Leadership and Culture

Leadership and Culture

Today’s employees like to find answers to their questions in their own time and at their own convenience. The only way this can happen is if my HR function can digitise itself sufficiently so that employees are not dependent on an HR partner providing “live” answers to their questions, says Raj Raghavan, Senior Vice President – Human Resources, IndiGo. Take a look at this exclusive interview to know more about the future of work and how to leverage a blended workforce to gain a competitive advantage.

Although the blending of workforces (full-time, part-time, contingent, bots, in-office, remote, etc.) is not a new trend, it has gained new momentum following the pandemic. Which roles in your industry are best performed by full-time employees, and which are better suited to contingent talent? Do you foresee certain full-time jobs veering into non-traditional domains?


This is a great question, and it needs a thoughtful yet practical answer. I look at this question not just from the lens of roles but also how such roles impact the customer. And when it comes to customer service, it is not so much about whether a full-time employee or a gig worker served the customer as about how the customer experienced the service.


The second area to look at is competencies. Again, continuing with the example of customer experience, it doesn’t matter to the customer if she was served by a gig worker or a full-time employee. What matters is how competent the employee is. For example, at IndiGo, we have pilots on flexible contracts. A new mom pilot might want to work limited hours in a month to have the time for her little one. So, is it fair for me to say that a pilot’s role cannot be performed by someone who is not full-time?


Young employees like to do different things. They don’t like being forced-fitted to be, for example, just a software engineer. They also want the ability to follow their passion of being a musician. If this employee can find an employer who lets her do both, then that is where she will want to work. Does IndiGo want to be that employer? Why not!


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 aviation 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?


You touched on a crucial aspect of digitisation. I firmly believe that digitisation is linked beyond the front-end of the business. Today’s employees like to find answers to their questions in their own time and at their own convenience. The only way this can happen is if my HR function can digitise itself sufficiently so that employees are not dependent on an HR partner providing “live” answers to their questions.


HR digitisation permeates all aspects of an employee’s lifecycle, not just “hire, keep and grow” but also “leave” if it comes to that. Several organisations were already well entrenched in this journey prior to the pandemic, which probably propelled the pace quite a bit.


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


Let me share the background of the industry I am in (aviation) and then juxtapose this to the culture question you’ve asked. Say you are a customer flying on IndiGo. You’re probably interacting with at least 8 to 10 airline staff. You interact with them without knowing them at all, even as they provide you with various facets of customer service. Different verticals within the airline essentially support a customer. For an airline our size, with a fleet of 270- odd airplanes and upward of 23,000 employees, it translates into about 90 to 95 employees per aircraft. You need that many people to fly a plane. And some of the most visible of these roles for the customer are the pilots, cabin attendants, check-in staff, and security personnel. Therefore, as a customer, you tend to view the company’s culture through these employees.


Whether we have a blended workforce or not, being on time, being low cost, and providing hasslefree and courteous customer service are the pillars of our culture. We will preserve this culture irrespective of the workforce mix.


In developing a blended workforce, do you believe senior leadership must bring about a mindset shift within the company that full-time employees alone cannot ensure the completion of work/projects? If yes, how can leadership channelise such a mindset change within an organisation in your industry?


One of my important responsibilities as IndiGo’s HR leader is to have mechanisms where every employee feels equally valued, irrespective of her role, position or place in the company’s hierarchy. This is enabled in a variety of ways and must be measured where possible.


As a reference point, there are 15–20 areas that impact an employee. Through our “6E Speaks” pulse program, we try to find out how leaders influence each of these areas. It’s not a once-in-a-year employee satisfaction survey; it happens continuously. Every employee at IndiGo receives 5 to 7 multiple choice questions every 15 days. It also allows employees to give answers in their own words. We ask about 12 –14 questions a month and get about 160–180 responses a year from an employee. We repeat questions from a set of approximately 35 questions, which means that employees answer the same questions four times a year, but at different points in time.


For example, while an employee may be comfortable with compensation today, I want to know if she feels the same way eight months or one year from now. To me, human resources is a deep science that needs deep core competence. In science, you make decisions using not only anecdotes but also data. Data is as crucial as anecdotes, much the same way as how anecdotes are as important as data.


Our “6E Speaks” data may indicate that people are extremely satisfied with certain working conditions, but we also ask openended questions. Then, we try to decipher those open-ended questions to see if people think differently than when they numerically answer a specific question.

We are witnessing a more age-diverse workforce than ever before. How can organisations foster intergenerational collaboration and cohesion given the different work arrangements (from full-time to freelance) and work models (from remote to hybrid)?


IndiGo has had this advantage for several years, with pilots ranging from 20 to 65 years of age. We have always been able to reasonably integrate an age-diverse workforce to everyone’s benefit. Mentoring is one of the several ways to bring this harmony.


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?


I believe that the office atmosphere should enable collaboration and creativity. This stems from the culture of the organisation, irrespective of the working model. If an organisation can develop a culture of solving customer problems, then there need to be mechanisms to ensure that the working model never gets in its way.

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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