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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

Rethinking the Retail Business from a People, Process, and Technology perspective

Sumit Mitra CEO Tesco Global Business Services
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This is part 2 of our podcast with Sumit Mitra, CEO of Tesco Global Business Services. In the first podcast, Sumit shared his valuable insights on the state of the Retail industry and how the pandemic has indelibly changed the DNA of the Retail sector. In this episode, Sumit takes an inside-out view on how a retail giant like Tesco is solving for customer pain points in the pandemic, by restructuring itself from a people, process, and technology perspective.

Sumit shares some very interesting analogies to explain Tesco’s holistic approach to process and operations. He also sheds light on how culture plays a significant role in ensuring an organization’s success and how it is crucial for employers to become active listeners and not rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. Tune in now to listen to a behemoth’s journey, centered around customer needs, and driven through agility and resilience.


Nitika: Hello everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Zinnov Podcast. I am Nitika Goel, CMO of Zinnov, and your host for today. This is part two of our podcast with Sumit Mitra, CEO of Tesco Global Business Services. In part one, we discussed how Tesco and the overall retail sector is catalyzing better lives in this global pandemic, by ensuring a continuous flow of essentials, despite the current challenges. Sumit joins us once again to talk about how businesses like Tesco are solving large scale problems that have newly emerged, from a process, people, and technology perspective. Welcome back to this episode of Zinnov podcast Sumit.

Sumit: Thank you, Nitika, it’s a real pleasure to be here today.

Nitika: Great. So, Sumit, in the first part of this podcast, you talked about how the pandemic has impacted customer behavior, and how customer journeys have moved online. You talked about a significant increase in the volume of transactions at GBS (Global Business Services). So, there is a sea change in the way you function. My question really is, how did you address the shift? And how much of it was from a strategy lens? And how much of this was, and will be, from a technology lens?

Sumit: Yeah, I hear a lot in different forums that, technology is this magic bullet train that will take us from one place to another, and will absolutely step-change an organization. I think we need to take a step back. If technology is the bullet train, it needs to run on tracks. I think the two tracks of an organization are culture and process. Let me put a little bit of light on this. From a cultural perspective, it doesn’t matter how good your strategy is, it doesn’t matter how good your technology implementation process is, but if your colleagues are not buying in, then you have no chance in executing the strategy. Somebody once said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. So, culture is key in terms of building the right attitude, and the right focus, and an engaged workforce. I call it creating players in the organization. So, how do you create that culture? You know, what is culture? Culture is what is endemic in an organization. Culture is how colleagues behave when the CEO is not watching. That’s important. So, how do you create that culture within the organization? And, the second step is the process. If you don’t have a good process within your business, what happens is, your technology will not be fit for purpose. You’re trying to force-fit and land technology on a set of really poor processes, which makes the technology very expensive, and the return on the investment on this technology becomes a lot longer, therefore not creating shareholder value. Finally, a lot of such executions of technology fail miserably. And there are a lot of case studies to establish this, which I’m sure you know. So, what’s important is from a process perspective is, to eliminate waste, and to understand the volume. What is the process? A process is the volume of work that’s coming through and hitting your operations to execute an outcome. So, the volume can be of two types – a good volume that generates profit and revenue for you, and a bad volume that is related to reputation, or customer complaints. So, what is important is, how do you create a culture of continuous improvement which eliminates those bad volumes coming to you? How do you define the steps that you need to have to deliver a piece of work? Why is it a five-step process? Why is it not four? So, how do you eliminate steps within those processes? And what is the cost? What is the time that is taking you to do those steps? Why is one person taking 12 minutes to do a part of a process, whereas another person is taking 20 minutes? So, how do you coach and support those individuals to get to a 12-minute stage? And then, what is the cost of your operations to deliver that time? I think that is what is the cost to serve. So, when we understand our cost to serve, we streamline our processes and have the right culture, it is then when technology will come into play. And, whether the volume of work that comes through a shop, operations or head office, what’s important is, how do we understand the process flow? And how do we understand end to end of the process? Because what I hear, what I see, when I talk to a lot of GICs, GCCs, is that all of their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are green, whereas the organization or the Enterprise is red; I call it the watermelon syndrome. So, it’s red on the inside and green on the outside. That’s not what it should be. Your SLAs, and operational KPIs, should be linked with the enterprise business outcome. And once that is sorted out, that’s when technology can be leveraged to its fullest.

Nitika: Excellent point, Sumit. I think I have learned a lot from that, personally, especially your analogy of the whole watermelon syndrome, you have a very fascinating way of looking at processes and operations, which is far more holistic than looking at just outcomes and SLAs. So, can you please explain what your thought processes around this are?

Sumit: Yeah, people talk about operations; operations are nothing but right first time, on time, every time, everywhere in the world – That is an outcome. So, what I see globally is, people just focus on SLA. But there is a myriad of stuff around it, such as the volume of work, how to build a CI (Continuous Improvement) culture in the operations, how do you deliver digitizing your process, how are you driving transformation within that, how are you wrapping it up with a service management framework, how do you look at your attrition, and how do you manage quintile performance to understand the performance of every single individual who is managing that operations, etc. So, I almost call it the Zenga. You know, as you take out each brick, look at what is the optimum size of your operation to ensure that you deliver the right outcome for your customers, and think about the end-to-end customer journey rather than thinking that your part of the process is green.

Nitika: Great. Now that we have discussed the process and the operations angle, I would also like to pick your brains on the people angle, with such a huge employee base and customer base, managing such large volumes of work remotely, I’m sure, it is not only mentally taxing, but emotionally exhausting. So, from a GBS perspective, how did you keep your employees motivated in these unprecedented times?

Sumit: Yeah, these are difficult times. And what we need to think about is, this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. To deal with this marathon, we need a different The GCoE Leadership Manifesto 2022 And Beyond leadership style and different resilience. We have around 6000 colleagues across different countries. So, first, we focused on getting them connected to the purpose; And second, on what the organization can do for them. So, back in March, I kicked off something called an organizational pulse survey, which is a daily pulse survey – it takes three and a half minutes, three and a half seconds rather, to do that pulse survey. So, the questions are like – how are you feeling today? Are you feeling sad? Happy? Disturbed? There are different smiley faces that the employee can choose from. The second question is about how was your day yesterday? Did you manage to strike a work-life balance? Then we arrive at a net promoter score – Nine and Ten indicating the employee is happy, one to five indicating the employee is not happy. We also had a text box where the employee can write anything that he/she wants us to look into. So, what it gave us was rich data on how our colleagues were feeling. And the importance of that was twofold – One, when you are working hard all day, working 9, 10, 12 hours, supporting your business, doing household chores, looking after the family, children, in-laws, etc., you don’t get two seconds to think about yourself. So, the survey gave reflection time in the morning to think, ‘How am I feeling today?’, ‘How was my day yesterday?’. Through the text box, we got a lot of requests, asking for help on mental health, support on back pains, expression of anxiety about Covid, etc. That prompted us to increase the insurance for their family members, including the parents. It got us thinking about delivering chairs – we delivered almost 1500 chairs to individual houses; we also delivered monitors, broadband lines, etc. So, we were able to track and observe a trend of how our people were feeling. This was important because we haven’t managed our workforce with a strength of 6000, completely remotely, ever before. Our managers didn’t have the technique in their repertoire to deal with so many people working offline, and not in the office. So, how do you deal with it? What I felt was, if that motivation level and engagement drops, we don’t have the tools and techniques to bring it up again. So, by collecting this rich data, we were able to make the right interventions at the right time, to keep our colleagues engaged.

Nitika: That is, I think, fantastic. I think finding out the pulse of your organization almost on a real-time basis, is something that I have not heard of so far. And I think it’s a very interesting premise for organizations to follow, going forward. Also, like you very rightly said, it helps you get to the core of the issue and the problem, find out from different locations, geographies, synthesize it, and take corrective actions, more specifically, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

Sumit: We hear a lot of people say, “We are all in the same storm, on the same boat”. We are not on the same boat just because we are all in the same storm. We are all on different boats because everybody’s problem is different; and we need to treat everybody differently.

Nitika: I think that’s probably some experience. Very interestingly, it’s an experience you’ve probably taken not just from your focus on customers, but by making your employees your internal customers. And like you said, Net Promoter Score is very important for us to look at, and I think it’s a very good and clean philosophy as an organization. I’m going to ask you a difficult question, Sumit. How did your scores change? Were they good, bad, ugly?

Sumit: There was an initial euphoria, especially in India, when people were thinking, “I’m gonna work from home. Brilliant! I get to spend time with my family.” So, it peaked when everybody was excited and happy. And then there was anxiety as the number of COVID cases went up in India or other countries. We could see it was going up and down, like, on a Monday, people were really happy because they had a good weekend. But then on a Wednesday and Thursday, we could see the work dipping. We saw a trend since March, that how day by day, the NPS depended on which day of the week it was, and when the volumes were coming in. And what we did was we compared this trend against our volumes of work that were coming through, to see how the mood was. We saw that it was all dependent on the volumes coming through, on what news there was about the COVID cases, and how they felt. Over the last five, six months, I could see a slight upward trend. But it was quite a yo-yo in the beginning, in terms of the emotional ups and downs that our colleagues were having – the NPS was reflective of that.

Nitika: Interesting. Thank you so much for your time and perspective, Sumit. It was a great learning experience speaking to you, on how to make processes more efficient, and not to forget focusing on employees being motivated, and how leaders need to be active listeners, and how not taking a one-size-fits-all approach is critical for an organization’s success. Thank you once again. And thank you to our audience for tuning in to this episode of the Zinnov podcast.

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