Upskilling is for Everyone in the Organization: Priya Tikhe, Zensar

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Upskilling is for everyone in the organization – junior to senior – at all levels,” says Priya Tikhe, Director – HR Business Partner, role for Retail Consumer Solutions (RCS) Business, Zensar. Read the full interview for her insights on why upskilling is important. 

What are the strategies you employ to upskill your workforce?

We have a program launched 2 years ago called Talent Transformation Track (TT Track). It has become mandatory in our organization to upskill our workforce because our retail business is moving into a new technology space. For example – we used to work with Art Technology Group (ATG) technology, now most of our clients are demanding micro services technology. Hence, it has become imperative to cross-train our associates from ATG to micro services. So we do a lot of investment in this area, upskill professionals and make them work on a reference project to enhance their learnings.

Further, we deploy them as a shadow resource on live projects with a highly experienced professional and within a period of six months to a year. We foresee a productive team in that new technology.  

TT Track has become a mandate to track HR deliverables – like how many people are being internally trained by cross skilling or upskilling – how many of them are deputed to projects and made billable, Turnaround Around time to Billability, % of internal fulfillment, etc.

Upskilling is for everyone in the organization – junior to senior – at all levels. Upskilling at a workforce level is technology driven – at the senior management level it is management driven. So, we put them in Leadership Development Programs (LDP) in association with management schools like ISB, IIMs, etc. Many of the leadership programs are also delivered through internal programs.

For example, we conduct Miller Heiman programs that drive leaders to understand how to drive and grow a 50 million account into a 100 million account? How do they penetrate their existing accounts throughout the year to expand their business? Similarly there are other programs which are purely management driven – dealing with people, leadership qualities, behavioural training related etc.

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

Zensar is the only company in the world that is truly living digital. Our HR communication, action, operations, performance appraisal and other HR related matters – everything happens digitally. We have in – house developed Apps called the Zen Help app for associates where most of their daily operations get resolved with a press of a button. The process is to post any operational issue relating to HR on the Zen Help app and they receive a response within 24 hours. There is constant analytics, tracking and monitoring in the app to understand HRs productivity and solutions provided to the associates, what could be the key or recurring issue raised in the App etc. This is one of the digital lifelines that we have adopted in the organisation, we have created many patented apps to improve our way of life in Zensar!

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

There are three processes we have in order to create a digital platform which today is actually digital disruption. We have done something called ZenRoD, which is a Zensar app that focusses on three aspects – Artificial Intelligence, Smart platform plan and also talks about the human experience. Then we have ZenROD which is a business app – or Return on Digital. We are trying to bring offerings to our customers which are our internal customers – our own associates, business partners and our external customers making them digitally savvy. Zensar is the only digital living company in the world. There is no other company which is fully digital and who are working everything on digital platforms. For example – For our HR communication, action, operations, performance appraisal and other HR related matters – everything happens digitally on an in – house developed app called the Zen Help app – it is a complete app for HR in Zensar. If anyone has an operational issue relating to HR they post it on the Zen Help app and they get a response in 24 hours. There is constant analytics, tracking and monitoring of how our associates are doing and plus we have a patent on many apps.  We have filed more than 50 patents internally.

Basically if you look at our industry, it is going into a digital platform. We have a digital disruption internally itself which we also try to promote to our clients. Every person in Zensar is on respective apps and actually discuss and give their analyses. For example, there is a CEO app which we had created which got us our first patent, called Zensar Converse – Zenver. Zenver gives employees internal access to the CEO. He talks to all 9000 employees directly through this app. So employees have downloaded this app on their respective mobiles and if there are any questions or information they want from him, he responds to them directly. If there are issues that have been raised to him, it is tagged to the respective department head like you tag someone on Twitter or FB, so that the department head immediately acts on the issue raised and brings it to a closure.

I think the kind of impact we are bringing by people having direct access to the CEO and the CEO making that extra effort to read through and respond on a daily basis is tremendous. Of course people have become smarter now.  Initially the flow of queries would be more than a 100 in a day but that has now reduced to three or four as people have become more intelligent as they have realised that issues should be resolved before employees mention them to the CEO on the Zenver app. So there are many such initiatives that we have introduced from an innovation perspective. As a department, we have something called ZENLABS which is actually a Research and Development department where a lot of innovation takes place. And we have come up with a lot of patents through their R&D. All our departments also have their respective apps.

How do you win at talent management?

Last year our retention was higher than that of any other company in our industry and amongst our competitors. We were almost at 82% retention. Comparatively most other companies in our industry are at a 30 – 40% attrition rate. The key driver in our high retention rate is our investment in upskilling and cross-skilling of the middle managers. In my opinion, the middle managers are the most ignored group of professionals in any company. We started a lot of programs and initiatives for the larger base of employees in the pyramid – that has been a key focal point in Zensar which many companies are missing out. I do understand that this kind of investment can be a challenge for many companies but what we did is to create internal programs. We have programs for the mid-level called First Time Leaders program when employees have become Managers for the first time. This is a very intensive 5 day program which involves leaving their regular work for 5 days and going through a rigorous behavioural and financial training.

Similarly we have something at a second level for junior to senior management. All the mid-level management is covered in these kind of programs for a 5 full day training. We ask them what help they require and what they need training in. Therefore we design the training around their requirements. So we see a conviction and commitment and people buy in to this. So that’s how we are able to retain our people.

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

A value driven culture is very important because everybody joins the organisation initially for money but people stay in an organisation based on the culture there. What makes up culture? – Culture relates to the core values of the organisation and how you depict it in day-to-day work.  And how each manager depicts it in their behaviour. So one of the key things we do are both inorganic and organic growth. We have in the last one year acquired around four companies. So we are also into acquisitions and the culture is different in each organisation. They have their legacy culture. So work with HR in each company that we are acquiring, starts even before the acquisition of the company happens –  there is a buy-in process even before those companies and their employees are on board. So we have these pre-acquisition and post-acquisition activities as part of an integration plan with these companies. So the plan is minutely managed to do an effective integration of cultures. A lot depends on what values we follow and what we want to communicate to the employees of the acquired companies. So our internal communication team is extremely active in communicating about our values and behaviours to the employees of the merged companies – this is a big support for the HR team.   

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