people processes from an outside-in perspective.

HR professionals should look at driving people processes diligently and make employees understand the purpose of the processes. By championing people initiatives, they should bring in more leadership commitment within the organization.

Effilor: As Organizations build a culture to lead them into the future, it is also important to focus on nurturing and guarding that culture to sustain/grow from a business standpoint. What systems or processes should leaders put in place to sustain a great company culture?

CKR:  Whether you work from home or office, we are all human beings. As people, we need to engage and communicate. We should not objectify people. Leaders would need to have the guts to communicate transparently.

Communication should be about highlighting the good points from business standpoint, having a team outlook and avoiding naming/blaming individuals. More than anything one should start measuring culture and talk about it.

Effilor: Really appreciate your time CKR and Thank You for sharing your knowledge.