Ramesh Shankar, Executive VP and Country HR Head, Siemens talks at length about the change in the role of HR, employee engagement and work culture of Siemens.
Several reports suggest that Indians are the most hardworking employees across the globe, how important is employee engagement. Is engagement losing its meaning nowadays?
For us, engagement is the way of life. We have annual sports tournaments across locations. We have a concept called ‘location in charge’, where one of the responsibilities is to form a team of volunteers amongst the employees and they plan and organize events every month. Apart from that, we also have something called as celebration hour wherein we have advised all managers to sit with their respective teams and then share and celebrate their personal successes or business successes. Everybody has got something to celebrate so we are trying to create a positive energy across the organization. We have started this about three months ago, it’s a new initiative and still stabilizing.
How often do you measure employee engagement? And what to do after that?
Once in two years, we have our global online survey which is called the Siemens Global Engagement Survey, which helps us in understanding the engagement levels. It gives the report to each team manager as well as all the employees wise on the same day across the world. The idea is to maintain confidentiality, not to identify people. So that algorithm is built in, and reports are generated at every business level. What we also do is to create action plans based on that which gets reviewed monthly.
We train team leaders through ‘Great Place To Work’ over a two-day program on how to be a better people manager. Subsequently, the managers are given the freedom to decide on what type of initiatives they want to take. They chose three areas and they identify unique practices which they could do for their teams and they can continue to practise that which creates a better engaging environment.
How has the role of HR changed in an organization in terms of hiring as well as management?
The role of HR has changed over the years and will continue to evolve in the future, and there is more strategy in terms of aligning to the market and the business, about how do we attract and retain the talent. For example, if you are a power plant customer, you would say that I am setting up a factory and I want the power plant to be set up in my factory. I need the power to run a cement plant, but you are not interested in setting up a power plant because that is not your core competency. So, I will give you space next to my cement plant, you set up a power plant, you maintain it, you run it, you supply 100 units every month to me and I will pay for it per unit. And I don’t want to invest in a power plant nor I want to maintain it. So tomorrow if I wind up the cement plant, I just go away, and the power plant lies there. So, it is about using and paying, just like today there are many things where we have started going for use and pay, we don’t buy the whole thing, we only lease it or use it. That is a different business model as compared to the past where you bought the machine, you maintained it and you ran it. So, the business models are changing in the marketplace, so HR has to understand how the market is changing.
How strong is the role of HR in today’s world considering the fact that quite a few decisions are taken by top management? Is it HR or top management that decides on what to go ahead with?
HR always has a role of a facilitator because they are the conscience keeper of the organization. They can’t be quiet with what is happening in the organization and need to be aware of what is good for the employees and what is good for the organization. As long as a decision is fair and equitable, the HR plays the role of a facilitator. HR is a part of the top management, and not outside of it. HR is a part of any decision that is being taken by the top committee. It is the duty of HR to raise their voice and ensure fairness with the employees and within the organization.
As the future of work changes, will skills be more important than credentials? Will you hire people more based on skills or credentials?
In Siemens, the most important thing is attitude and mindset. We hire for attitude and mindset. Skills can always be built, but the attitude and mindset are difficult to change. We do psychometrics for all the lateral recruits and even for the campus hiring. As we move towards digitalization, the skills required are changing and there is a need for us to keep a tab on it, and hire people with relevant skills from the market. We need data scientists, cloud computing experts and artificial intelligence experts. We have to look at the ability of our existing employees building those skills, or we need to hire people with those skills from the market. Even when we hire the skills, the first thing we check is the attitude and the mindset, followed by the skills.
Do you face skills shortage while hiring employees for your organization? How difficult is it to find employees with the right kind of attitude and mindset and skills?
I won’t say we have an issue or shortage in terms of identifying the right type of skills or attitude in the market. Yes, the data science is a hot skill today along with cloud computing and artificial intelligence. If 100 companies are looking for them, there are only 50 people with those relevant skills. To that extent, yes, hiring is a challenge. Having said that, since we are a strong brand and our attrition levels are quite low, it is comparatively easier for us. But, it is certainly going to be tough as we grow. If you have very niche skills you will have a chance.
What will define organizations of the future? Is it going to be around the employees that are engaged, or will it be around competitive hiring or what?
I would say the flexibility of the organization including the flexibility of the employees to adapt and change very fast to the rapidly changing market is going to be the key to success for the future. Technology is changing rapidly, so is business models with mergers and demergers and acquisitions. You don’t know who your competition is today. If I look at Siemens in the past, we used to think that ABB, GE and Alstom are our competition. Today our competitors are TCS, Infosys, L&T. Tomorrow it could be Flipkart and Amazon. If we are unable to anticipate this change in the marketplace and how do we compete with them then we may not be able to. 10 years back maybe we would not have so many software engineers, but we realized faster than many of our competitors that IT is going to merge into technology and that is where this industry 4.0 is coming into place. The sooner we change and the faster we adapt and respond to the market, the more successful we are.
How do you prioritize the health and well-being of the employees and what are the latest initiatives that you have taken to ensure their mental and physical well-being?
If we look at physical health first, I think we would be the only company in India where we have a healthy break for all our employees. Every day at 10.30 in the morning and 3.30 in the afternoon through an audio system in every office, there is a three-minute exercise where all employees are voluntarily asked to stand up and exercise.
Secondly, we have moved away from grade based medical policy to age-based medical policy. In the past, we used to say that senior managers could go for a check-up every year, the middle manager once in two years and junior managers could go once in three years. Now we have based it on age. Up to 30 maybe once in three years. 30 to 50 is once in two years and above 50 can go once in a year. We have also tied up with Kaivelidham, a yoga institute in Lonavala, to send employees for a one-week program based on naturopathy, Ayurveda as well as yoga. We do our regular medical check-ups, analyse the data on a regular basis and then doctors take initiatives based on the analysis of the data.