newsbanner newsbannermobile

In the News

For businesses to win at the marketplace, people need to win at the workplace: CHRO Saba Adil

1/8/24 9:03 AM

Article: For businesses to win at the marketplace, people need to win at the workplace: CHRO Saba Adil — People Matters

She’s been at the heart of change at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, with the belief that it is culture and capability building that will define organisations in the years to come. Saba Adil, who’s assumed the role of CHRO at the firm has completed seven months, but her views on what drives HR are based on her two-and-a-half decade-long experience. She divulges that for businesses to win at the marketplace, people need to first win at the workplace and that forms the crux of every strategy and initiative she’s developed and implemented. 

With the evolution in technology, she ponders over the fundamentals and urges HR to keep the human touch intact in the critical moments of an employee’s life. And that’s a learning lesson for leaders designing and debating on the integration of tech into the modern workplace. So, deep dive into what the CHRO has to say about HR, innovative strategies to drive productivity, the debate around return to office and how she is creating pathways of growth for each of her people to be successful. 

Excerpts from the interview: 

In the last few years, the role of CHROs has transformed but their leap to the board level hasn’t yet manifested as a full-blown trend, at least not at public companies. As we look at the surprising events at OpenAI that shook the tech world, how essential is a CHRO at the board to speak truth to power and how can their unique insights help in leadership transition and succession planning?

In the last decade or so, HR has gained strategic importance in terms of making decisions for the organisation. HR is in the business of people and people are eager to understand the differentiators. Primarily, if businesses need to stand out, the culture needs to be differentiated. And employees’ capabilities need to be developed to serve the organisation objectives. Competence and empathy are core to this equation of culture and capability building. 

At the board-level, without the people's representative, decisions are incomplete. The focus for a CHRO needs to be on leadership and culture, that invariably results in right decision-making. The core business functions evaluate the revenue, valuation, but the HR is the one that gets the people quotient on the table. It is a balancing act between driving business and looking at the people aspect. Eventually, sustainable organisations are the ones that get the right people and build the right culture. 

Across the world, you are seeing CHROs questioning and challenging the right practices for their organisation and their people and that’s a trend we will see in 2024 and beyond. 

Every CHRO has a vision to take their firm from good to greatness. Which are the areas you are prioritising and what are some strategies you have implemented?

One of the primary focuses of HR is to enable people to be successful. We have long-term and short-term strategies, the latter of which focuses on business and the former on capability building for the future. With advancements in technology, analytics, data interpretation, customer experience, my focus has been on blending culture and skilling for now and the future. 

At Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, we do it scientifically by understanding where the strategy is taking us, assessing the level of employee capabilities, and identifying the gaps that need to be bridged for future success. We also want to bind our people to purpose to build people's connect to the organisation, which has been challenged after the pandemic. Creating that engagement and moments that matter has been in focus through a number of one-to-one conversations with employees and team-building sessions to get the pulse.

I feel it is fundamental to make employees feel they are cared for. Just a simple call from HR or managers can make an employee feel they are wanted. So, the focus area has been on developing these softer aspects of the workplace, which when done well and with rigour can make a difference. All these strategies have been developed from the heart to ensure that our people stay happy employees. 

With the emergence of Gen AI, CHROs are in a position to really lead on human-AI interactions. How are you experimenting with innovative tech to understand how it works, who to hire, and the capabilities needed for the firm over time?

We’ve automated most of the HR functions to become more efficient from a process perspective. From an employee journey standpoint, there are critical moments of truth of how an employee experiences an organisation and that needs to have the human touch. For example, the onboarding and assimilation of an employee, when done through human interaction has ensured that they stay longer within the organisation. But the process of uploading documents can be tackled by tech, which has more potential in streamlining the process and increasing the efficiency quotient. 

Sharing yet another example, when an employee raises a grievance, closing the ticket isn’t enough. The HR needs to have a conversation on why it happened and what led to it. These key moments have to be personalised, while the rest of the mundane processes can be done through Gen AI. Looking forward, these personalised moments marking significant events in the lives of employees need to stay intact. A listening organisation that’s there for its employees and with its employees will become fundamental for business success. 

With the debate around return to office, hybrid work model, and the number of days at work, how do you aim to optimise the opportunity to retain a younger workforce with diverse ideologies, strengthened further during the pandemic?

The hybrid work model is a win-win for everyone. If you try to impose extremes on it, it could result in chaos. It is my view that if you are completely remote, you miss out on the assimilation of new joinees, the step-ups when you hold higher roles and individual learning and coaching that happens through manager shadowing. On the other hand, the complete return to office negates the employee’s call for flexibility. 

At Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, we want to find that sweet spot and have a blended model, with employees working 3 to 4 days from the office and 1 to 2 days from home. It has led to more output and efficiency in our workforce and we aim to retain it for now. But nothing can be cast in stone so we will keep evolving and revising as we move ahead in our journey based on what our employees need.

According to several studies, it’s been found that women are just as ambitious as men yet the persistence of a ‘broken rung’ in women’s career ladders is worrisome. How do you aim to elevate it at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance? 

What we are doing differently at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance is at the time of hiring itself, we are attracting more women to the job roles by pitching it right through a gender-neutral lens. Even when there are gaps in a candidate’s career trajectory, we encourage our hiring managers to be fair in their compensation. A lot of culture sensitisation workshops are run once an individual joins the organisation to remove subconscious biases and prejudices to acclimatise to a diversified workforce. Managers are also sensitised to cater to a diversified workforce to bring in that innovation and productivity. 

There are also special leadership programs led by women to develop leaders and managers through training and self-awareness. A lot of the conversations that take place during these programs include women leaders sharing their stories, career journeys and struggles to inspire others as they guide them through the many obstacles. 

At critical moments of life, women need flexibility so we provide that so they don’t have to choose between their careers and family obligations. We have a diversity council set up to discuss issues of inclusivity at multiple levels along with mentorship programs. 

Also Read: Are businesses more inclined towards grooming talent at the top?

And for women on maternity and child-care leave, we have formal forums where they can stay up-to-date on what’s happening within the organisation but on an informal level, there is a WhatsApp group with managers and teams to stay connected. For new mothers, we have an employee assistance program (EAP) and counselling, formally available to help them navigate the overwhelming questions around balancing motherhood and work. To summarise, the aim is that the connect with the organisation is never broken. 

In a developing country like India, how essential is financial literacy? What are the reasons it has gained momentum in recent times with more and more organisations curating financial wellness programs for their workforce? 

Since it is essential, we urge everyone in our organisation with one-year experience to learn how the market functions and the entire financial suite of products and businesses that we offer. We want people to be secure for the future so we run quite a few programs to spread financial awareness, where the intent is not to give advice but to introduce people to investments and how to move into the arena to grow money. The idea is to proactively infuse financial knowledge to develop a new mindset, where employees are able to safeguard themselves from any eventualities from a financial standpoint. 

What are the key commonalities and differences in the expectations of a multigenerational workforce and how are you balancing their L&D needs?

The wants are pretty similar across generations – success, learning, contributing to the organisation, finding a purpose and giving back to the society. The only stark difference is that the newer generations are more tech-savvy so they are eager to experiment. And that’s what I admire about them. They are ready to perform a role for a few years and then completely shift gears to take on another challenging role and stick to it if they like it. They begin their careers with the notion that they don’t know what they wish to do and navigate their journey as it comes. 

At Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, we are providing personalised learning, growth and career pathways through self-learning courses and blended learning. We have introduced a learning card which is created based on an employee’s own assessment of needs, the manager’s validation of them along with HR’s approval so as to weave it into the organisation’s objectives. Our intent is to provide them with all the resources so they drive their own learning which is then applied to their diverse projects.

We want learning to be ingrained and imbibed and ultimately, steep into the culture. 

As we begin 2024, what are the challenges you see disrupting work in the next year? 

There are a lot of changes happening across the world in terms of technology and a host of developments, the customer experience is enhancing with the ease of doing business, so keeping people upskilled will be a dominant trend. The learning architecture we’ve built for ourselves and our organisations; we’ll keep updating it to keep pace with the rapid evolution. 

In the end, we have to make sure that our workforce stays relevant with the latest capabilities and competencies so it is a win not just for the organisation but employees as well. ‘Coz for your business to win in the marketplace, people need to win at the workplace and that’s at the heart of everything we do at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance. 

Asset Publisher