Data is the bedrock of an effective Performance Management System: Amarpreet Kaur Ahuja

Data is the bedrock of an effective Performance Management System: Amarpreet Kaur Ahuja

With the pandemic casting its deadly spell across the globe leaving people reeling and economies falling flat, the onus was on the Pharma sector to restore a certain degree of order. The race for the vaccines and delivering the much-needed medication to the needy gained topmost priority. This, nevertheless, overworked the employees, the organisations and also the supply chains to a large extent. Pharma companies were forced to reinvent the wheel in terms of restoring some order in a fast disrupting and also by way of introducing newer technology in terms of gauging employee performance.


Human Capital spoke to Amarpreet Kaur Ahuja, Country HR Director, AstraZeneca India, who shared the company’s efforts amid the pandemic and also the new-age Performance Management methods that were adopted by the company in the recent days.


Despite 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 as people and not employees. How do you believe this has altered the process of Performance Management in an organisation? 


COVID–19 has fundamentally altered the way we work. It has certainly accelerated the evolution of Performance Management. But, even before the pandemic, only 2% of companies felt their performance management approach delivered exceptional value. Many companies including us were already moving away from the traditional performance management systems. COVID-19 has propelled this further and many more companies have started altering their systems.


The new performance management at AstraZeneca brings in simplicity, flexibility, agility, much more continuity, and is much more development-oriented. Unlike the old system in which employees and managers thought about the process only once or twice a year, performance analysis, discussion and development happen throughout the year here. The goals are flexible and can easily be changed to ensure relevance. This approach focuses on forward-looking coaching for learning and development rather than backward-focused rating and ranking. This has enabled us to have a greater emphasis on teams than individuals. 


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 AstraZeneca given the fact that you employ a significant pool of niche talent?


Our performance development approach reflects the innovative, high-performing company we are. It creates an environment in which all our employees are expected to have a growth mindset, and continually explore ways of increasing contribution so that together we can focus on maximising overall growth. Regular coaching conversations help our employees explore and assess what behaviours they can continue and what to adapt. There is a quarterly reflection on the journey made by each employee where goal assessment, progress and impact are discussed.


Employee wellbeing is integral to AstraZeneca. We have a crossfunctional team that provides holistic support to our employees through an initiative, “We Care for You (WCFU)”. The role of this function elevated drastically specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the highlights of our WCFU was a voluntary vaccination drive we organised for all our employees soon after the vaccine was available in the country. We were the first MNC in the country to vaccinate our staff across 28 locations.


At AstraZeneca, we also curated medic channel knowledge exchange forums with an objective to inform, educate and empower our colleagues across the country to follow guidelines- based prevention as well as treatment of COVID-19 infection. We set up a team of volunteer doctors who answered patient queries in real-time over live sessions and emails. We were very clear that these teams will provide “Last Mile Support” to each employee and their family members in need with virtual or on-ground support across the country.


We revisited our wellbeing benefits programmes. We incorporated specific COVID-19 leaves in the system should there be an infection. Health insurance support, financial support during unfortunate demise, were increased to help employees during this crisis. From a mental wellbeing point of view, guidelines around meeting timelines and work hours flexibility helped our employees to keep a fine balance between work and their personal lives.


We are committed to fostering a culture of lifelong learning at AstraZeneca. This lifelong learning culture has also helped AstraZeneca become a Great Place To Work. The AZIGNITE platform and Brand Innovation Hub are two such initiatives that have helped bring forward some highly impactful ideas from our own employees and have given us an opportunity to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship and curiosity within the organisation. Moreover, the quick adoption of digital capabilities in an unprecedented last year has enabled us to leverage our two digital learning platforms- MindTickle and Degreed, for employee’s learning and development.


All these approaches need refreshers and adaptations from time to time and that is what is our modusoperandi to remain relevant. 


In the aftermath of the pandemic, the gig economy and contractual workforce are being looked at as definite alternatives 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 Pharma Sector?


The gig economy has emerged to be integral across multiple industries such as IT and ITeS in India. The Pharma industry has been eager to adapt gig workforce, but before doing so, we should be ready with an overview that can enable teams to effectively leverage the gig workforce. Not only are they highly specialised talent, but are also passionate about their hobbies. There has to be a systematic mechanism that can allow a sharp balance between work responsibilities and ‘me time’ to follow personal goals.


Internally, we created a gig model called Plan 100. These are short term merit-based development assignments across the globe, that any employee, depending on their interest and ambition, can opt for. This gives us an opportunity to create an agile, blended workforce of multidisciplinary teams.


M.A.D., defined as Make A Difference, encourages all employees to be innovative by thinking out of the box in your day-to-day work, whether you are inspired by a:


> Creative patient-centric solution or 


> Simplification of any process in our daily operations.


We decide on the initiative that could make an impact on patients or simplification across markets. Funding is also be granted to scale up the project within the originating market or across multiple markets.


Such short-term roles/projects will further accelerate the new approach to performance development, providing employees opportunities for multi-disciplinary learning. 


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 upskilling. How do you believe this shall alter the KPIs in the workplace of the future?


Traditionally, organisations were designed around streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach worked very well for years, it is a system where disruptions did not come naturally. The pandemic has created a need for resilient organisations - roles and teams based on outcomes, to increase agility and flexibility. KPIs are also altered accordingly. Again, these are all evolving in the new normal.


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 AstraZeneca?


Data is the bedrock of an effective Performance Management System. The value of good data is realised when it reduces subjectivity from the performance evaluation process. Tools that can automate data gathering and feedback, not just save up time but managers can use these accurate insights for coaching dialogues. As we see more automation and artificial Intelligence amidst us, the quality of data will increase exponentially.


At AstraZeneca in India, we rolled out an omnichannel strategy due to which we could generate AIenabled insights & analytics. These insights are helping us currently to fine-tune our strategies across different channels. Similarly, we have deployed automated systems to give our salesforce, a simulation of how much incentive they can earn and the correlation. Insights generated from these and efforts like these are helping our managers spend more time coaching for the right behaviours and less time on gathering insights.


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?


The New normal has reinforced the need for agile organisations. One of the key characteristics here is a network of empowered teams working cohesively. Therefore, it is important to focus on team performance while setting goals and evaluating rather than only at an individual level. These empowered teams will follow broadly set directions and strategic priorities rather than detailed, top-down instructions and define their own goals to drive ownership. Therefore, collaboration and delivery are important aspects of these teams. 


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


Female participation at the workplace was impacted due to the pandemic. Therefore, there is a greater need for organisations to put in more effort in making managers aware about their biases and create mechanisms to challenge and limit these. At AstraZeneca, we have fostered an environment where all our employees are encouraged to speak their minds in periodic ‘SpeakUp’ sessions. This, coupled with our diverse leadership and talent pipeline, helps us manage bias of any kind to a large extent. Long term and dedicated focus behind such initiatives will help eliminate bias of all kinds in performance management and assessment.


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