In this episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Business Resilience culture, Ruchi Bhalla, VP Human Resources (Asia Pacific), Country Head-Delivery Centers, India at Pitney Bowes, talks to Nitika Goel, CMO, Zinnov about the criticality of an organization‘s culture and how important it is to personalize it, especially in the new, evolving normal.
What makes a company’s culture sticky? What makes it exceptional? How do organizations decide which parts of their culture to preserve and which parts to transform as things evolve? In the last 20 months or so, the following are the questions that many leaders have had to grapple with as they pushed through the realities of fostering a culture in a remote or hybrid scenario – understanding what their employees want, what are the things that their employees have had to come to terms with, both personally and professionally.
Watch as Nitika Goel, CMO at Zinnov, and Ruchi Bhalla, VP Human Resources (Asia Pacific), Country Head-Delivery Centers, India at Pitney Bowes, talk about how an organization’s culture is its immune system and how leaders can redefine the cultural code in this post-COVID era.
Nitika Goel: Hi everyone, I am Nitika Goel, CMO at Zinnov and your host for today. Welcome to an all-new episode of the Zinnov podcast Business Resilience series. If you want to start a heated debate, just drop the word Culture into the conversation mix and see what happens from there. Culture has many different definitions and interpretations, but what is irrefutable is that an organization’s culture is its immune system.
But what makes a company’s culture sticky? What makes it exceptional? How do organizations decide which parts of their culture to preserve and which parts to transform as things evolve?
In the last 20 months or so, these are the questions many leaders have had to grapple with as they paved through the realities of fostering a culture in a remote or hybrid scenario – understanding what their employees want, what are the things that their employees have had to come to terms with, both personally and professionally.
Today, I have with me a very special guest, someone I have known for years, a leader with 20 plus years of experience in the technology industry, a consummate people leader, a culture champion, Ruchi Bhalla, Country Head, India Delivery Center, and Vice-President Human Resources, Asia Pacific at Pitney Bowes. Having worn multiple hats at her long stint at PB, Ruchi is perfectly positioned to share her perspectives, experiences, and insights around how to redefine the culture code. Welcome Ruchi, and thank you for your time. It’s always a pleasure speaking to you on this topic.
Ruchi Bhalla: Thank you, Nikki. Pleasure to be on this platform. So happy to talk to you about this topic.
Nitika Goel: Great. Like I was saying earlier, culture has many definitions. What according to you is culture? And would you describe it the same way as you would 24 months ago?
Ruchi Bhalla: Interesting start, Nikki. You know, there are many definitions that exist. I like the one by our CEO, Marc Lautenbach, which goes as culture is our collective capability to create value in different contexts.
I think culture is truly the currency to create long-term sustainable success for any organization, and a company like ours, Pitney Bowes, who prioritizes culture are able to weather difficult times and changes in the business environment and come out stronger.
If you asked me this question 24 months ago my answer would have been the same. In fact, I would describe our company’s culture much in the same way even a decade ago, and even further back, during our inception in 1920. The grit, the resolve, the compassion, innovation, are all attributes of our culture and they have stood the test of time. And yet again, during the crisis, this recent crisis, these attributes reveal themselves again. For over a century now Pitney Bowes has built a strong cultural foundation based on the value of doing the right thing, the right way. It’s the conscious as well as the unconscious beliefs that drive the behavior of everyone at Pitney Bowes, and this then drives decisions and practices and when done repeatedly, they set the tone for our culture. However, with a strong foundation, culture can and should evolve with time. Leaders need to be agile and empathetic, and they have to stay tuned into employees’ voices, which is exactly what we did during the pandemic, as we would during any other crisis or even regular working schedules.
Nitika Goel: Those are great points. I love the point where you talked about the conscious and the unconscious layer. So I’m going to take that thread and extend it. Enabling a cohesive employee experience would require both conscious and unconscious elements. And that’s a challenging task. And it’s doubly so in a remote or a hybrid scenario. What are the top three things that you did as an organization to help this happen or create that cohesive culture and employee experience using these two tenets as the foundational elements?
Ruchi Bhalla: When we talk about hybrid we are talking about two sets of people, one who are in the room and one who are across the screen. So you have to make sure that you weave in all perspectives, all voices, whether across the table or across the phone, which means that inclusion is paramount. Everyday allyship to hear all perspectives will be the key. Having mechanisms that do not fuel biases to prefer one over the other for a non-merit reason is extremely important. It’s important to remember that when lives and homes were invaded whilst working from home, we noticed and we recognized and we embraced the whole human. Accommodating personal life happened organically.
Now we can’t forget the priorities and responsibilities that employees carry outside the office. We cannot undo the lines that blurred. Now we know better and we also did better. It would be a shame to go back. And the second thing will be recognizing that the hybrid widened the playing field for all. So it’s important to listen in, to check in on the aspirations of people, their connectedness levels, and developing skills as a currency of the future will be also extremely important. The third cornerstone would be personalizing employee experience, which I think will be a game-changer. Each demographic has its own views and if you marry it with demand-supply economics of talent, and complexities of technology, and pace of change, and pandemic induced fatigue, if you don’t step up the game on personalizing the employee experience now, we’ll not be able to fully unlock the value of our talent.
It has to feel relevant for everyone on the team, irrespective of where they sit and what technology they work upon. It should be able to respond to each individual’s needs. It should speak to their values. Delivering this personalized employee experience will be the most important and valuable people leadership agenda for the hybrid times.
Nitika Goel: I think you brought in an array of very interesting points. You talked about inclusion, you talked about everyday allyship. You talked about creating processes so that everything is merit-based, not opinion-based. How should a person or an organization or a leader start thinking about this? Let me give you two scenarios. Scenario one is in an organization where personalization has never taken place and in scenario two, personalization has probably been taking place, but not in a formalized manner. How would you recommend that leaders think through this process?
Ruchi Bhalla: Personalized employee experience is no longer a good-to-have thing. I think that’s the only way we will be able to manage the great attrition as it has been called out now. And also the fact that if you don’t recognize the whole human – the employee base and the talent base, we stand to lose the discretionary effort that comes from engaging employees.
The willingness to get involved, the willingness to go above and beyond will not get developed. You gave me two scenarios, organizations who’ve done this before and who haven’t experimented with this. I don’t think it’s a choice that organizations have. It’s a ‘do or get left out’ sort of a situation. It’s all starts with listening in. We’ve made so much about leaders talking than listening that it’s a very important habit that we’ll all have to go back to and cultivate, because listening in more minutely, more avidly will determine how we deliver these personalized experiences.
We started a program very recently. It’s called “I” for Intersectionality, which means that when you look at an employee’s background, there are several subsets that affect – how they come to work, what motivates them, what are their aspirations, what are their limitations, what are their expectations from the organization. And unless we make an effort to understand their stories, they will never find themselves in our story or in the organization’s story. So just making the effort to stay connected and to understand will be extremely important. For some, it’ll be important that the work-life is supreme, and therefore organizing work schedules around their priorities will be something that will make it work for them. For others, it will be an overseas opportunity or for some, it will be a different role or a hands-on-deck sort of an experience or client proximity, et cetera. So we’ll have to understand what makes it work.
The soft bit of it, the most important bit of it will be leveraging data and analytics. How do you make use of all the employee data that you have and analytics that you draw, and can they help you understand the return on investment on the different initiatives that you have in the organization. Because people initiatives or culture initiatives are all business initiatives, and unless there is a clear return on investment, there is no point in continuing to stay invested. It means that those dollars need to be repurposed to something more meaningful.
If I have to summarize this, two things would be very important – Encouraging leaders to listen more than they talk, the second bit will be leveraging data and analytics to understand where the dollars are being spent for maximum gains for the business.
Nitika Goel: Great points. I’m going to take the conversation on a different thread. Congratulations on your recent Zinnov award. That’s well-deserved. One of the things that you are known for and Pitney Bowes (PB) is also known for is creating a highly inclusive work culture. And in fact, PB has been named as one of the best places for women to work at. Could you share a little bit of insight on how you made this magic happen? I mean, everybody talks about it. Lots of people struggled with operationalizing it. So we’d love to hear your input.
Ruchi Bhalla: For a company that is a century-old, that has continued to reinvent itself, there is a degree of resilience and antifragility. If we’ve been able to build a strong cultural foundation for our team in India, aligned to the cultural ethos and commitment to diversity, I will talk about the three most important things. One is empathetic leadership which means that emphasizing empathy in every interaction – taking time to understand the human side of our employees who may be going through their own challenges during this trying time or otherwise… showing up for people is very important. I was fortunate to have witnessed this during the second wave, especially when our global leaders stepped forth and offered help, guidance, and support, and were ALL in it with us while dealing with a host of other challenges and other problems themselves. I’ll never forget it. And we’ll also not never forget how our people stepped forth to help their colleagues. And I believe at the core of it that’s what this company is about. Replicating it or furthering it in India came very organically, very naturally. It wasn’t an uphill task.
And the second thing is the iterative approach or personalized approach for initiatives is extremely important. No one initiative will tend to all. As a result, we launched several initiatives for employees around wellness, mental health, COVID support, learning and development, et cetera that made us realize these moments of truth with respect to every interaction.
I spoke about the concept of intersectionality, and that has been an eye-opener that how disadvantages can play out and while gender may be perceived as one disadvantage, but coming from a different region, being born to uneducated parents, or being married into a family with no support system. Those disadvantages, when they get coupled, amplify and make it very hard. So meeting your people where they are is extremely important. And that has helped us get through these surveys time and again because we recognize where our people are and we make the attempt to show up for them and meet them where they are.
And the third is tackling unconscious bias. We realized through the pandemic that a pandemic or a crisis affects everyone. And recognizing and embracing that was very important. It widens the inequity.. that these people who are disadvantaged are at more disadvantage. We understood that we can’t leave people out, even unintentionally. We launched several initiatives, one of which that I’d like to talk about is blind applications. This was for candidates applying for jobs. It means that if you choose to hide your last name because you’re worried about your resume not getting selected, or you want to do to hide your address, or your age because you fear that you will get omitted from applications, you can choose to do that. You can choose to reveal your first name or last name, and you don’t have to mention any of your personal information that you think would hinder your chances of coming to Pitney Bowes. So we’ve become more conscious, more aware of how these biases tend to play out in day-to-day decision-making. And we’ve tried to work through them.
Nitika Goel: I think these are incredibly good points. As I said, I’ve been taking copious notes. And before we wrap up this very interesting conversation, Ruchi, I wanted to do a short segment with you where we get to understand a little bit more about you, your likes and dislikes. I’m going to structure this as a rapid-fire round. Does that work?
Ruchi Bhalla: Yes, let’s start.
Nitika Goel: Okay. Your favorite quote on culture is?
Ruchi Bhalla: The one that comes to my mind is that “Difference is an accident of birth and therefore should never be the cause of hatred or conflict.”
Nitika Goel: Very interesting. I think it’s the first time I’ve heard this, but very profound. Fit versus adaptability? What is more important?
Ruchi Bhalla: Adaptability all the way.
Nitika Goel: Okay. The biggest learning for you from a remote working?
Ruchi Bhalla: I think authenticity and living your truth should be easier, not harder.
Nitika Goel: Very interesting. The biggest thing you miss about going to the office every day?
Ruchi Bhalla: As you said, Nikki, in the beginning, learning through osmosis is what I miss the most.
Nitika Goel: Again, thank you so much for your time, Ruchi. I think it’s been an incredibly interesting conversation. There are so many things that I have personally learned, and there are multiple takeaways.
Ruchi Bhalla: Thank you, Nikki. It was good chatting with you and I hope the audience finds it’s worth their while.
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