Establishing a culture of continuous learning has become imperative: CHRO, BIBA Apparels

Establishing a culture of continuous learning has become imperative: CHRO, BIBA Apparels

From examining the transformative shifts in fashion retail to highlighting the silver linings among the clouds, Vivek Tripathi, CHRO, BIBA Apparels, speaks with Human Capital about how the fashion industry is facing up to the toughest of times with creativity and agility, which skills will play an even more important role in the post-pandemic era, and how HR leaders can help their organisations emerge better positioned for the future.


Uncertain. Struggling. Downbeat. These are a few words we have heard time and again during the past year about the fashion industry. As grim as all that might sound, we’ve heard a lot of other words, too. Transformation. Reset. Opportunity. How has COVID-19 been a catalyst for change in the fashion industry?


COVID-19 has changed the fashion industry at multiple levels:


i. The product mix has changed given that celebrations and gatherings are a challenge due to the pandemic. There is an emphasis on casual wear, loungewear, and sleepwear.


ii. Consumer behaviour is changing drastically. People are much more into buying online and from established brands that can be trusted. Fashion retailers are focusing on enhancing the customer experience online, expanding the product range available online, and using new technology to help customers choose the right products.


iii. The traditional method of selling and customer service in stores has transformed. The focus of store teams has gone from serving walk-in customers to inviting customers through outward calling and becoming their trusted fashion advisors. Our store teams have done some really innovative work by calling loyal customers on their significant days, understanding their tastes (using past data), and helping them choose the right product.


iv. The Store Standard Operating Procedures have been revamped. Safety is paramount for both staff and customers.


What are some HR strategies being employed at BIBA to support employees through this difficult time?


We are focusing on the safety and wellbeing of our employees. Strict safety protocols have been enforced at the stores. Non-store employees have been encouraged to work from home. The strategy is to be transparent and regularly communicate the state of the business. The use of technology for company-wide communication and work-related collaboration has expanded. In the event that an employee falls ill, additional leave and other assistance are being provided. We are also circulating stories of outstanding customer service and collaboration within the organisation. Furthermore, a culture of peer appreciation has been fostered to enhance the feeling of “one team” in these difficult times.


Which are the most high-demand skills in the fashion industry right now?


All fashion retailers are looking to enhance their online footprint and sales. Hence, e-commerce product managers, operation managers, and customer service specialists are required. There’s also a need for reskilling in the store staff. They must use digital tools to engage with customers over phone and WhatsApp. They also need to make intelligent use of data to influence customers.


How can organisations continue to upskill and reskill employees on shoestring budgets?


Establishing a culture of continuous learning has become imperative in today’s context. Upskilling & reskilling of talent needs to be done by the line managers and L&D teams, apart from employees on their own accord.


We have found mobile-based e-learning applications, which make bite-sized learning content available on a multimedia platform, to be particularly effective. The platforms allow for learning at the learner’s pace and time, and are both scalable and low-cost. The applications make customised content on products, customer service, store SOPs, and other areas available to the workforce. The consumption of content and its assimilation can be tracked. Quizzes can be used to check the extent of learning, and feedback can be taken from the learners on the relevance and usefulness of the content. These need to be supplemented by managers delivering learning sessions and sharing their insights. Employees also need to be encouraged to learn on their own — and there should be linkages between demonstrated learning and career advancement.


While the pandemic has put many work trends on fast-forward, it has altered the direction of others and initiated some future trends. Which HR trends do you believe will persist in the fashion industry post-COVID-19?


In general, flexibility in working — in terms of time and place — is here to stay. It will be ‘work from anywhere’ and perhaps’ work at any time’. These trends will affect organisational culture, employee engagement, teamwork, and how performance is measured.


Performance management and measurement systems will need to become much more transparent and objective. Managers will need to hone their influencing skills to ensure team alignment and engagement in a dispersed team setting. Forums will need to be created to ensure that informal interactions between employees who have served to create a community at the workplace are continued.


The use of technology for collaboration and communication is also going to be a lasting trend. For critical roles, where deep expertise is valued, companies may seek engaging employees across geographical boundaries.


Employees will need to learn constantly and be willing to take up new roles to stay relevant and grow in their careers. Digital and data skills will become more vital and valuable in the future.


Looking back over the past year and all that you have overcome, what’s one lesson from the crisis you’d like to share with HR professionals in the fashion industry?


The most important lesson in an uncertain situation is to be honest with one’s stakeholders — employees, line leaders, customers, suppliers, and others. A crisis of this kind is an opportunity to build trust, and everyone is eager to help and do his or her part if one is open and has humility. Trust can be built by communicating regularly with the stakeholders, listening to their concerns, and then formulating a response. It is also essential not to commit too early or for too long to a particular course of action, and to be open to changing one’s decision as more information comes in.

With 6+ years of experience, Ankita has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire. She is currently Deputy Editor at Human Capital.


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