Amity Institute Of Training & Development

Driving Employee Engagement In A Challenging Period Read Time: 42 mins

Speaker - Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar, Head HR Bisleri

Interviewed by: Mr. Brig R K Sharma, Director of Amity Institute Training & Development

About: Mr. Swapnil has more than 15 years of experience in HR domain with market Leaders in Infrastructure, FMCG and Food & Beverage. As head HR, he works closely with top Management to conceptualise large scale organisational development and change interventions. He has vast experience in Talent Management, Performance Management and digitalised HR to support business. An Engineer with Masters in Management from Mumbai University, Swapnil is a Guest Faculty in many Engineering colleges and he is also a passionate corporate trainer.

Click below to watch the recorded conversation.

 AITD: During the tough economic times associated with the current Pandemic, maintaining, and even raising Employee engagement, takes on increased significance. Businesses need engaged Employees more than ever to get through this challenging period. They need to be prepared for the long haul as this global pandemic isn't likely to just disappear overnight. Employees might struggle with feeling of uncertainty, isolation, physical and emotional stress. They need to feel emotional connection to the Company. Employee engagement is the extent to which Employees are motivated to work hard or passionate feelings about the Company and how invested they are in their work.

So, how can Companies engage their workforce to make Employees go the extra mile? How can collaboration be enhanced to achieve the common goal? How can Businesses create a friendly and supportive and approachable workplace environment?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: 2020 was that HR year, when we were in thick of the pandemic where HR played a very crucial role. HR played a very critical or crucial role, where it provided health and medical support to its own Employees, massive steps in maintaining the morale of the organisation by training them over mindfulness trainings and again parallelly, it was a pretty hectic year where HR also partnered the business for business continuity processes.

How HR and those critical functions of HR did this?

Just a quick timeline of action point how we did this. There were a few changes that we did in communication strategy, there were a few changes we did in people strategy, in HR policies, we actually practiced it on the ground, and then once we practiced it on the ground, we went on to critical feedback from our stakeholders both internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, and then we periodically reviewed it, and ensured that we changed it updated it just to ensure that we are with line with those changing situations or dynamic situation that was happening.

The first point was about communication strategy. What do you mean by communication strategy? What we did? So, we actually created few Employee champions, where these champions was based out of a region, location, which were available for the Employees on critical instances, then we actually created a designed program where we started recognizing appreciating our Employees. So that's what we did in the first part, just to give you few details about it how we did it? I will just tell you, so there was a lot of strategy that we implemented, we actually did some appreciation programs where the top management of the organisation, may be the CEO or the Directors of the organisation; they actually started giving appreciation to the frontline Employees, and started recognizing them again in due course.

We actually created some internal web pages that helped us to do this constant clear communication.

I will go to the next point. There were a lot of strategies that we implemented through the HR policies. What do you mean by this, HR policies and how we did this? Just a quick note on that; we introduced few COVID insurance policies, we introduced COVID death policies, we interviewed work from home policy, we introduced a lot of COVID leaves related policies, there were lot of emphasis we put on all this policies as part of our strategy. And that's what made us a ‘people first’ organisation, so, what exactly we did was that we implemented as I said there was work from home policy, leave policy, COVID policy, we did a lot of vaccination drives across the workplace, did a lot of awareness about this pandemic.

So, with the constant communication, ‘people first’ organisation or ‘people first’ motto was well presented over there and in part to support that there were lot of mental wellness program that we conducted, so, primarily we did some sessions just to ensure that how the Employees will respond to the pandemic situation which is just to boost their mental wellness and how we did this was of course through a virtual training program because all of us were virtually present, we were not allowed to step out and mental wellness was pretty critical or was a critical function to address. So that's how we did some interventions on mental wellness.

There were a lot of other initiatives also that we did. Upskilling is one piece that we did, which was a prime focus because the workforce was same, the same people with same skill set, but the situation was very different. So because of this pandemic, all of a sudden, we entered external events or external environments that changed, but the people on the other side of the board were same, so to respond to that situation it was very important for HR to do some Employee engagement activities, just to Upskill the current man force and respond to the changes, digitisation was a major piece when it comes to engagement, because your people are spanned across country, when you have a massive organisation like Bisleri which has its operation across country, you have Employees based out of Siliguri, Dehradun, Chhatral, Ahmedabad, Samalkot, Coimbatore and Kerala.

So, when you have people placed across the Country, digitisation is the only medium through which we can reach out to our Employees and ensure the engagement happens. We did a lot of health awareness medication camps, booster camps at our workplaces where we ensured that our employees are engaged properly and they are healthy and happy. So, this was a one quick presentation that I was about to present, where in detail we can again have a conversation that how we did this and how it impacted the organisation and the business at a bigger scale. So, this was very broadly, how we went through in a due course, in the question answer session. So, I would like to elaborate on all these points as and when it comes to the conversation.

AITD: It was a very good presentation and you have given us how proactive you were. I could make out, in formulating new Policies and implementing new programs in digitisation. And for an organisation which has got a Global presence all over India. This is really wonderful, because many of us are your customers and we never found any disruption in our daily supplies. So, we really compliment you and also the way you engaged with your Employees and administration work done on your new Policies, Vaccinations etc. It was the right step at the right time. Going forward, as we all know the pandemic has disrupted businesses all over the world, not only in India and the impact of the second wave has been very severe.

What was your experience as a senior HR leader at Bisleri experience of the first wave, when it was surprised and when it hit and then the severity of the second wave which impacted very, so what was your overall experience as an HR leader at Bisleri sir?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: This second wave was actually pretty massive, of course, the first had a big impact on the business, it, but we were in that phase where we got some time to respond. We were in the phase where we were preparing our base for this pandemic, but the second wave was pretty unexpected, and it actually hit the business at the right time so what I mean the right time, in the month of March and April, when the organisation was to prepare themselves for the annual plan, when the organisation was preparing their strategy, how to lead the market as a champion, it hit the organisation at that time, and all the second wave did was create a lot of uncertainty, a lot of emotional and physical stress, of course, business was impacted.

Just to add on to that, not only the second wave, just to add on, if people remember the entire southern part of the Country was hit by cyclone, the eastern part of the Country was then again hit by a cyclone. There were a lot of agitations in the northern part of the Country, there were farmers’ agitations and there were a lot of student agitations. So, the entire Country on one side was undergoing a pandemic which is because of COVID. And, then this natural calamity, this political dynamics was of course, adding on to the stress. So, all that was everything summed up was just an answer to increase the stress level in the organisation.

So, as an HR leader, as a strategic business partner to the organisation, there is only one answer that we got through this problem was to drive Employee engagement, more passionately. So that's one of the critical HR functions. Of course, there are a lot of other critical functions but all of a sudden, this HR function got a lot of importance, and when I say Employee engagement, it's a very broad terminology. So, what we actually did as an HR leader is, we created some tools and techniques and we aided our Employees with which they can fight this pandemic with which way they can fight this Political turmoil, the natural calamities that is happening across the Country, and that was the approach that we took as a senior HR leader or our strategic business partners to the organisation.

So, that's how a single point answer to all these questions was we drove Employee engagement very passionately and in due course whenever our time permits, I will tell you how passionately it was driven and what were the tools and techniques, that was pretty important that giving tools and techniques to the employees to fight back, is very important. So that's what we did as Senior Employees.

AITD: You are very right because not only was a pandemic which was upon us and you were very right, there were these cyclones in Gujarat and in the East Coast, and there were farmers protests going on in Delhi and they had blocked all the roads. So all this was going on simultaneously.

So, doing this kind of disruption, which was taking place all the time you said Employee engagement was given them a very high priority and there was more about the tools and Policies and other things which you put into practice to engage the employees, what would you like to say that now?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: I want this fraternity to understand that how dynamic HR is when it comes to responding to the business call and how dynamic HR as a function is when it's very important to respond to the external changing environment and all. So, just to give you a brief about it in a nutshell, it was very important for our organisation to have continuity in the business. So, when you need to have a continuity in the business, there are few immediate steps that we took and when HR is a process owner, when HR drives the framework of the organisation, that how an organisation should function or should navigate there are only one framework or only one principle that HR works is on the Policy, which are HR Policies.

So, there are a lot of things we immediately deployed first. I will tell you about few Policies, how it boosted the Employee morale and how it boosted or encouraged the Employee to fight this situation. So, what we did that first of all we implemented two massive Policies, viz. the COVID Mediclaim Policy and the second is COVID Death Policy. Now, why this step was taken, of course, whatever you do in HR has a direct impact on your bottom line, because you have to procure these Policies, there is the Insurance that has to be paid and when I say you are working for an organisation like Bisleri which is across the Country.

That means, you have a massive task force who is following you. So, what we did was, as a responsible organisation, we ensured that we issued the COVID Mediclaim Policy and the beauty of this Policy over here was, we did this not only for Employees but for their spouses and kids and the dependant parents also. So, every life of my Employee was first secured by getting these Policies in place. So, this is how we dynamically or proactively responded. We are preparing ourselves for wave three also. So, if you know that we are hearing that wave three might hit the people who are teenagers or youngsters might get affected in wave three.

So, this is how HR connects with the external subject experts, studies it and then takes proactive action. So, first, what we did was this COVID Policy we insured for all our Employees. The beauty over here is that we also insured our contractual workers who were working for us, who were my extended arm, who were working for the organisation for the objectives of the organisation. So, it becomes extremely important for me as an HR leader to give support to those people also who are on the contractual role. So, that's the beauty of this organisation; we not only thought of our Employees but we even thought of our associates who were partnering with us in this journey in this difficult time.

The second Policy that we did was death insurance so by God's grace; we were very lucky that we never used the death insurance Policy but as a safety it was our prime motto that we even insured our Employees in case if any unfortunate death happens. So, the Policy was, in case if death happens because of COVID, we will reimburse them three years of salary. So, that's a massive step we took. Again by God's grace I am pretty fortunate that we didn't use this Policy but yes that Policy is even active now. And hopefully we don’t get time to use it; let all our premium money go waste but by God's grace we should not use this Policy. That's the only prayer that we do.

So, these are few Policy related changes that we did immediately. A couple of other things that we did just again in the same context we ensured that we gave lots of booster doses to our Employees. So, across the organisation, we believe there is a therapy which is called as Ozone Therapy, where you give a lot of immunity boosters so we extended those across all our facilities which are again to re-energize the Employees to give them a mental energizer. So, that's how the Ozone Therapy comes in picture. So, that is something on the wellness we did.

The couple of other things that we did again as a part of Policy was one of “no question asked leaves”. This I put it in inverted commas it is called as “no question asked leaves”. So, as you know that when you are part of our organisation you get some casual leaves, you get some sick leaves, you get some privileged leaves, but COVID leaves was such a situation or this pandemic was such a situation that you never know how it will hit an Employee and how much time an individual will take to recover or a family member or someone who is in the family, who is pretty close and near and dear.

So, what we did is the moment this news comes to the HR or it comes to the Central SPOC or a Central Team, we extend it to “no question asked leaves” to the Employee, where Employee can take as many as number of leaves, and he will be remunerated or paid completely during that period till the time he or she or his spouse or family member recovers from this. So, that was a policy which we took, we gave lot of support mental support to the Employees, so they were absolutely at ease saying that, in case if they get infected the only move to the Employee should have, is to recover back fight with this virus, and come back healthy and again be part of this organisation. So, that's the mental stability we extended to our Employees.

Then after that, what we did was of course, it's a setup where you have to be present in the field. It's a setup where you need to be at arm's distance to your customer. So, it was very crucial or essential for us to service because we were part of essential services on one side we take pride that we served the entire nation, we dispatched water to COVID centres and we helped the nation to fight against this pandemic. So, when that is the situation, but obviously, you need Employees to function on the ground or to function on the field.

So, how will you do that? So that was again a massive challenge that the engagement team was having. So, what we did was, we proposed a ‘roster mechanism’. So, the ‘roster mechanism’ is like, you make an agreement that at least some persons or executives or representatives of the organisation are available on the field near to the customer in the unit's manufacturing setup just to ensure that the wheel is in momentum. We were not in a phase to accelerate but we wanted to be in a constant momentum which will help us to service the nation in this situation. So, this is what we did; changes which helped the organisation on real time basis and that's how the change happened with us.

AITD: Yes, I can make out because you are very proactive and you ensured very good business continuity and very high morale and the health and well-being of your Employees and wonderful Policy on COVID Mediclaim and even going to the extent of COVID death Policy, which of course, luckily you never had to use. You were declared essential services which meant that your plants had to keep working; your production had to continue because it is an essential service.

So, therefore, what changes did you bring about in your work structure as a Manufacturing Company?

I mean it is not possible for people to work from home. So, how did you manage the shifts? Did you change the working hours or did you extend them or how did you organise work to ensure that health is also looked after and productivity is also looked after?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: It meant for HR members over here to understand how productivity of an organisation is to be achieved while maintaining a balance between Employee health and safety. Yes of course, let me split this question into two halves.

First is, yes of course, it's a Manufacturing setup. We have a huge facility across the Country where we do a lot of massive Manufacturing and Packaging of this mineral water. So, it's extremely important for us to function across the time, across the hour and deliver to those needs of the Country where water was an essential service. And, the second half, I will answer is, as I say it's a Manufacturing setup, partnered, associated or complemented by sales team.

So, there are two sets; one set of people who have to be endorsed, ensure that the manufacturing happens and the second set of people are those Sales and Logistics. I am so sure in the University, there will be a lot of students who are from Sales marketing and Logistics discipline. So, they will understand this importance that it's equally important that whatever is manufactured in-house is then dispatched and is available on the racks for the retailers. So, how did we manage both, one is the Manufacturing and Sales both.

So, to answer your question, what we did for the manufacturing setup is again a slightly innovative approach as I say it's an organisation which is pretty innovative, keeps thinking at every instance. So, we started out setting small facilities and associating them with a few facilities in small offices where we were planning to put up our Employees, so what we did if I come to office in a lockdown period. So, what we did is we actually got them to the offices and we made them stay in a safe secured environment and provided them with all healthy meals. We provided them with all immune boosters; we provided them with a super good facility which was again maintained properly on a periodic basis.

And, once that was done, they were again settled back to their residences and that's how we did with workers, staff or Employees that came to the facility. The authority which is then associated with the organisation when organisation made those provisions and then again settle him back after 15 days, make them home quarantined for next 15 days and ensure that they get their wages properly, they get their medications properly and then again come after 15 days.

So, this is how we actually functioned our manufacturing setup by putting these people near the facility or inside the facility. The distance between the cities that travelled from location A to location B from the residence to the marketplace for the sales purpose. Over there, they got an amazing concept which is called a “son of the soil”.

So what we did that “son of the soil” concept is if Mr. A is based out of X location and he has to travel to Y location. What we did is we change the entire structure. We gave him a market which is near to his residence, near to his vicinity, near to his area of access which is just three to four kilometres and let him do that sales activity whatever he is doing after travelling to Y, so we then changed the entire structure and we created this concept which is called as “son of the soil”. So, that's how very instantly we changed ourselves in both manufacturing sector and in sales set up.

AITD: So, the people who are there in that location living there, they don't have to expose themselves unnecessarily by traveling in local trains. In any case, trains were stopped during those times. You mentioned about Employee champions. There are a lot of companies which are trying out because of the mental health issues; they are trying to create mental health champions or Employee champions in their organisations who are available to the other juniors and other people they appear to advise them not to be in touch with them.

So, what was this concept implied upon these Employee champions and how was your experience from this concept of Employee champions?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: First of all, we did this Employee champions very instantly. If you were doing as a response to this pandemic, which we did, it was an internal strategy that we did but over a period of time and even the question from your side gives me confidence that putting up Employee champions; this is industry best practices which we realized in due course of time. So, I will just give you a quick insight how it happened over here. So, as I said, HR was playing a very pivotal role when it comes to managing workforce on the field and entering them that proper guidance is given.

Just to give you one live example. If you remember, those were the days where Ministry of Health Affairs was publishing the notifications on their website that how an individual, how an organisation should function on the ground, should they have valid ID cards or should they have proper letters in case if that part of your essential service and stuff like that?

So, this is something that came to us that, across the different practices and it becomes very difficult for a central HR team to strategize things for those state level operations or regional level operations, so we created ‘BEConnect’ Champions, now what do you mean by ‘BEconnected’? ‘B’ stands for Bisleri and ‘E’ stands for Employees. So ‘BEconnected’ is Bisleri Employees to be ‘connected’. So this is an amazing program that we drove over here.

Now, what were the key roles and responsibility of these Employee champions because ‘BEconnected’ champions internally what we say. So, first critical role was that we gave them to set up a help desk. So, why this help desk was important? There were instances where Employees or our trucks were shuttling from one state to another state. There were instances where our trucks goes from Maharashtra to Goa, there were instances where a truck goes from Chhattisgarh to Rajasthan, so at all these checkpoints there was a change in the state norms. So Goa was functioning with some state norms for safety and security Maharashtra was working but the vehicle was shuttling so at any given instance if you need any help with respect to how to operate on field, with respect to how to manage the situation. If you are not feeling well in case you need some support, this was a central program run which was called as ‘BEConnect Champions’.

Nothing but Employee champions who used to get phone calls across the arch, across the time asking for various help because as I say this pandemic came to us as a surprise, we were not prepared, even this organisation which is a 50 years old organisation, we were not prepared none of us have ever seen what this pandemic or what COVID was all about. So, in all those instances, we used to get what was an addition to our library; we never got a single problem which was repeated where we have a defined action of lines. So, what we did, we created this Help Desk or ‘BEConnect Champions’ who were available for the Employees to give support.

The second best KRA these champions did was that they were solely responsible for a happy and healthy organisation. So, the second best theory is these ‘BEConnect Champion’ was given that they were responsible to keep the organisation, happy and healthy. Now, but the obvious question was, how will they do so? So, of course, then there were a lot of programs that Employee Champions did.

The first program, just to give you an idea, which got a lot of glory internally; they started identifying or recognizing Bisleri Braveheart warriors. So, as I said the Employee championship was close to the region, was close to the state, and was close to the local people who were working on the field. These people started identifying people who are Bisleri Braveheart warriors. What were the contributions that a Bisleri warrior was doing to the state to the region or to the organisation was actually felt by these people? So, these are those people who were having the pulse of the organisation. They were so active and so dynamic. I solely believe that this concept of Employee Engagement Champions or ‘BEConnect Champions’ is extremely crucial and important and they should be part of HR operations from now onwards because these are those people who know the pulse of the business in that specific geography. If I am based out of the Head Office, I know the pulse of your organisation from broad 30000 feet but these are those extended arm of HR who are partnering the business at the regional level or at the local level. So that's an amazing contribution this people this champion did when it comes to maintaining the mental health of the organisation by being with them. They were their companions they worked with them shoulder to shoulder, they acknowledge them, they gave them a pat on the back, they conducted a lot of awareness sessions, a lot of mental wellness programs for those small set of things. So, in case if someone is based out of Kerala, the geography has different challenges. Even today Kerala has maximum number of COVID cases. So, the Employee champion based out of Kerala is solely responsible to ensure that the mental health of our employees is intact by conducting some programs by giving him some acknowledgement by running a program which will appreciate his activity or efforts at his family level also which is utmost important. So, that's how we created this concept of mental health champions or ‘BEConnect Champions’ who actually spread that like a web in the organisation and extended that support and multiplied the action of HR at every nook and corner of the Country.

AITD: This is a very good lesson which other Corporates must learn from the Bisleri because this not only increases the engagement but also it brings in the lower level people at the regional level, district level, state level; they are connected and they are taking the work forward and they know the pulse of the place the best. Now, connected to this is the question of digitisation you also brought it in your presentation that you all had adopted digitisation in various practices.

So, can you give us what are the lessons learned and what all digitisation was carried out and what is being carried out or who you are likely to do in the future how it is helping out in your HR functions and other functions because digitisation has really become important after the pandemic?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: All my colleagues from the HR fraternity over here, all my students, colleagues, I would like to tell them if you are functioning in the organisation and if you have problems like the pandemic, you have multiple challenges. So, this is with my experience I would say that digitisation to a great extent would solve the problem. I would say to a great extent, not completely but digitisation is the only linchpin available with us today to ensure that you have a pivotal edge on the subject and you have a high chance of addressing those questions. It may be any problem but that the powerful solution that we have, it is the capability of the organisation or the strategic board to understand that how this can be used or deployed so that it gives you an extra edge on the subject.

Coming back to this situation or this context, I would say that how this powerful digitisation as a tool was used over here is, as I rightly said Bisleri is the organisation which is spread across the Country. So to reach out to each and every individual or to reach out to every single Employee and reach out to his house, the only medium available was digital tool. So what we internally created was that we created a platform which is called as VIBE. VIBE is nothing but a positive ‘vibe’ that you get which keeps vibrating all the time and which gives you motivation and gives you a sense of connected. So basically this pandemic was all about isolation, the moment you get infected, you get into isolation. The moment someone from your house is infected, you isolate them. So, this word isolation is exactly an opposite phenomena for a collaboration.

So, we thrive on what? We humans thrive on a word which is collaboration, which is human touch and this pandemic taught us about isolation which is exactly opposite to our psychology. So just to break these gates of slight isolations, we reached out to those Employees, those people, through this dynamic platform which is called as VIBE. This is nothing but a digital platform where all your organisational achievements is posted over there. Now, when I say organisational achievement, it's the Bisleri or it's Employees who are the superheroes of this organisation. They are doing some initiatives, they are doing some activity which is making them a superhero that is posted on a platform and a person who is in isolation or a person who is far away from the organisation gets real time updates of what is happening across the Country which keeps him motivated.

So, if I say that we ran a contest or we ran an initiative which is called as visionary Braveheart Champions. So, someone who is in the remote part of the Country, someone who is in Coimbatore who reached out to 100 COVID centres and delivered water jars. This is an achievement which is posted on this wide platform and someone who is in Chandigarh, actually saw and he is his colleague; the person who is in Coimbatore is a colleague of a person who is in Chandigarh that they get motivated by saying that to my colleague somewhere over there is doing an amazing activity and he is working on full throttle, that gives a collaborative platform virtually.

So, we created this tool with the help of a digital platform, which is very vibrant people start posting anything and everything; if someone is a guitarist he captures his live video and puts it over there and a colleague who is in hospital based out of Siliguri listens to this melody of a colleague who has done and feels like he is part of this organisation. So, this is how we break through those psychologies of isolation and mental isolation by using this digital platform. Secondly, I told you about help desk. So, this helpdesk is nothing but a digital place where we actually created a help desk where anyone in the organization can post anything. And when I say it's a digital platform it is seen by the CEO of the organization, it is seen by the Directors of the organisation, it is seen by the senior leadership, board of the organisation and the moment something is posted someone from the top management immediately acts on it.

So, that gives a confidence to the Employee that wherever he is, there is an instant recognition or instant help extended by this organisation. So, it binds you as an Employee, as a family member. So, if someone is based out of Chhatral which is around 200 kilometres from Ahmedabad. Let us take a live example. Indore was very badly hit in the second wave. It was like a massacre. So, getting oxygen cylinders was a massive challenge. So there were people who were on the field who were helping people, the moment someone writes it on the help desk the CEO and the Directors of the company came to know they started activating their contacts. CEOs and the Directors of the organisation, they knew a lot of Institutes in Indore, they knew a lot of big hospitals in Indore. They activated their contacts and the last person on the field who is just a small exhibit for the organisation gets the instant support by these people.

So, it gives me goose bumps even now because this is what we did and that's what the power of technology is all about, if you can see how I am reacting you can feel that that's how technology gives you tremendous power. And it's all about you identifying what sort of technology needs to be deployed and how to deploy. That's the only perhaps solution in the given situation is.

AITD: Were you able to activate some applications on the mobile phones of your Employees because everybody got a mobile like your VIBE program, we have projects; I mean instantly he is connected all the time, was that kind of a concept also tried out on mobile applications?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: Yes, this VIBE that I said was actually an application which can be browsed through application for the web also. So, anyone who has a basic mobile can browse this and whatever location he or she is at. So, in this pandemic, majority of the people who were in an ICU, they were also functional. The only problem was that they were unable to breathe properly or the only problem was they were getting blood clots or they were having some chest congestion because of cough and cold but the body or the individual was to great extent functional they were full in their senses. So, this mobile application was so live and active that it reached to each and every hospital ICU bed where my Employees were and they were actually connected. So, it's an application this VIBE that I said, is actually an application. The entire program was called as ‘BEConnect’ which is Bisleri Employee Connect program that was having a part of VIBE which is a digital platform. So that's how we activated it.

AITD: You mentioned that you looked after even the interests of your contractual Employees which many people don't do because they say, “alright it's the contractor’s responsibility” but you treated them at par with your regular Employees which is very good. Now, I want to ask you a question about your channel partners because when the pandemic hit us the lockdowns were there, transport was not moving, shops were cut down.

So, how were you able to support your channel partners to keep the sales going, to help them you know they may be having some financial problems, credit may be required by them? So how did you support your channel partners?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: They are very critical stakeholders in my entire ecosystem. As rightly said, on one hand you have Employees whose core responsibility of the organisation but on the other side you have your channel partners who are your external stakeholders but equally important and at the end of the day they are humans, and they are life, who are struggling and battling on your behalf in a dynamic market. All that I would even go and say that it's a very innovative organisation so we keep thinking on a lot of ways of how to respond to various challenges. Secondly, we are highly adaptable if you see the past 30-40 minutes I have told you that how dynamically we have adapted and we have responded to this changing condition. So, basically adapting to changing conditions is the core principle and responding to the call of your stakeholders; may it be Employees or may it be channel partners, may it be retailors or distributor is the core principle.

So, I would like to give you a live example over here which will convince you or which will make us understand the concept. Suddenly, when the Country went into a lockdown twice, it happened first time on the 22, March 2020. It happened suddenly. We were off the roads and we were asked to shut ourselves in a room and pandemic lockdown was declared. Suddenly, the Country was massively opting this method of getting into the lockdown. So, in this situation, how did we support our channel partners? That was very critical. Customers who are buying or who are reaching out to buy this product is very unique or it's been changing. So, what is changing over there?

So, if you are based out of some ‘Mohalla’ in your area or a colony in your area, you are not ready to go out to a distance where you have a Mega Mart or a small Mart but you are at least ready to go out till a retailer who is based out of your colony or a ‘Nukkad’ area; we would like to say that because it was called as ‘Nukkad’ / ‘Mohalla’ concept. So, what we did is these were those retailers who then got hit because people were not reaching out to them or people were not even going to the Mega Mart. So, what we did was, we started creating this ‘Mohalla’ concept or a ‘Nukkad’ concept where a retailer who is based out of a small hub is then reaching out to our customers house because as I said it's part of the critical essential service, water is needed by and every individual on a daily basis.

So, if you are not coming out, what we did to help our channel partners is created a model which is called as ‘Mohalla’ concept or a ‘Nukkad’ concept where we ensured that the stock is stocked at his level. He delivers it to your house. So, a person comes to your doorstep. At times, there were pandemic situation where a person was not even allowed to come upstairs or get into the bungalows or road but the retailer was then reaching out to a nearest point where he used to keep those water bottles or leave those jars and that's how we started distributing it. So, just to support our channel partners we started delivering so that if you are in a retail market you need to adapt. Various people went to the market.

So, if you are aware now Bisleri is available at your doorstep on an E-commerce platform; you need not go to a retailer, you need not go to Mega Mart or dial a merchant number. You go to the website and launch an application or order mineral water and it comes to your doorstep. So, if you want a 20 litre jar every 4 days, if you have 7-8 members in the family 20 litre jar needs to be refilled. You just place the order and ensure that your water comes on third or fourth day. It’s we, who commit to and we give that business to the distributor or a retailer who ensures and come to your house and puts that water over there. So, that's how the channel partners who are extremely important in this business for that matter in any business were safeguarded.

We ensured that the defined number of business that is needed for that channel partner to survive in pandemic goes to him properly So that's the beauty we did over here.

AITD: That was a good step, when the customer can't reach to you, you reach to him. That was a very good concept. That's a wonderful learning from this experience that you had. Now, I will just ask you another question about building trust in the workplace. Now, this is not only during the pandemic but it’s highlighted during the pandemic, during challenging times like the ones we are undergoing now.

Employees trust their leaders to take right decisions and make tough decisions, so how can companies encourage trust and what is the role of HR and learning and development in building this trust within the organization, within the team, within the department?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: So, in fact, trust plays a very vital role in such a situation. Why I say so because I believe that if you don't get proper input, the output is definitely a function of input. So, how L&D plays a critical role in such a pandemic is what I will tell you, basis my experience and what we did. And, we again experimented our strategy about practising it or executing it on the field; same is what my L&D friend did over here. The core caution that we did is we came out with an amazing program virtually. To ensure that the people get the benefit or people understand the organization objective and function accordingly by imparting this training. Immediately because of pandemic the focus was to be happy and healthy.

So, as I say, that was a one line learning to the team that the organisation should be happy and healthy. So, how to make your organization happy and healthy? What we did for this? We designed a lot of programs for mental wellness; we got India’s best coaches on our board. So, we have created a lot of tools and techniques, and we gave these tools to our employees to fight with the situation and to ensure that their mental wellness is looked after. What did you give them? An act or a gun with armour to go shoot the people who are in pandemic, that's not the case.

So, what are the tools and techniques, we gave them some success mantra, so, I tell you over here for the benefit of larger audience. So, what is happening exactly the entire Country is in a pandemic state. We treat it as an event, if you multiply this event with your reaction is the external event. I am worried. I am afraid, or I am feeling courageous, so these are all reactions. So, if you multiply event with reaction, which is equal to the result So E multiplied by R, is equal to R, the event reaction is equal to result. Now, in this situation, event is not in my control, it's a pandemic, when you have a cyclone hitting the Country; you have Political damage which is not in my control. What is in my control, mental wellness, and mental peace? I react to this; I need to respond to this problem. How to do that? The moment you react very weirdly, very instantly. The result will go haywire. The moment you reach very peacefully, very calmly the result will be in your favour.

AITD: That is a very good concept because the event may be beyond your control but the reaction is in your control and how you react to it will bring the result. We absolutely agree with that. Now, I would request you, as you look into the future, there are people that still talk about wave number three coming and people are still saying that this pandemic is here to stay. It will never go away completely. So, we have had two waves, we have learnt our lessons.

So, as a senior HR leader, as you look into the future, how do we prepare our people and our organisations for the future, what are the important areas in which you know as HR leader, we need to look into and ensure that our productivity remains, and our business remains continuous and our employees remain engaged?

Mr. Swapnil Tulsankar: If you observe what is happening, the virus itself is mutating. You don't know what was happening in wave one; you didn't even know what happened in wave two. And it's a very gross and very different situation So, the obvious changes that is happening, which is the virus itself is adapting or mutating just to learn from this virus, is the map, because the other side of the enemy is mutating is adapting at a tremendous pace, so we have to do this. So, everyone is convinced about life. But, now the question is, how to do that or how to adapt, as I say we believe in giving tools and techniques to our employees to fight, you cannot sit idle or change your strategy, how is an important part of the strategy.

So, I would like to use few critical words over here which might be success mantra for future. First what I feel is observing things. The point is, we have to observe, or we have to figure out that what is needed for an individual for a team member for an organisation is that when the movement epidemic hits you more badly, or with higher impact, the only change or the only way to survive is ensure you get adapted to new mechanism to Upskill yourself, it can be e-commerce, it can be immediately moving to digital platform, it can be learning on internet, it can be watching movies on OTT platform. So, all this is nothing but that we have instantly adopted to consciously do that. In the past, first wave, it hit us, we did by our understanding we did it by our instinct, second wave was more dangerous.

Unfortunately, if it hits it's a bad situation but in case if you want to get prepared one has to identify what's the need of the organisation, and then start Upskilling. Now, how to do this Upskilling? Every organisation has a competency framework. Every organisation has a core principle on which they function. All that I feel now is your competency framework should have competency parameters or competencies like taking a collaborative approach. I cannot get into minute things, but I am just trying to give my thoughts that how to ensure that your organisation is safeguarded, so collaborative approach is extremely important over here, even if you are isolated still the only way to fight back, is a collaborative effort that you have to win this battle through people.

So, winning through people, whatever people you have, whatever skill set these people possess, it is extremely important for you to collaborate, and you have to win through these people. The third competency, I would say, organisation should have is, effective team building, whatever, even if you have people of two, you need to collaborate well, you need to ensure you are built to a team and only then it will help you to be successful team in the organisation. So, these are those three points or three parameters which should be part of our framework by skipping our feeling as a pillar, or as a foundation. I would say, we can build a robust organisation, which will help us to meet this third wave if it happens. So that's that should the success mantra at the workplace is what I feel.

AITD: We fully agree with you there, we have to look at the future; we will have to build collaboration we will have to build team building and ensure that we prepare ourselves. We covered everything about reaching out to people engaging people, digitisation, we talked about health, mental health. We also talked about channel partners. So, we have really covered all aspects of Employee engagement and we thank you for it. HR is not only looking after this little bit of salaries and other things; HR really prepares people for that business, and if HR is primed to the business goals, it really helps the organization to achieve business goals.

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