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Preparing for a Recession: A Q&A with the CHRO of Genpact

As the world braces for an economic slowdown and possibly a recession, the key to maintaining growth and avoiding losses through this period is to prioritize, said Piyush Mehta, CHRO of Genpact, a global professional services firm with 115,000 employees based in Gurgaon, India.

"Don't try and do 15 different things," said Mehta. "Focus on the wildly important, prioritize and execute the hell out of it."

Mehta said that in many ways, Genpact is recession-proof because it helps clients work through both up and down cycles. But if there is a global slowdown, the company may not grow at the same pace as it has in the past.

"We are still figuring out what our plans for next year will be," said Mehta, who shared a range of tips on staying connected with employees in a hybrid work environment, key technologies for HR, the role of pay transparency and more. Here are edited excerpts from our interview:

State of Hybrid Work at Genpact

Post pandemic, it's clear that hybrid work structures will continue, said Mehta. "But it's not a one-size-fits-all for our 115,000 employees. We've created some guiding principles and as we move along, we are figuring out how to do this. There needs to be a very clear purpose of why you're getting people to work. Whether it's dictated by work type, for collaboration, a need to build social capital and how we bring people together. All of those need to be carefully thought through."

Mehta explained that 30 percent of Genpact employees work from an office on any particular day. "That number is quite meaningless because if you take some processes, for example, where they handle extremely confidential information, it's 100 percent work from offices. In other cases, its 90 percent work from anywhere. It varies by work type."

Staying Connected with Employees

About five years ago, Genpact built a tool to measure employee engagement on a real-time basis. "It's a chatbot called Amber, which reaches out to each employee, on average, four times a year. It will reach out to new hires 8-12 times a year to check how they are doing," he said. "At the end of the conversation, you get a mood score and when you take that mood score and multiply it by the response rates across the company, you get satisfaction levels of our employees."

Mehta said the insights they have gained from Amber have been extremely valuable. "During the pandemic, it gave us a very quick view on the mood of employees. It was one of the major inputs why we set up 24/7 helplines across the company and why we built training curriculum around managers being empathetic with their teams. Amber provides huge insights into which teams are engaged, which teams are not, which manager is doing a great job and which manager is not doing a great job. We have leveraged data and technology to enable this."

Creating a Virtual Engagement Platform

As employees started missing coming to work, Genpact found that social interactions are what they missed most. "You walk in the corridor and you meet (a colleague) and you have a quick conversation. That went away," said Mehta. "So we said: let's find a way to build this by leveraging technology. We call it the Virtual Water Cooler."

For example, said Mehta, "two employees who are great buddies will find ways to interact. We call those Strong Ties. And those who have met for the first time are called Weak Ties. That's what suffered the most in the work from anywhere environment. We looked at communication patterns across the organization, who is interacting with whom on email or on teams. If I have weak ties, the Virtual Water Cooler will create a message which will go to (the employee) and me and say: would you guys like to interact for 15 mins, I'm setting up this time? And it goes automatically into the calendar."

Every employee wanted to sign up for the program, said Mehta. "It's [an opportunity to] catch-up on what's happening, shoot the breeze. We started with the top 10,000 people in the company, and that's where it is right now."

The Most Exciting HR Technology

As HR technology evolves, the inter-dependability of systems becomes critical, Mehta said. "I don't think that gets enough attention. For me, the ideal is when I can click on my screen and see everything related to an employee: compensation and benefits, career history, bio, Amber scores. We are far from that."

Genpact is launching an ERP implementation this month with the goal of "trying to create inter-dependability and seamless conversations of one system with another, to be able to enable a great experience," he said, adding that improving the company's talent analytics as a source of insight is also a key goal.

"Talent analytics coming from an organizational network analysis (ONA) is hugely important. We've figured out the successful competencies of a salesperson, but with ONA, we can quickly figure out who will be a rockstar salesperson. That's one use case. ONA also can tell who is likely to leave and who is not. For an industry which on average has 30% attrition, depending on how you measure it, look at how powerful that can be as a source of insight," he said. "Think about leveraging technology in learning and development, and in reskilling. All of those are use cases of technology for better managing people."

Disclosure of Pay Ranges

Pay transparency is important for driving certain behaviors, responsibilities and accountabilities, said Mehta. "However, there's a limit. In the UK, there is a very sensible view of aggregate data in the organization. Tell me the average salary of men in the company and average salary of women. You look at that over a period of time to see how it's evolving.  That's a powerful way of looking at it," he said.

"But pay transparency, which is looking at an individual level, is in my view getting in the way of the competitive advantage of companies."

HR's Role in Driving Sustainability

"ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) is a big deal," said Mehta. However, as recession fears grow, ESG is taking a step back as companies figure out how they want to stay competitive, he said. "From an HR perspective, there's [a lot] happening around diversity, equity and inclusion, governance and engaging with the community that you serve, which is important. Then there are broader things, such as how do you link KPIs to a sustainability strategy."

"For organizations like ours, where we don't have a large manufacturing footprint, we have focused on emission reductions. Sustainability is becoming a huge driver for the purpose of the organization - one of the reasons why people want to work for companies and not want to work for companies," he said.

Piyush Mehta

Piyush Mehta

CHRO for Global Firm Delivering Digital Transformation Solutions,



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