Culture is not a static legacy but a dynamic reality: Mahalakshmi R.

Culture is not a static legacy but a dynamic reality: Mahalakshmi R.

'Talent is making choices of working not just from 'homes' but locations where they 'feel at home', says Mahalakshmi R., Director – HR, Mondelez India. Take a look at this exclusive interview to know more about the future of work and how the pandemic has created a new state of talent abundance.


The pre-pandemic war for talent and the pandemic-triggered acceleration of digital transformation across organisations is further bound to enhance the scarcity of talent. How do you believe the FMCG industry will rise to this challenge of talent scarcity? Do you think the pandemic will transform the manner in which talent is acquired and onboarded?


The pandemic has been a fantastic trigger and perhaps the single biggest catalyst for accelerating the future of work. The digital transformation has helped organisations re-imagine work and find innovative ways to understand and serve the consumer, reimagining how work, workforce and workplace come together. To my mind, far from causing any scarcity, it has created a new state of abundance. Here’s why:


Wider talent pools as geography becomes history: Organisations have been able to expand their talent pools as more and more roles become geographically agnostic.


Personalisation: Digitisation allows us to know our consumers deeply, thereby allowing us to reimagine and personalise brands, products and experiences.


Employee experience reimagined: Digital tools have enabled us to provide the same level of personalisation to our talent (workforce), enabling curated career maps, on-demand learning and virtual onboarding. Technology has also become our biggest ally in driving engagement, building capability, and helping us create a signature Mondelez employee experience in moments that matter.


Additionally, many organisations have used this opportunity to work with fluid workforce models and leverage Skill on Demand, allowing for dynamic management of talent investments into roles and verticals that can propel growth.


Employee experience (EX) has been typically associated with full-time employees and often goes unaddressed for other workforce segments. With non-traditional talent becoming an increasingly important source of competitive advantage, how can organisations deliver optimal EX for them?


Today, talent is increasingly making choices of where to work and how much to work. With that, over 200 million people are part of the gig workforce globally. As a result, it has become increasingly imperative for organisations to build a workspace where alternative work arrangements are considered a part of the strategic workforce planning process.


With a fluid workforce becoming more of a strategic lever, it will be imperative for the employee experience to be more inclusive. There are two reasons why:


i. This workforce is increasingly playing a strategic part in the growth story; and


ii. This workforce (just like our employees) chooses where to work — even more so if they represent a niche skillset.


Hence, including this segment as a critical cohort, as we reimagine the entire hire-to-retire experience for various talent pools, could deliver “belonging” and be a strategic advantage to organisations.


What are the possible fallouts of a blended workforce on the culture of an organisation? How can they be addressed?


One of the best ways we can thrive as an organisation is by embracing diversity. It is one of the simplest ways we have a microcosm of the consumers we serve sitting on the decision table. At Mondelez India, we have leveraged deep listening (digitally) and crowdsourcing to curate and shape most of our policies. This has ensured that our multigenerational workforce has a voice in the policies, processes, and culture that we curate. It nudges us to take the time to review what’s enabling our growth trajectory and what is coming. So, we can mindfully be culture catalysts, ensuring that culture is not a static legacy but a dynamic reality. Crowdsourcing policies and ideas on what is needed to grow ensures that we curate a winning growth culture.


We have been intentional not only to crowdsource ideas for many of our HR policies but also to use Agile Methodology to create a culture of test and learns, working with the broader ecosystem of peers, manufacturers and researchers to co-create the future of snacking.


Depending on the sector, the nature of the work that people do, and the setup an organisation prefers, some companies are going virtual-first while others are rallying to get employees back in-house or piloting a blended working model. Do you believe the office to be an important hub for collaboration, creativity, and innovation?


With the current reality, it seems unlikely that we will have a choice when it comes to virtual work. To my mind, even after the COVID disruption comes to an end, it is unlikely that we will ever return to a 100% “work from office” mode. In some form or fashion, remote and hybrid working is undoubtedly where the world is headed. We must reimagine all our key people processes and levers of culture for that reality.


Offices will predominantly become collaboration spaces, and in many ways, the “workplace” is already getting reimagined. Talent is making choices of working not just from “homes” but locations where they “feel at home”.


Technology is disrupting collaboration, making it much more possible virtually. So, it is time that we shake up our mental models on what can and can’t be done virtually! As an example, Mondelez India did consumer immersions virtually and launched a slew of new products during the pandemic — something we would have never imagined possible otherwise.


On the other hand, dual-income families with small homes are common in many parts of India, putting a strain on remote work infrastructure. As we review our workplace strategies, finding solutions for some of those issues will be critical. While different circumstances have led to mixed emotions from employees, one thing is clear: the functional definition of an office will certainly see a change as we continue to navigate the ongoing scenario. A lot is evolving in this space, and it is great to be part of shaping some of this in the months and quarters to come!


Do you believe that in order to successfully develop a blended workforce and work in a flexible/ remote work reality, senior leadership must bring about a mindset shift? What are some of the biggest leadership imperatives for the new normal?


 We have been quick to adapt to remote work and have already designated a set of roles to be location independent. This has expanded the talent pools that we can tap into!


We realise that leading remotely demands new capabilities from our leaders to inspire, collaborate, and engage without in-person meetings. Our “FlexABLE” program focuses on building those muscles in all of our people managers.


I see four leadership imperatives take centre stage:


i. Agility: It is the ability to pivot according to changing consumer, shopper and ecosystem needs.


ii. Deep Listening: This involves understanding that the employee, the consumer and the shopper are at the heart of what makes a successful leader, one who knows what is important or what needs amplification and pauses to celebrate.


iii. Purpose-Led Inspiration: Discretionary efforts are maximised when people see a bridge between their own purpose and the organisation’s purpose. Great leaders leverage that.


iv. Balance: This involves short-term recovery with long-term re-imagination.


We are witnessing a more age-diverse workforce than ever before. How can organisations foster intergenerational collaboration and cohesion?


 At Mondelez India, while 70% of our workforce is millennial/ centennial, we intentionally leverage our generational diversity. Sharing perspectives within and across these cohorts brings a broad range of knowledge and abilities to support innovation. We use crowdsourcing approaches and multigenerational focus groups to co-create our policies. We engage all cohorts in design-thinking workshops to prototype new processes and solutions — as a means to ensure we stay relevant. We also invest in multiple theatre-based capability programmes to build awareness of generational biases and stereotypes. So building an intentionally inclusive workforce is critical.

Ankita Sharma is working as Senior Editor with Human Capital. With 6+ years of experience, she has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire.


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