Delivering With Consistency

Delivering With Consistency

In conversation with Human Capital, Mukta Nakra, Head-HR, Marks and Spencer India (M&S), spoke about the challenges encountered by the company amidst the pandemic. She also elucidated the need to introspect the Performance Management system in the organisation amidst the growing uncertainty.


In spite of the large-scale impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new normal has brought in a hybrid working model and has also made the employers realise that their workforce since people and not employees. How do you believe this has altered the process of Performance Management in an organisation? 


At M&S, we believe that performance is not a task; it is a result, and it takes effort to manage and deliver consistently. During the pandemic, the in-person interactions have reduced significantly and it is difficult to ‘catch’ people in action. Therefore, the performance management process had to be robust and sustainable, thereby allowing for regular feedback and realigning goals with agility in the uncertain environment.


So, our process of performance management entails - setting clear goals, whilst focusing on ongoing feedback and genuine conversations, and balancing the measurement with a direct link to recognition.


The above aspects have a direct bridge to the overall organisational and business goals. Making it a priority for the human resources team, to encourage growth pathing for every vertical and structure within the business. It became important to lend a clear understanding to all the employees on the business growth path, and their contribution to the brand journey. And finally, making all of them proud of their achievements all along. In these unprecedented times, we have defined a clear work structure and role categorisation for each and every employee in order to continue and strengthen the business growth.


Day-to-day conversations, interactions, and relationships across management hierarchies are at the heart of every performance management process, as they foster trust and bolster engagement. This further highlights the brand’s performance philosophy of ‘Being your Best’ to life, ensuring that performance is not just about what people do, but how they do it, considering - attitude, behaviour, leadership ability and the ‘M&S Way’.


We also know that people are motivated by recognition and that motivation enhances productivity and performance. In the current climate, we undertake regular initiatives to ensure that our people managers are aware of the things they can do to recognise great performance. 


Goal Setting, Employee wellbeing and personal context are some prominent aspects that shall play a prominent role for organisations in the New Normal. How is this being looked at in M&S given the fact that you employ a significant pool of niche talent?


We truly believe that we are a business built on our people. It is the brand’s endeavour to keep the best interests of our employees at the centre of all decisions. Throughout the duration of the pandemic, the brand’s efforts have been aimed to support the employees and their families. As a proactive measure, the human resources team guaranteed an easy transition to work remotely for the office employees and staff. While keeping the store staff and employees engaged through different periods of lockdown, ensuring utmost safety and wellbeing. Another initiative from the organisation was the enhanced and integrated suite of benefits under ‘My Choices’ – enabling its employees to avail various health and wellbeing benefits in addition to deals for their comfort and safety. Some of the key ways in which the brand brought this to life are:


Continuous & transparent communication to help employees stay connected; aware of the larger picture; and well informed of all the actions planned and executed by the brand, from time to time.


Our brand goals and actions have evolved with the changing scenario and aligned with business priorities so that the employees understand their roles to stabilise the business.


Focus on health & wellbeing for all employees, which includes wellness programmes around meditation, yoga, healthy diet and nutrition delivered by experts. 


Amplified focus on Employee Assistance Program to encourage people to seek professional support in case of any stress related to work, family issues or COVID-19 The brand also launched a telemedicine facility (covering nine super specialities) for employees and their families (including parents), an initiative that has been highly appreciated.


In the aftermath of the pandemic, the gig economy and contractual workforce are being looked at as a definite alternative by organisations. This has led to a situation wherein employees are seeking performance reviews after the completion of their project. How does this alter the Performance Management landscape in the Retail Sector? 


We believe that there are diverse skills in the retail industry bringing the omnichannel journey of the customer to life. It is the frequency and quality of discussions with line managers, the feedback and the realignment of goals that have become key aspects of the performance process. In the retail industry, the agile way of working is taking over in areas like Technology and E-Commerce, while store operations per se continue to be traditional frequency led performance process as against project-based. 


The pandemic has created a looking window for organisations into the personal lives of their employees on ‘focusing outside of work’ owing to personal reasons and also upskilling. How do you believe this shall alter the KPIs in the workplace of the future?


Performance Management for us is as much about taking stock and reflecting on learnings as it is about continuously reshaping, reassessing goals/KPIs and their relevance and connection with the organisational goals.


The digital revolution further accelerated by the pandemic crisis has had huge talent implications for organisations. Given the scale of transformation and speed of disruption, it is imperative to focus on upskilling and reskilling to empower the employees and enable them to transition into newer roles and new ways of working.


At M&S, we are continuously investing in technologies that allow for learning at our fingertips. The expectations are, continuous learning and upskilling to become an integral part of work and performance to ensure that our people continue to remain relevant in the ever-evolving scenario, and thus, we reinforce the culture of innovation and experiential learning that encourages them to stretch themselves, try new things, and operate outside of their comfort zone. Apart from performance, multiple people practices are expected to lay emphasis and allow for ease in acquiring new skills and learning. It has to be embedded as part of the organisation’s culture.


The pandemic was also instrumental in reinforcing data analytics and automated data collection in the performance management process. Do you believe this to be the way forward for Performance Management Systems in the coming days? How are technology and analytics being used in Performance Management in M&S? 


The pandemic has taught us to be faster, efficient, more productive and stronger than any odds that we may face. Our technologyenabled performance management approach focuses on maximizing people development, improving the performance of individuals and the entire organization. From a performance standpoint, we look at data – at the individual level that is enabled by technology. Timeliness of the process, transparent monitoring, evaluation and rewards are also aspects supported by technology. Analytics help us understand talent demographics from a skill, performance and potential standpoint that helps us plan for talent initiatives and drive organisational effectiveness.


Team Performance in terms of collaboration, cohesion and delivery is being seen as the next step forward for devising newer performance management metrics in organisations. What is your take on this? 


Building a high-performing team is not just about getting together a group of talented people with the right skills. It requires the development and the nurturing of key behaviours and characteristics of the group collectively. Collaborations lead to efficient processes, innovation and improved communication yielding better outcomes and engagement. 


Do you believe that the post-pandemic phase is likely to eliminate gender bias as also cognitive bias in the area of Performance Management? 


At M&S, inclusion & diversity (I&D) has always been a business imperative and reflects through equal opportunities across the employee lifecycle. We practice inclusion in all aspects– right from gender, identity to generation and ideation. There has been a continued focus and conscious action taken on elevating the human experience of our workforce, creating a sense of belonging, making everyone feel valued, respected and treated fairly. The sensitisation and awareness-building efforts include ongoing conversations on I&D topics, gender intelligence and learning interventions such as unconscious bias workshops that help us identify and address biases.


While the pandemic-caused revolution in work practices can pose a bias challenge, especially for women in the workforce, we are well poised to counter the inconsistencies it can bring about. The brand’s conscious reliance on regular dialogue; realtime, objective feedback and coaching; and credible multisource data versus opinions or instincts is the very foundation of our performance management.


As people work hybrid, we are increasingly leveraging our digital social channels, collaboration platforms, communication channels and networks to communicate frequently and consistently and connect people across the organisation. The ongoing conversations on these channels can impact the opportunity to build informal relationships and allow a deeper insight into diverse working styles, behaviour patterns and preferences of employees. Regular catch-ups between people managers and their teams irrespective of whether working from the office or remotely. This also ensures that everyone has equal opportunity to speak and express themselves and help create trust.


Lastly, we believe going forward there is an increasing need to leverage technology/data and deploy analytics to help highlight behaviour/performance patterns and create specific summaries of talentrelated decisions to identify hidden biases, uncover disparities and allow validation and fairness.



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