Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Workforce Management RESET - Aarif Aziz

Excerpt from Interview with Aarif Aziz, CHRO, Diageo India


SHRM India in association with Kronos India conducted a joint study in 2020 - "Workforce Management RESET: Strategies & Implications for Changing Times"; with an objective to explore the emerging workforce requirements in the new normal. Further the study also deep dived into how organizations are evolving with their workforce planning strategies and management systems to manage the work, worker and workplaces during times of uncertainty. Taking the discussions ahead, SHRM interviewed Aarif Aziz, CHRO, Diageo India to take his views on the said subject.

With evolving work, worker and workplaces, how did your teams prepare for the new normal?

I cannot say that we were well prepared. None of us knew how this entire situation would unfold. When it first started to develop in China, we began to closely monitor the situation and further started thinking on the implications it would have on our business. The moment we saw the infection spreading beyond China, we immediately started discussing about our safety procedures, crisis management policy, and various other things that we needed to do differently.

Our next step was to lay down a plan on how to support our employees as well as ensure business continuity. And to be honest, our priority in the first few weeks was pretty much business continuity, while also managing the employees, their emotions, challenges, and above all, keeping them safe.

Once we came to realize the challenges the pandemic has brought forth, we created three to four scenarios for our business and examined the impact on revenues, market, access to the consumers, ability to produce and sustain the supply chain, and the organization's ability to provide safe working conditions for employees. These scenarios helped us to create our entire workforce plan if they became a reality. Today I feel fairly comfortable that our business continuity plans are in place to deal with each of the different business scenarios which could unfold over the next 12 to 18 months. We also have in place plans aligned to the workforce needs we have.

Could you give us more details on your workforce management and planning, especially when everything moved to remote working mode?

We have a fairly large and complicated operation in the country because our plants are still running at almost 100% capacity. Our sales teams are still visiting the market because we are launching new products. Nearly 100% of our office-based employees work from home – visiting office premises strictly on need basis.

We wanted to make the work environment for our plant and sales employees very safe. We also wanted them to have a positive experience as they were placing themselves at risk by coming to work, just to ensure that the business continued without interruption. So we had to create very strong safety norms, make appropriate changes in our policies, create revised health care benefits, and step up our communication with employees on the shop floor as well as in sales territories.

On the other side of the spectrum, we had employees working from home, which, contrary to popular belief, is also not easy. I can vouch for this from my personal experience of the last 6 months. One must try to balance out personal and professional space. It is very difficult to be seated in front of a screen all day and still stay motivated. The lack of face-to-face interactions and opportunity to socialize have an adverse impact on employee morale. In order to deal with this, we made multiple changes and introduced a lot of flexibility in our policies. People managers needed a lot of hand holding on how they could operate differently, run their teams and engage with them. As a result, all kinds of innovative practices emerged – a lot of people managers organized team meetings with the families of the team members, as well as ensured to adhere to certain timings only for the meetings etc. We further encouraged live zoom and yoga sessions for fitness, in order to take care of employee health while they worked from home. At the end of the day, the approach that worked for us was sensitivity and communication. It was about enabling people managers to be better in engaging their teams, introducing flexibility for people to manage their work, introducing a fun element to employee engagement and at the same time helping them take care of their fitness and get over the tedium of routine.

We also did a lot of pulse checks with employees to understand what was going well and what was not, and made course corrections over the last few months. The result of our last two quarters have come out very positive. The scores in our feedback too have been in the high 90s, which is much higher than the benchmark or even global Diageo standard.

In your bottling plants, I am sure implementing social distancing, sanitization and employee health was the topmost priority for you. Can you tell us about any specific interventions or any specific processes that you took into consideration, involving the workforce, such as staggered shifts, split shifts, etc.?

Our entire workforce planning is regulated by state excise authorities. To make any changes we have to ask for approvals which are not easy to get. We managed with what was in our control to improve efficiency. We staggered the time people took lunch and tea breaks, to ensure social distancing. We also started working on the weekends to spread out employees across the week. In our bottling operation, which has maximum number of employees, we created glass separations between people on the shop floor to ensure zero contact. We did an entire study of the workflow and identified touch points, which could be risky, and we removed them as far as possible. We also encouraged all our employees to come up with ideas on how to manage work, so that our workflow would not get impacted, but at the same time, our output too did not get impacted. Some of our employees came up with fabulous ideas on what we could do differently, which helped us to continue our operations smoothly, to meet market demands. We still have many months to go, but being able to start on a positive note, and sustain employee engagement has gone in our favour.

Organizations have revised their targets and revisited their productivity norms and metrics. So how exactly did your organization go about ensuring that the productivity is still intact? And what were some of the measures that were taken towards this end?

The prime focus is always effectiveness, and then productivity follows. For us, the prime importance was to win the market and ensure that the demand of our customers is met. To make this happen, we are continuously trying to create excitement around our brands. In our manufacturing plants, we have focused on output measures for a particular line, number of occupancy levels and the inventory generated along the demand predictions. By focusing on outcome and effectiveness, we have been able to manage our productivity well.

We focused on overall effectiveness through keeping our costs and overheads under control while ensuring that the outcomes are tracked. This ensured a holistic win-win situation for us, than getting obsessed only on productivity while ignoring the other dimensions.

Are there any measures that you have taken to optimize costs within the organization, even while ensuring that the jobs are protected?

Yes, we have gone completely after discretionary costs. And that has really helped us to manage this situation. Obviously, we have also kept a tab on our manpower costs as well. Instead of a blanket hiring freeze, we have been judicious in our hiring plans and actions, taking in people only on a need basis.

I am also proud to tell you that, recently for the first time, we handsomely recognized employees who went out beyond their normal call of duty. When everyone is cutting costs, we still chose to spend money on recognition because it's absolutely the right thing to do.

Are there any new diverse policies that have been created specifically during these changing times to handle the different employee groups and situations?

Absolutely! As we look at the dynamic situation, we realize it will continue to unfold, requiring us to make tweaks and changes based on the environment and timeline. For example, if somebody tests positive for COVID, they need to be in quarantine and we continue to pay them. That's a guideline specific to that particular employee. It cannot be institutionalized as a policy. Today, employees are working from home only because the situation demands it. Therefore, our work from home policies have been relaxed for now, but not on a permanent basis.

We are focusing on creating basic principles on how people should be treated, what processes need be followed, or how a decision should be taken. And then we have empowered our leadership team in the regions, in the plants and in the operating units to use those principles to take the right decisions.

For example, why do you need to change the entire travel policy? In this situation it's unsafe to travel, hence we have let each region decide whether employees need to travel or not. And if the need is for you to travel, take all safety precautions and travel. It is as simple as that!

Can you tell us a little bit more on the labor shortage brought about by migrant workers who travelled back to their hometown? Many organizations have expressed that they see a skills shortage - is that something that you have also experienced?

We created "WhatsApp groups" of all the people who work in our plants. We ensured that they continued to get paid, even while there was complete lockdown. We made sure no one was financially impacted. We also supported our third party units even when there was no output, giving them a portion of payment just to make sure their labor doesn't go back to their home towns.

We also created a lot of communication around the safety processes we are going to use, how we are going to run our plants and so on. That helped us immensely as we don't have a labor crisis situation.

What is your personal take on the entire aspect of labor laws during these times for the new normal? And do you think they are sufficient? Do you think that there are other areas where we need more reforms?

We will work with the government and labor authorities as the situation unfolds. And will partner where possible to make sure that these laws become enabler in future. Whether they are enough today or not, is something which I would not like to comment on.

Are you also relooking at your real estate strategy?

We want to be strategic and focus on the long term as we take our own decisions on that subject. What should be the purpose of office in future? - We clearly understand now while working with our employees that it is a culture builder. It's a place where people come and work together, share ideas, and so on. So we are focused on that and really want to make sure that we still have a place where people can come, connect, share information, etc. But should the footprint be exactly what it is today - may or maybe not? We haven't really concluded that.

What according to you would work the best - flexible staffing and/or skill-based staffing or a combination of both?

It depends largely on the context of the organization and function. Something which works for a technology company or IT services company may not work for a manufacturing setup, or may not work for a company which is focused on e-commerce. So, the dynamics are very different. I think our outlook is very simple. We focus largely on talent management and capability building, creating an environment to learn and broaden one's skill set - by being able to get into sprints and cross functional projects, beyond what one works on. We further are focusing largely on building career paths, because career paths are no longer a ladder to be climbed in a structured fashion, but are more about opportunities to learn which help you grow. One needs to have a level of stability in the workforce and balance it with flexibility and the best way to do it, is to build capability, a combination of in-house and external providers in different forms and shapes.

Anything else that you would like to share around this topic?

I just want to summarize and say that, where we are today is probably the tip of the iceberg. This situation will take a long time to go not just in terms of pandemic, but the after effects as well, and I think all of us will evolve even as this situation unfolds. And I am sure by the time you are done with this, there may be something else which will come our way. So most important for us in today's world, and the context of where we are, is just to be flexible, agile, focus more on empowering leadership, and creating an organization which is more flexible to adapt versus more structures, procedures and policies!

Click here to access the full study report: Workforce Management RESET: Strategies & Implications for Changing Times I 2020

Click here to access the Future of Work Report I 2019


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.