The crowd holds its collective breath as Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar prepares to strike. But the batsman, B Muthuraman, is unperturbed. The delivery is sent flying into the stands. The cheers get louder as the Tata Steel managing director raises his bat in triumph.
Not real life, but an inspirational film. "It's a part of our Vision 2007 campaign," explains Niroop Mahanty, vice president (HRM), Tata Steel. Adds BN Sarangi, chief, HR/IR, Tata Steel, "The idea was to motivate employees to accomplish the impossible, like hit a six off Shoaib Akhtar." Or achieve EVA (economic value add) positive status by 2007.Other articles related to innovation:
The buzz in Jamshedpur is palpable. Tata Steel is not looking at incremental improvement, but a quantum jump in performance. Unlike its previous attempts, Vision 2007 is not a top-down initiative. More than 8,000 inputs from shop-floor workers and managers, contributed in articulating the future course for the lowest-cost producer of steel in the world. Tata Steel's human resources (HR) department further cascaded the knowledge to all of the company's 40,000 employees.
Assimilation of the vision was of paramount importance. Tata Steel organised one-day workshops called 'Lakshya 2007— Ek Chunauti' where employees were encouraged to write down their main responsibilities. These were then aligned with the departmental, divisional and company's key performance indices and, finally, with the vision. This innovative approach has garnered tremendous support from employees. Says Suman Biswas, Improvement Group, Tata Steel: "The employees felt important as they were made an integral element of the vision. Our commitment is total."
Tata Steel has been inundated with scores of ideas and suggestions generated at its employee workshops. It is setting up a centre to implement and even patent the viable ones, while publicising the names behind them.
Winds of change
With globalisation and competition challenging the corporate world, HR managers can no longer play just the traditional administrative and welfare role. They are expected to be effective change leaders, working at the centre of each business rather than at the fringes of the action. Today, HR helps define the business case for change, it communicates a vision of the future, shapes a sound implementation plan, and follows through to achieve sustained results. Changing times call for different and innovative strategies and a catalyst called technology.
With footprints in various geographies, IT leader Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) created systems for managing the future. The need was to deploy employees in a seamless and integrated manner. The innovative solution it engineered to meet these challenges is called Ultimatix. Designed in-house, it digitised the whole organisation in real time through the web. Every single employee was connected through this platform across the globe. Ultimatix has also been successful in cutting through layers of decision-making within TCS.
"Ultimatix has become our single employee-service window," says S Padamnabhan, executive vice president and head - global HRD, TCS. "It has ensured that employees get their services without much difficulty. They can log in with their claims, loans or even leave applications for processing. All approvals are done online. To that extent, we are a paperless organisation."
To a population that is highly mobile, virtual HR is a godsend. With deployment being a challenge to companies with the size and spread of TCS, it is a major time saver. Besides its HR policies, the organisation has taken its appraisals and employee satisfaction surveys online. It does not end here. The survey findings, along with implemented suggestions, are also posted online. Rising employee satisfaction scores endorse the popularity of these initiatives.
Every employee possesses the power to innovate. The challenge is to create an encouraging environment that allows and recognises this, believes Bernand Martyris, senior VP (HR), Indian Hotels. This is one of the key elements of the company's Stars, or Special Thanks and Recognition Systems programme. Since its launch three years ago, the globally acclaimed model has triggered soaring employee satisfaction scores, besides numerous employee suggestions and innovations, many of which are best practices today.
"Whether it's an indigenously manufactured bathroom mat or a new chemical for the laundry, every idea is big and shared across the hotel chain," says Mr Martyris. "It has shattered the myth that only people at the top are creatively inclined." There is a huge reservoir of innovation waiting to be tapped among all levels of employees.
The success of the earlier programme led Indian Hotels to introduce 'Stars Plus', a spin-off for its service providers, and 'Joy at the Workplace', which is aimed at team building and bringing cheer to the office. From celebrating birthdays to organising cricket matches between the various Taj properties, the objective is to keep employees motivated. Instead of major initiatives, HR is engaging in small but innovative activities which might appear mundane but make the employee feel at home while at work.
The human factor
HR has also discovered the lost art of listening. Employee satisfaction surveys and primary mood reflectors within the organisation have become sacred. This helps in targeting employee irritants and executing policy changes. Also, HR is more transparent than ever before. Companies are providing direct personal interaction through around-the-clock telephone or intranet / internet access. For example, TCS has a HR help desk where employees can call in with any HR-related questions. Currently operational in about three to four locations, TCS plans to expand this unique facility to all its centres.
Jobs are out, careers are in. And HR is assuming the responsibility for plotting the career paths and growth of the employees. Most software engineers have a three-point agenda: globetrotting, annual promotions and acquiring millionaire status. "This is the base aspiration and we have to address elements of it," says Mr Padmanabhan.
TCS, India's first billion-dollar IT enterprise, offers a host of other tangible and intangible benefits to transform its employees into world-class professionals. It supports a rotation policy where employees' discipline is changed every two years, to expose them to different geographies, projects and technologies. Training and continuing education programmes are compulsory. Likewise, the Taj draws up an extensive training calendar at the beginning of the year for its employees.
Knowledge sharing has acquired great significance in the corporate world. Today most companies allow some level of knowledge sharing through various media. While most of these programmes are usually aimed at the managerial level, Tata Steel's Aspire Knowledge Manthan is a rare programme that enables knowledge sharing among supervisors and workmen. The purpose of this effort is to instil confidence in people and help them perform better.
Recent economic trends have compelled companies to tighten the belt and adhere to fiscal responsibility. Companies are returning to improve efficiencies, streamline processes, make intelligent choices, ensure profitability and strengthen the corporate fibre in order to be more competitive. Change is crucial. But the Jamshedpur-based Tata Motors' commercial vehicles division (CVD) has discovered that managing people to manage change is even more important.
Its department for productivity services has been the change agent to achieve the dual task of employee involvement and waste elimination. Says AK Dua, deputy general manager, productivity services, Tata Motors, "We have tried to be innovative in each of our initiatives."
For instance, the first thing that the team addressed was the need to create champions and opinion leaders from various divisions within CVD. Under the Total Productivity Model, the division started using a system under which an individual would be the owner of a machine. It would be this person's responsibility to improve its performance and to keep it clean.
"When you deal with people, you deal with emotions. We found that there was a lot of resistance and even hostility towards this model. Someone pulled out a peg from a machine to spite the attempt. So four senior managers took up the ownership of one machine each to set a precedent. They would clean up the machine themselves. Soon, we have others asking if they can do this too," says Mr Dua.
Even in the area of managing in a lean and mean way the division has tried attacking the issue from all angles. For instance, in the area of travel not only is each department keeping track of it's own expenses but a central coordinator has also been appointed. "He develops economy routes. He has worked out that the expense can be cut down substantially if people don't stay overnight in Mumbai on their way to Pune. These may sound like trivial things but they make a big difference," he says.
In order to keep track of each department's performance on productivity the division has created a single sheet method in which traffic light signals indicate red, green or yellow. "All 18 divisions are monitored regularly on this basis. If one is on yellow, it means that it is going slow and may need a push," says Mr Dua.
Catching 'em young
Tata Motors' FastTrack initiative was launched to nurture leaders from a young age. Aimed at recognising talented employees, it facilitates early advancement to challenging and visible assignments through a systematic procedure.
The selection involves a three-stage process: a written test, a 'power' interview and assessment. Short-listed candidates are required to go through an interview with the executive directors. Selected candidates gain a huge lead in terms of promotion and learning. They are relieved from their current jobs and put on various project-based training programmes under the guidance of senior managers in the company. If the candidates do not possess management education, they undergo a four-month course at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
"Any employee with two years of work experience in the company can apply for this programme," says VK Verma, head, corporate human resources, Tata Motors. "Till date it has generated more than 60 potential leaders in the company, and they are at least 10-15 years younger than the natural climbers."
After the successful completion of the programme, the candidates are rotated across departments to acquire general management skills. "In fact, the programme has performed so well that we are helping duplicate it in other group companies, with Tata Chemicals being one of them."
Yesterday's innovative practices are routine today. This is true about employee welfare schemes standard with most corporates. Companies are looking at the workplace and beyond. The emphasis is on enriching and improving the quality of life. Tata Steel, a pioneer in employee welfare, is making huge investments in environment and education in Jamshedpur. Pollution, occupational hazards, safety regulations and health are the other constants on its plate.
Tata Motors' innovative concept of a 'leave bank' has been much appreciated by its employees. In this scheme, every employee voluntarily donates one day's leave to a notional bank every year. In return, the employee is entitled to one year of paid or two years of half-pay leave.
"This helps in the case of any accidents or need for long leave," says Mr Verma. "On resuming, the employee pays back only 10 per cent of the leave withdrawn." To prevent the misuse of this facility, two members of the management and union head the leave-approving committee.
Long working hours, extensive travel and desk-bound jobs skewed the delicate work-life balance of many a TCSer. Propel came to the rescue. Under this innovative initiative, the company encouraged the formation of groups with similar interests to come together to conduct various activities like book reading. Maitree, an initiative for the spouses of employees, helped in bringing together the families of the employees. This has not only increased sharing and communication within the company, but has also remarkably improved the social skills of employees, says Mr Padmanabhan.
Innovation is all in a day's work.