Taking the Right Lead

Taking the Right Lead

In an exclusive interaction with Human Capital, Manu Wadhwa, the Chief Human Resource Officer at Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), shared how 'Diversity and Inclusion' is being firmly anchored in the organization's philosophy, how the role of HR has undergone a significant upheaval, and why HR professionals should consider themselves as 'Human Experience Officers'. Glean the secret to SPN's success and also garner tips and tricks for addressing some of the most pressing HR concerns and opportunities.


We must begin on a congratulatory note with well-merited kudos to Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) for being recognized amongst the 100 Best Companies for Women in India, by Working Mother and AVTAR, for the third time in a row. Could you let us in on the magic and tell us what makes SPN a great place to work for female talent, both within and outside the media industry?

Thank you for the acknowledgement. We are incredibly proud to be in the list for the third time in a row. Yet again, we continue to be the only Media and Entertainment company on this list. This accolade further lends credence to our initiatives and motivates us to strengthen our diversity and inclusion commitment. 


At SPN, we constantly look to build an inclusive culture that delivers rewarding career experiences and growth opportunities. Women comprise 30% of our workforce, and diversity contributes a critical role in our success. Our people practices are designed to help women employees excel in various roles, at and beyond work. 


Well, I will confess that it is a journey that we have been treading for a few years, and we have witnessed recognition for our progress. Our efforts began with gender-inclusive initiatives like flexible working patterns when women need it the most at different life stages, for example, marriage, mobility, and motherhood. It is essential to provide greater flexibility and take a more empathetic approach in empowering women to excel at fulfilling their multifaceted roles and responsibilities. At SPN, we aim at creating an environment that is conducive to striking the right balance between personal and professional life for all its employees, with a specific focus on gender diversity. 


We revised our primary caregiver policy to six months prior to it being mandated by law along with our secondary caregiver policy to ensure extended participation in caregiving. We provide an onsite mothers’ room and free daycare support across all Indian offices. We’ve also introduced flexible working arrangement to help our employees choose their work schedule, which empowers them with increased control over their work-life. This further enables them to determine and allocate time for leisure, studies, and care for children and/or other dependents.


Earlier this year, we launched the first edition of ‘Live Your Dream’ Contest to help women employees realize their personal dream projects/passions. The finalists, along with the winner, were facilitated with financial support to fulfil their dream projects.


As of the present day, Diversity & Inclusion with a specific focus on ‘Gender’ is a core agenda for the organization. Our D&I Apex Council is working towards furthering this with internal initiatives, policies and people interventions while formulating it in our agenda, which will resonate in our content.

Staying true to its title of being of an ‘Employer of Choice’, SPN recently pledged to take #PrideInDiversity. What initiatives have been introduced to foster this commitment towards inclusivity and building a conducive environment for all employees?


At SPN, the motto is to become an Employer of Choice for all. Diversity fuels the development of a creative and innovative workforce. We, at SPN, value our people’s diversity, varying perspectives, and experiences. We encourage inclusion to foster a conducive environment for all, primarily because we believe that our people are happiest when they can bring their whole selves to work. 


Through our #PrideInDiversity Campaign, we penned down our commitment by making all our policies gender-neutral—including LGBT+ inclusive policies around medical and parental practices. Alongside this, we also got around to upgrading our office infrastructure with gender-neutral washrooms. It was imperative to create awareness, leading to acceptance and respect of the community. Therefore, we ensured active communication across platforms to engage the workforce across all walks of life in this endeavor.


We are committed to be an equal opportunity employer and look forward to continuing this journey of inclusion.


What, according to you, are the biggest challenges organizations face when educating employees on diversity and inclusion? How can the challenges be surmounted? 


While there are ample data and research to build a case for the benefits of a diverse workforce, the challenges are still multifold.


i. Acceptance and Respect: The challenge begins with the acceptance of each other’s differences and respecting others, inspite of diverse cultural/religious/ethnic belief systems that form an individual’s world view.


ii. Unconscious Bias: On the face of it, every individual and organization believes in equal workplace practices. However, there are a few deeply entrenched preconceived notions/beliefs that create an unconscious bias. The result is income disparity and inequality in promotions and roles between men and women. The acceptance of transgenders and the LGBT+ community is a matter of social taboo. At SPN, we have been doing a lot of work to tackle and mitigate unconscious bias through sensitization endeavors in the form of inclusion sessions, leaders actively calling out such biases at work, and the HR department’s human capital index, using data & insights which are helping leaders become aware of instances and implement proactive measures accordingly.


iii. Generational Gaps: With a rising population of GenZs, acceptance of different work-styles in a multi-generational workforce is becoming a tough task, and the need to adapt to changes in work culture is becoming far more urgent. At SPN, we have a concept of reverse mentoring, where a younger group of employees mentors senior leaders on topics like technology, social media, a day in the life, etc. 


iv. Disability: Education of the workforce on the need for empathy, not sympathy, is vital. Also important is the required infrastructure support to navigate the workplace. This, however, becomes a challenge as concerted efforts for inclusion need to be made at all levels in the organization. 


In my opinion, these are the major challenges which play out in the form of unconscious bias. While policy changes ensure a high impact in instilling inclusion, the solution lies in employee education and sensitization.

You have over 2 decades of rich experience across multiple industries and countries in steering workplace & people agenda of globally dynamic organizations like Sony Pictures, Coca-Cola, American Express, and GE. How have you seen the HR function evolve?

HR’s role: Expectations have shifted drastically from personnel management to being a coach and confidant to leaders and a driver of business growth alongside them. The other areas where I foresee change is in the usage of technology and personalization to improve the human element. The trends that have helped HR evolve over the past decade are:


i. Companies are getting social: Today, communication flow in organizations has moved from standard email communication and a top-down approach to the use of an organization’s social platforms and interactivity through user (employee) generated content.


ii. Usage of technology: Today, bots are responding to basic queries for quicker and easier access to information. Work can be done remotely, meetings are virtual, and the possibilities are endless.


iii. Personalization of benefits: Customization is key. While the basics remain, there is flexibility and independence in choosing and customizing one’s benefits, e.g. work hours, work location, partner for medical insurance coverage, etc.


iv. Increasing use of analytics: Data is being used for predictive analytics in all spheres, from basics like retention and making better hiring decisions to predicting revenue using engagement numbers and promoting wellness by identifying behaviours that contribute to higher/frequent illness episodes.


v. Evolution of performance management: From once/twice a year, today, it’s all about Continuous Performance Development, which is more real-time, solution-oriented, and focused on collaboration.


Communication between HR and employees is a crucial aspect of employee engagement and branding in any organization. How can social media platforms turn employee interactions with HR into delightful two-way conversations? 


Social media has a tremendous bearing on how we communicate and maintain dialogue as individuals when it comes to our personal lives. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, etc. allow people to share their life events, likes, dislikes, and opinions on matters of individual significance. The hallmark of this medium is the two-way instant communication as opposed to impersonal and traditional channels like television and print.


Employees’ expectations about internal communication are similar, and that’s where internal social platforms become key. They not only help in seamless and robust communication, but also help in knowing the pulse of the employees—what works for them, and what does not. The social platform also serves as a listening.


The social platform also serves as a listening aide, aside from merely being a channel for sharing information and collaboration. All employees can engage, collaborate, and react in an open forum in the organization, which can help management and HR teams tweak and modify policies and practices based on real-time feedback. 


Social media also provides HR with an opportunity to build a connect with employees irrespective of geographical boundaries. If exercised effectively, it can help increase the credibility of the HR function, as response and resolution can be faster, and it lends to creating delightful two-way conversations and boost the employer brand.

In providing a seamless employee experience from onboarding to offboarding, what common mistakes do you see HR teams making, and how can they be avoided?


There are a few prevalent omissions by HR teams, which can be avoided if one follows the “Customer First” philosophy; speed and agility in response being the key to providing seamless employee experience.


i. Attraction/Recruitment: Respect for time is a two-way street. The organization needs the talent as much as the talent needs the organization. Always be on time for your interviews.


ii. Interviewing vs. onboarding experience: When it comes to recruiting, it is not as much about sales, as it is about the after-sales service. Ensuring that the onboarding experience is a delight is essential. The first day and the first month of an employee’s experience has an enduring impression.


iii. Connect: Listen intently to your employees and take timely and corrective measures. If one fails to address and acknowledge their qualms or feedback, the organization will lose the trust/faith/confidence of its workforce.


iv. Exit: Goodbyes/Departures are remembered. Ensuring a seamless exit experience along with a quick turnaround on the exit survey and final settlement is key to building your employer brand and a loyal alumni base.

How will the rising freelance and gig economy affect your role as a CHRO? 


The rapidly increasing ‘GIG’ workforce represents a huge challenge as well as an opportunity. As a CHRO, agility is the key to tapping into this opportunity to lead the change in culture, programs, processes, and policies originally designed for full-time employees, in a new era where we harness the potential of the talent increasingly represented by the contingent/gig workers. Maximizing the opportunity requires a holistic approach.


i. Anticipate change: Be ready to update the organization’s talent portfolio. Actively monitor the market and work with the business to define critical capabilities and the scope of initiatives for in-demand talent.


ii. Align processes and policies to be more inclusive: Strengthen relationships with the current/ present/incumbent talent pool. Adopt ways to actively manage and develop this talent pool and ensure a seamless experience and brand pull beyond just an assignment.


iii.Evaluate Results: Build confidence in the management team. Sharing success stories and benefits of employing this talent pool would lead to higher alignment and acceptance with the leadership team. CHROs today have the opportunity to develop agility within their teams and processes, capitalize on the ‘gig’ workforce, and secure a win in the new competitive economy.


HR is a preferred career choice for many students and people seeking a professional change. Could you give a few quick tips for people who are newly transitioning into HR? 


We all exist to support and build the business, so first things first:


i. Understand the business: Understand and communicate in business parlance. This foundation will set anyone apart from a transactional HR person to a strategic partner. You would need to set the course of direction of what needs to be accomplished and why, based on your sector/function/ business knowledge depth.


ii. Be the change agent: Understand how organizations work. Act as catalysts to accelerate change in an organization to meet business imperatives.


iii. Employee first: As mentioned by a few senior leaders across industries, improve your employee’s lives so that they can improve customer’s lives. I have an ask for all HR professionals: consider yourselves as ‘Human Experience Officers’.


iv. Be flexible and solutionoriented: One size does not fit all. Be open and flexible in your approach and provide solutions to business problems and not just responses by the rule book. This, however, does not mean being noncompliant.


v. Data analysis: Use data to make decisions and help others ask the right questions to get the right answers.


vi. Increase your network: Think beyond your immediate network circles and HR. Networking has the power of multiplying ideas and securing a job along with mentorship and sponsorship opportunities.


vii.Keep it confidential: Needless to mention, as HR professionals,you will have access to a lot of information. Keeping it confidential is an ‘absolute must’.


We cannot close this discussion without talking about digital transformations in HR. Firstly, how much of it is hype and how much reality? Secondly, there’s a heavy discussion in HR circles on striking an optimal balance between technology and human touch. What are your thoughts on this?


Digital transformation across industries and functions is a reality, and HR is no different. Today, HR is helping lead the digital transformation covering organizations worldwide. These changes are making both the workplace and workforce digital. 


The HR function, when it comes to digital, is no longer about ERP implementation, process design, and self-service. The process has shifted to developing mobile apps, productivity and employee experience platforms. 


With regard to striving for an optimal balance, in my viewpoint, technology amplifies processes; it does not replace them. It mechanizes tedious tasks with the remaining time available for high-value activities. 


The right approach, however, is a blend of powerful technology and personal touch. This will maximize results. For instance, while a lot of queries can be automated by technology, adding a touch of personalization by modifying the responses will reflect the culture vibe and make a significant difference.


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