Creating a Sustainable Workplace


In conversation with Venkatesh Palabatla

Chief Human Resource Officer, GMR Hyderabad International Airport

How has your professional journey been? Any interesting incidents that you would like to share?

I have come from a village about 60 km away from Hyderabad and in a village, walking to a government school three km away in barefoot is not a big deal.
I come from a business family and used to extend help to my father in his business since I was in school. I was the youngest child in the family so my task was to take care of the odd jobs of the house and business. I worked a little in the agriculture, took care of the cattle, etc. it was all a part of life and daily routine apart from studies.

After intermediate, I landed up in Bachelor of Social Science because I didn’t crack any of the good colleges in Hyderabad. I joined the course and got tremendous exposure which has enhanced my personality in a better way. After this I went for higher education in social sciences . That is when the tough times started because my education was sponsored by my father and brother. The problem was to get a job. There was no internet and I did not have a clue of what to do. I spoke to some of my seniors and one of them helped out. However, it turned out to be work without pay. Then, I applied to a few places and waited for a response but I was restless. I went to all the industrial areas looking for a job and was able to crack the interviews with ease.

My professional life started with a subsidiary of P&G and I never looked back after that. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the great organizations like Eicher Tractors, I also moved to Bangalore for a while and worked with great technology development organizations.

I came back to Hyderabad because of personal reasons and joined GMR Group.

What, according to you are some of the indicators of irresistible workplaces?

The business models today have changed drastically and whatever business one is in, the main focus are the shareholders and their dividends. That is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin are the millennials who make up the major part of any workforce. They’re always hungry for more and the question that plagues the HR head is whether we can cope with their expectations. If I can’t then I won’t have the right talent working in the organization. So can I come up with a mechanism where I can leverage the potential of the employees and gear up for organizational growth? But in an organization there is a mix of people. From the point of view of an HR, can I come up with a product that suits everyone and sustains the business model? If I don’t tap the individual potential and ambition then they would not want to continue with the organization.

It has to be a place where the needs of different sets of people are met and at the same time there is a sustainable business model in place.

Any experience from your work life where you thought the place to be an irresistible workplace?

I can quote a few examples, like, Eicher tractors and Widia India limited as well.

As a proactive organization, a lot of steps were taken to guard the interests of the organization. Anil Sachdev was the Head of HR for Eicher at that time and for the first time I heard the concept of open house communication with employees. Eicher is an organization that believe in total employee involvement. Proactively, they took so many steps to involve the resources to become a part of the solutions and processes. This creates a lot of excitement in the people of the organization.

When I quote the example of Widia India Limited, it is because they had monopolized the market and the customers were willing to wait for six months for their products. They understood the threat of liberalization and realized they may not be sustainable. That was the first time union leaders were involved in the process of organizational growth. It was a real exciting factor.

Why should an organization strive to become an irresistible workplace?

Every organization has a purpose. One of them is to generate profits and sustainability. Every organization also needs to have great quality in terms of value for money or customer service. For all this it is necessary to connect with the resources. If I’m not creating excitement and better career opportunities for my employees here, why will they want to continue working with me? Millennials today want fast growth, I need to keep that touchpoint in mind.

Creating excitement and a long term vision for the employees will ensure a great retention rate. Also make sure that people in the organization are bonding with each other and that they love what they’re doing.

What can an organization do to become an irresistible workplace?

One is continue to calibrate the ongoing activity and where you stand today.

The second one is introspection and developing a culture of introspection for the people in the organization and for the organization itself.

Third thing according to me would be to continue to fill the gaps. Find opportunity, create a gap and then fill that gap.

Don’t be comfortable, comfort is the biggest enemy, which is why continuous introspection is extremely important.

Another thing I read in a book called Good to Great is “saturation is not the end of a business, it is in fact the opportunity to grow.” Good is the enemy of the Great ness.

What is the role of leadership in making an organization an irresistible workplace?

As a leader, you have to be proactive. You must continue to dream in a big way and put in the actions and efforts for those dreams. You must also have the courage to share your dreams and vision with your team and take them along with you.

Another thing is, you must invite failures to be successful. Encourage your team to make mistakes, not repetitive mistakes but if someone makes a new mistake, look at it as an opportunity to learn. Also make sure you are thinking ahead.

The most important thing is to make sure that people are with you. As a leader, we should know when to offload the team because there is no point in moving forward with the people who don’t share the same vision as you. Otherwise it’ll start impacting the dynamics of the entire team.

What’s the role of values in creating an irresistible workplace?

I’ll share a couple of examples with you. When I was young, my mother always told me, “Make sure you give back to the society in one form or another!”
Accept individuals for who they are. And this is applicable for organizations as well. It is important to respect and accept people for who they are, whether it’s the chairman or anyone else.

Another value I would like to talk about is the value for money. Today, when we spend money in the market as an individual, I expect value. It’s the same thing for the organization as well, look at the pros and cons, look for the value of the money you’re spending and investing in  human capital.

Another important point I would like to make is, the alignment amongst the people or teamwork!

Simplicity is another value we cherish. My role model is Dr. Abdul Kalam. He was a believer of simplicity! And for him it was never about the money but he is known around the globe for his great contributions.

What are the challenges that come in the way of making an organization an irresistible workplace?

We are dealing with people not machines. Had it been machines, all we would have to do is to enter the formula and go through a troubleshooting process. In the case of people, everyone has a certain way of thinking and ideas. And we are dealing with various minds and I encourage this for the sake of diversity and different ideas. It can be a challenge but it’s a part of the journey. These challenges are in fact, great inputs for us to work on.

Alignment of the thought process of different people is another challenge. Everybody accepts things in the beginning but when it comes to execution it becomes a challenge.

Any process we have today needs to be dynamic, to be able to meet the needs of my stakeholders, in terms of employees and business point of view.

What would be your one message to professionals and organizations for growth?

On continuous basis, come out of the comfort zone as a professional.

Update and upgrade yourself otherwise you will go obsolete. Continue to learn , apply and grow.

Another one is love your profession whatever it is you choose to do, make sure you enjoy it.

One thing that is missing in most organizations today is that technology is taking over a lot of human actions today and they are becoming an addiction for us and killing a lot of processes and so we are losing that important emotional connect with the people. We don’t interact with people on a personal level.

Always think big. It’s also important to encourage people to fail because those would be learning lessons for everyone.



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