Executive Vice President, Edelweiss Financial Services.
Deepak Puligadda, Executive Vice President, Edelweiss Financial Services talks about how effective workforce management solutions helped the organization achieve the required change transformation and help achieve efficiencies, in an interview with UKG's (Ultimate Kronos Group), Sumeet Doshi, Country Manager - India, and SHRM India's Nishith Upadhyaya, Director - Advisory Services.
Many organizations have a HRMS/HCM strategy, however not many organizations have a workforce management strategy as a standalone pillar. You, on the other hand, have been an advocate of a strong HRMS strategy COEXISTING with a strong workforce management strategy. What role does workforce management play in your organization?
Deepak: The organization's policy on Workforce management is driven by the practices in the industry segment and get built over time. Each segment has its challenges and makes a choice of the tools or technologies to bring in efficiencies. With evolved systems built on cutting edge technology, new possibilities emerge and can greatly impact the efficiency of the workforce.
We at Edelweiss are a diverse financial services company from Insurance to wealth management to investment banking. Hence, our employee needs are very different. For instance, the insurance or the wealth management business faces a hiring challenge, which is not as much of a challenge in other businesses.
Workforce management solutions we need must allow the flexibility in managing the variations involved. Let's take an example. our key concerns are not about 9 hours attendance but on larger aspects of time management and enabling people to work towards their goals in a structured manner. That is where workforce management tools have been of use. They have been able to give us the flexibility of aligning to the workforce management policy of that business.
As mentioned by you, Edelweiss is a very diverse group in the financial services space. How is workforce different across these businesses, and how do the policies vary?
Deepak: There are businesses where we have a large dependence on frontline sales like insurance or wealth management. Where our teams meet with customers and are on the field most of the time. We want to enable them with flexibility. We want to give them a tool where they can manage their own time. In my opinion, workforce management supports two key levers every business looks for - the quantity of manpower available and the amount of time they have at hand. These levers when deployed in the right projects and the right areas give the best results.
In general, WFM policies must have the flexibility according to the business needs. Some business such as manufacturing units provide for fixed hours in shift. Others have a minimum working hour pattern with flexibility. Some others, like IT, are about project-based work, which needs a certain amount of time and efforts to be spent on a particular project. This in turn affects not just the billing for a particular IT project but also the overall assessment of how a project is functioning. All the analytics and project management tools source data from the workforce management tools.
At an overall basis, we are not too focused on the time spent between "swipe in - swipe out" aspect of working. The focus is on utilizing time and resources in the correct way. That is where the workforce management is of relevance to us.
Let me take the discussion towards the new Labor codes being introduced. This reform has the potential of driving policy and process changes across businesses. How do you see these impacting your organization, and how can WFM technologies be of use in this context?
Deepak: There are two parts to this question. Firstly, the general labour code changes are quite wide ranging and has many financial and non-financial implications that need to be reviewed and dealt with. In my view, there are several aspects that have impact on the work force management directly and significantly is the proposed rules around rules around overtime. Another aspect which can have the significant impact on workforce management is the inclusion of gig workers/fixed time workers and other contract-based workers in the definition of "employee". This doesn't impact just workforce management but many other compensation related aspects like Bonus and Gratuity.
As far as my understanding, the rules and definitions that will provide the necessary clarity for inclusion of this pool into the welfare programs are still awaited Once that come about then we have a completely different mix of a workforce with different rules of engagement. The organized sector will have to prepare itself for this big change.
The larger question is where are these changes leading us to? I would say, they are leading us towards more flexibility, better engagement and empowerment of the employees. The current set of labour laws, many of them enacted during the colonial rule are not able to relate to the needs of the younger generations. Though, there are many aspects that need to be clarified and learnt, this is a step in the right direction and bring about general good to the workforce. Like any other legislative change, it will have a cascading effect on the other practices, procedures, and cultural aspects of any organization.
I think in a time of such great flux, it is important that the workforce management tools - the time control mechanisms, the productivity tracking mechanisms - must be very flexible. They need to gradually evolve and adapt as we go ahead.
At this point, let me emphasize that I believe Work force management as a concept will assume far more importance going ahead. In an earlier SHRM session, we spoke about setting in of the Gig culture. I clearly see a gig economy evolving. The start-ups have already started using it. The mid-size organization are following suite. It is just a matter of time when the large corporates will also start using the gig economy. At that point, it will be important to put in place a set of guiding principles or rules that help organization manage a number of Gig workers, their experience levels, expectation, work timing, leave rules, project deployment and associated costs etc. easily and accurately.
Let us focus on the aspect of flexibility. Both the labor codes and Covid 19 will have the impact of bringing in more flexibility. How do you think the BFSI Industry is gearing up to handle this flexibility?
Deepak: Last year, most BFSI players have shown signs of recovery. The market is not going to be swayed by the impact of Covid 19 - even the stock market has shown resilience, rising from 38000 level to a 50000 level during the pandemic times. This is a testimony to the fact that the financial sector is quite strong and stable. Having said that, one of the most critical aspect will be to understand that as the market improves, there will be changes in the way this sector deploys its workforce. The revenue models will change. Traditional competitor equations will undergo change. Payment banks and Fintech companies will be challenging the larger players, and these smaller players will have very different workforce requirements.
This means the industry's workforce requirement will no longer be defined by the large players alone.
The buyer profile is also changing fast. Accordingly, their financial requirements and service requirements will be changing. This means that a BFSI player's risk-taking ability, funding dynamics, borrowing capabilities and customer processes will undergo a "chain reaction" change. Hence the key lies in keeping an eye on all the trends coming up. Competition can come from anywhere.
BFSI as a sector undergoes constant evolution. We realize this when we look at People strategies. Where do we hire talent from, where do we place the talent, what kind of people policies we need to be reflective of ever-changing needs of the the sector. Ability to change is essential. Technology also is playing big role and is disrupting the operating model which in turn impacts the people strategies. About a decade back, we saw these concierge services who paid your bills for you, giving you the delight of NOT having to stand in a line. Today, this service is of no use!
To summarize, workforce has to be designed keeping these innovations in mind, the macro level changes and all these new players coming in. It's an ever-evolving situation. Hence, for me, flexibility in WFM is a given. It was needed 3 years back and will be relevant 3 years from hence.
In this ever-changing landscape, one thing is clear. The one aspect which will give an organization long term competitive advantage is - its people. Very clearly, talent pool would prefer working in an environment which is enabling as well as flexible. In this regard, how crucial are WFM solutions in the BFSI industry to attract the right talent?
Deepak: About 5-7 years ago, our conversation around technology used to sound like - "This is our process. How best can you fit this in your IT system?" Today, it is - "show us what is possible with technology, and we will explore embedding it into our process." There are companies which are literally "hungry for adaption". Technology paves the path and people follow.
Today, if I explore WFM tools, wanting to pick one my considerations are - I need flexibility, my productivity is not measured in terms of my time but the RoI, I am not worried about headcount but skill count, I am not looking for years of experience but diversity of experience. Accordingly, I will try finding a tool available to me which suits these requirements. Today, there is great demand from progressive companies looking for innovative solutions. In parallel, on the supply side, there are organizations which are constantly studying consumer behavior and making changes to their offerings to attract these companies. It's a very interesting marketplace out there, and WFM is no exception.
Inclusion of cloud computing was a landmark change that we have experienced. A lot more innovation is in store; and I don't see anyone saying - "This is my workforce policy, and I am going to stick to it for the next 3 years."
All this is having an impact on the culture of the organizations.
Let us continue with the point on culture. How do you think the Covid 19 situation is impacting organizational cultures? And which all post Covid measures are you planning?
Deepak: Covid 19 was literally a "Bolt from the Blue". Nobody anticipated or planned for it. Every company made their own strategy, and executed it to survive. We ourselves were surprised that we were able to migrate to a completely "Work from home" setting within 15 days! All myths were busted in no time. This brought two significant changes, which in my view are impacting cultures a lot.
Firstly, the camaraderie is getting affected. The office conversations have gone - everything is a pre booked call. These conversations were a great catalyst in how an organization function. With these gone, distances between individuals has grown. One needs to work extra hard to make sure all relationships are intact. This in turn is giving rise to a culture where everyone shows empathy and tolerance towards the needs of others. It is a good sign. But long screen time and being on calls takes a toll on family time and general wellbeing.
Secondly, definition of productivity is undergoing a change. Productivity was measured in terms of time and hours. Today, people are realizing that a lot of activities accounted for in measuring productivity were redundant. A good measure of productivity emerging is in terms of financial impact and key outcomes. What has been your return on investment? This metric has demonstrated itself as a key measure of productivity, and all other measures have largely faded out. Culturally things are changing, the effort taken to get things done is increasing and there is so standard answer on how it has impacted different people.
Covid 19's perceived impact has had its twists and turns. Initially, many of us reported higher productivity when Work from home became a norm. But today, there are widespread complaints of "Zoom fatigue". How have you as an organization addressed this fatigue with remedies like rest, engagement, and manager – team member connection?
We did two things here.
One, our HR team always kept the spirits high by a series of engagement programs - formal as well as informal. They were constantly at the forefront of all the good work done in engaging the workforce, which was reciprocated with heavy participation from all levels.
Secondly, we created several Covid committees which actively connected with employees to establish - where do they stay? Can they come to the office? Does their role really require them to? The 30% ceiling on the number of people who can attend offices is monitored by these committees. They are empowered to take ground level calls on rotation of attendance. They also went into a lot of preventive approaches – for example, they collected data of which employees live inside or close to containment zones. Thanks to our workforce management solutions, we could retrieve and analyze this data quickly. This enabled our decision on whom to call to the office.
Collectively, we did a lot of programs to help our employees deal with domestic stress caused by Covid 19. We gave them the comfort that it is okay to say No to a call if you have family compulsions at home. Especially to our female employees, we gave a flexibility to attend calls as per their childcare schedules. All in all, we have created a much more accommodative work culture, where thousands of moving parts are falling in place to make things work.
In the BFSI sector, we have observed a trend where organizations do not adopt a WFM solution very proactively. You were one of the early adopters to workforce management, and in your earlier responses, you have highlighted the benefits you have received because of workforce management tools. Is there a message that you would want to give to other organizations in the sector regarding workforce management adoption?
Deepak: For us, Workforce management is not just time and attendance system. It is a concept that supports us in driving productivity and business results and at the same time enables us in supporting the employees in various ways.
Honestly, I feel that most companies have some kind of a WFM in bits and pieces, but it is not laid out very formally. I believe now is a time to think – and put the pieces together with the help of technology to see where technology can take us in this journey.
In the days to come, we will be tackling many challenges at the same time. the changes that will playout with the Labour Code, the Wave 3 of the pandemic and subsequent lock downs situation. The change in demographics, composition and preferences of the workforce disruptions caused by Fintech etc., all of it is bringing strategic shifts in the entire industry landscape and BFSI is not the only one. This is where a sound workforce management philosophy, policy, process, and platform come into picture.