‘Listen’ to Your Employees: Somnath Baishya, Intuit

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Read why Somnath Baishya, Head HR, Global Development Centres, Intuit encourages ‘listening’ to your employees to create a positive work culture. 

What are the steps you take as a leader to embrace innovative disruption?

When we’re talking about innovative disruption, it’s important to keep in perspective that it’s not a one-off occurrence. It’s more of a mindset which gets crafted as we go through our career journeys. We become more adept at taking risks and being bold. We learn through our experiences on how to embrace and cope with disruption.

Embracing disruption requires long-term thinking. We have to travel out into the future and then travel back. In this process we do not fall into the trap of what is already known. We do not get blinded by what we feel comfortable about, what we already have. We get galvanized by what we can make possible. If we are able to imbibe a sense of belonging to the future, it kindles a deep purpose in ourselves to disrupt and move ahead.

In an organization setting, embracing innovative disruptions is a team game. You have to take people along with you. It is perfectly fine if different people have a different pace for their commitment. It is important to lean in, build conviction, but also give them the time. The belief and momentum gets built gradually. More the diversity in thinking early, the better the outcome finally.

When you’re talking disruptions – there’s a lot you can learn just by observing the ecosystem. You need to have a scouting mindset to understand what’s happening. You need to decide on some of the best practices to take the organization through the journey of change.

Finally, the culture needs to celebrate failures. Employees need to know that they can be bold to take risks. Failure is not the end of the world. But there has to be learnings in failures, so that the same mistake is not repeated. Helping evolve such an environment builds hunger for innovative disruptions.

 What are the strategies you employ to upskill your workforce?

At Intuit we have always believed in our People – our most important stakeholder. People drive the long term success of the organization. The workplace should enable them to bring their whole selves to work and live their passion.  

While the above belief is the core, it has to be lived and experienced. When we have our performance conversations through the monthly check-ins, it starts with the development goals. It is the employee first. The belief here is that we are looking at sustained success for the individual – not only here and now, but over a longer period of time. How do we help each person be the best he/she can be? It builds trust that the manager and the organization are truly invested in the individual. Candid conversations spark a two-sided accountability towards development. Once this is established, business outcomes and impact are accelerated.

We also believe in ‘Learn, Teach, Learn.’ Leaders are learners too. As role models they set the tone for continuous learning as we progress on our careers. At the pace at which we move, it is not easy to find the time to pursue a learning agenda beyond the day job. However, when employees see their leaders do it, they get interested too.

We continuously scan the future and assess what trends are emerging and what capabilities would be relevant for the workforce to create a deep business impact. To build the workforce accordingly, we hire and we build too. With the explosion in the space of Data Science, AI and ML we are already moving at a fast pace to bring in such capabilities into our workforce. While we are hiring, we are investing in our existing employees to provide them the opportunity to learn such skills, that they aspire for and which would be relevant for the company. Employees love this as they are able to future proof their careers and migrate themselves to domains that will shape our tomorrows.

While employees build skills on the job and through traditional learning channels, we also navigate them through action learning projects, mission teams etc.  so that they can be stretched beyond their comfort zones and learn by getting deeply involved in high impact priorities. We also provide employees unstructured time – a time where they can invest to learn and contribute to what they are passionate about. We have various communities where employees can join in and evolve their abilities through peer learning.

We also share journey lines where employees articulate how such investments enabled them to reimagine their careers. Nothing builds trust better than hearing from others who have navigated and benefited from similar experiences.

How do you win at talent management? 

As shared already, talent is our number one priority. We have a stated goal to be amongst the Top 10 best employers in every geography that we operate in. In India, we have been ranked in the Top 10 over the last 5 years by the Great Place to Work Institute – at rank 1 last year and at 2 this year. While we do feel proud and humbled by the rank, the purpose here is much larger. This is a great learning investment for us as we get to know how we compare with the best of the best. Are we re-imagining our talent processes to be ahead of the curve? Are we living our core value to ‘Be Bold’? Are we bringing the best value to our employees?

Every part of talent management is changing fast. Disruption is on at an unbelievable pace. We believe in questioning everything. Our CEO Brad Smith challenges us by saying “you need to repair your roof when the sun is shining.”  You have to keep asking yourself ‘will this work two years down the line?’ We also push us to fall in love with the problem, and not with the solution. This ensures that we do not get emotionally attached and stretch our talent offerings beyond their shelf life just because we designed them.  

A big part of our culture is- customer empathy- we are solving a problem for our customers-that’s what our entire business model is based on. From a talent management perspective, our employees are our premium customers. Anything that we design, we try to answer two pieces – What would be the customer benefit? What would be the customer experience?

As an example, we’ve re-imagined the hiring process to what we call A4A- Assessing for Awesome. The typical hiring process is interviewer led – pouncing on the candidate with a barrage of questions, most times not coordinated amongst the interviewers, creates a broken experience for the candidate. The A4A process is candidate centric. We believe that the candidate is at the table as he/she has a native genius that we feel could be valuable for us if the hiring progressed. We need to give the candidate the time to express and articulate what he/she offers and then build the conversation to map mutual expectations. This process is super valued by candidates – not only by those who are selected but also by those who do not make it finally. We gauge this through our candidate experience metric. Today the A4A process is valued in the industry and we are glad that we drive this learning.

What role do you think culture plays in increasing efficiency at work?

Culture is the pivot around which everything revolves for us. For Intuit in India, when we started the center here 13 years ago, our intent was to build a world class engineering center that could compete with the best of the best. We had to create experiences where our employees were able to live and love the culture. When the employees believe in the culture they turn into advocates of the company. This has slowly led to the third stage of our journey, where leaders are open to give up control and get employees to lead the transformational journey and thereby become shapers of the company’s future.

When more and more hearts and minds start beating in rhythm, we minimize the noise. When we are all moving in the same direction, together we can move with more agility. There is greater commitment. This ensures we live our core value of Win Together. With such alignment efficiency surely increases. We have declared ‘Speed as a Habit’ as a key dimension of our culture. Everyone then becomes riveted to the cause of moving faster internally.

A key commitment from our leaders is to ‘Listen’ to our employees. Our employee surveys have high participation as the feedback shared matters. As leaders we read through all the comments shared. These are great insights on what is top of mind – including what is holding us back. Our leaders do floor walks, meet employees to learn what are the obstructions, what’s slowing them down. Where are the opportunities to leverage collaboration to drive speed and smartness in the way we work? What could we do better to unleash the energy of our talent to the maximum?

Our culture being employee led, we are breaking down barriers not only by leadership involvement but at every level. Our culture propels a solutions mindset, leverages design thinking and celebrates innovations. This ensures that employees are motivated to jump in and drive transformation to make work a better experience for us.  

What role do you think technology plays in talent management? How can technology bring about a change in the talent management lifecycle?

Technology is a game changer for the next wave of talent management. Voice chats, bots, platforms …open up a whole new world of possibilities. With experiences such as ‘on demand’ servicing, personalization in what we do in our life – shopping, music, leisure etc, we will have similar expectations that employees will have at work when it comes to talent processes. Such customization is only possible through leveraging technology. Imagine a world where the company intranet services like the ‘Alexa’ of today – the employee no longer clicks through multiple screens to find more on travel benefits.

With technology becoming pervasive, we are also sitting on huge data lakes around our talent processes. The reality though is that these are not leveraged and are disconnected. We are making sub-optimal solves, which does not drive the right experience. Once we are able to connect the pieces, we will see patterns, we will transition data from bits of information to connective tissues of insights. The value we can then provide through our talent processes will have a multiplier effect. This will of course mean that talent in HR will have to build capability muscles that are not leveraged today. They have to be better at pattern recognition and have a broader understanding beyond their zone of specialization.

Today technology is also driving collaboration in the way we work. No matter where we are across the globe we can work real time building on each other, leveraging shared workspaces. Communication tools like Whatsapp, Slack etc. score higher than emails, as they become more pervasive. Mobile apps are such a blessing. We are connected on the move. As we tread towards the gig economy, knowledge retention will be a key dimension to manage. Today, knowledge is locked with individual minds and hard drives. Storing information on the cloud, shared drives etc. minimizes the risks of the float in talent. Technology helps us do more, at speed.

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