What it takes to build future leaders: Dola Mukherjee, Director, Human Resources at Exide Life Insurance shares her insights on HR priorities, practices and strategies
In a chat with the Director of Human Resources at Exide Life Insurance, we discuss the approach adopted by the organization for empowering its employees to become future leaders, building a gender neutral environment and managing concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.
In an exclusive interaction with YourStory, Dola Mukherjee, Director, Human Resources, Exide Life Insurance, talks about the organization’s approach to create future leaders, a safe workplace, and provide effective training and learning strategies to help the company be one of the most reliable names in the insurance industry.
YourStory (YS): What has Exide Life Insurance’s approach been to consistently produce industry leaders?
Dola Mukherjee (DM): At Exide Life Insurance, we are fortunate and proud that a majority of the leadership in the company is homegrown. In fact, our top 50 managers have an average tenure of close to 10 years.
We believe the key to creating a work culture that is conducive to growth is having a clear sense of purpose, transparency and earnest engagement. At Exide Life Insurance, our brand essence is “Lamba Saath, Bharose Ki Baat”. This literally translates to “long term relationships build trust”.
This becomes the foundation for the three-tiered approach we take in developing the leadership pipeline:
- Recruiting young talent with leadership traits.
- Investing in the development of the middle level to create internal mobility.
- Succession planning for the senior leaders.
We have a plethora of training programs to support the above, across all levels that are customized to enhance specific skill sets. We have a dedicated team to train our sales fraternity across each of our distribution channels.
We take pride in having a customized leadership development program for senior employees (General Managers and above), which is a five-day residential executive program delivered in partnership with prestigious B-schools (such as the Indian Institutes of Management) to help our potential leaders realize and harness their talent.
Furthermore, we have a specialized program called the Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP) for senior employees which is a three-day residential program facilitated and delivered by reputed training companies.
As for the Sales organization specifically, we have a unique program called “Manager-as-a-coach” (MaaC). In this program, the Branch Managers lead their team as the trainers for constant knowledge upgrade and co-learning. This increases the effectiveness in onboarding employees, leads to early productivity and, in return, increases job satisfaction and the retention of valuable team members.
Thus, a simple & transparent process of acknowledging high potential talent and getting managers engaged & involved in making the learning effective for their team members are the two most important factors that foster an inclusive learning environment.
YS: From your company’s perspective, what constitutes your strength? Does the firm have a model that it follows to be unique?
DM: We always believe that the strength of our organization lies in our employees and we have always provided them with the opportunities to broaden their knowledge, skills and abilities, irrespective of location and role, so that they remain motivated and perform to their full potential.
Ours is also an organization for self-starters, where we provide people with an open platform and a broad space to make an impact in their sphere of work. And these initiatives and achievements by employees are consistently acknowledged and rewarded.
We also have a job rotation policy, which allows flexibility and mobility within profiles and departments to expand the knowledge horizon and experience. With this policy, it becomes imperative that employees move across multiple roles and functions to learn and contribute across various facets of business. This encourages the development of their talents and breaks the monotony of being in the same role for long. Continuous investment in talent through such practices have led to the higher retention of talent, and fostering growth of leaders from within.
We believe in due and timely recognition of our employees to keep them motivated. Be it the quarterly reward and recognition programs or long service awards or value awards, there are various engagement platforms that the company has been investing in, to engage and motivate the staff.
That’s what we take pride in - in offering a well embedded employer brand promise of providing the best opportunity for those who are focused on building a long term career.
YS: And how would you define the culture at Exide Life Insurance?
DM: Culture is sometimes a very difficult thing to define. We try to be very concrete about the soft expectations that we have from people. It is often expressed at a strategic level by organization's leaders through a set of policies, processes, communication what we stand for.
For instance, we’ve got an open-door culture and it’s this accessibility to the leadership that ensures you can voice your opinions and ideas. A good idea is openly acknowledged and pursued for implementation in quick time.
We believe in driving a high-performance and meritorious culture. At Exide Life Insurance we are continuously evolving and raising the bar of performance standards and always recognize top performers.
Another instance is where leadership behavior defines the contours of the company’s culture. This is clearly made to align with management principles, whether it is dealing with customers, peers, subordinates or any other stakeholder.
Additionally, we have also built an environment over the years where employees can report legitimate concerns about malpractice and misconduct without fear of penalty or punishment. So it’s a combination of the culture of discipline and the ethics of leadership that is of paramount importance to us.
YS: Let’s move to a little specific area in your organization. What are your firm’s women-centric policies?
DM: We provide equal opportunities to all employees solely based on merit, irrespective of gender. We promote a culture of professionalism and a workplace free from harassment –sexual or otherwise.
That being said, we have a very strong presence of women in different roles in the organization. To give you some perspective, for an organization that is widely spread across 200+ branches where the majority of the workforce is in sales, we have 20 percent women, with some regions and teams having more than 30 percent represented by women. In the Head Office, while women represent more than 30 percent of the overall workforce, some functions have made it to a close 40-50 percent. Of the 800 women, 78 women are with designations of Manager & above, and close to 150 have completed over five years with the organization.
We take utmost care of women employees when it comes to their security and wellbeing. We have a robust maternity leave policy that provides employees with 26 weeks of paid leave. We also have crèche & child care facilities and with an understanding between the employee and manager, the employee can visit the crèche & child care facility during working hours too.
We also have paternity leave that promotes gender equality at work.
We have set recruitment goals, planned development programs at different points in time, and with help of great mentors, we have been able to balance and maintain a modest gender diversity ratio.
YS: As for inducting new joinees, could you take us through how you ensure a smooth transition into your company’s culture?
DM: We have a program called “Springboard”, which is a two-day program that helps the employee understand the organization’s values and mission while offering a glimpse into our culture. This session encourages all new joinees to interact with their fellow peers across departments, help them break the ice and ease into the new work-environment.
For sales leadership, we have a program called “BMIP” (Branch Manager Induction Program) that delves deeper into strategy, products, concepts and processes.
We also have a “Buddy” program where the team head appoints a ‘buddy’ for the new employee, for a smooth transition both on the softer aspects as well as the technical know-how. Before the joining date, the buddy, apart from the HR team, reaches out to the new employee and formally welcomes them.
We have an elaborate Learning Management System (LMS) that ensures that we manage the learning modules. We have a set of mandatory e-modules, which every new employee has to complete during the first month of employment. These e-modules cover various topics ranging from company values to policies and governance.
This industry tests the tenacity of new employees early on, as the competition, both internal and external is relentless. As a company, we therefore believe in driving high performing teams and celebrating individual excellence, and this is inculcated from the beginning of the journey.
YS: Talking about the big news surrounding us now, COVID-19, how did Exide Life Insurance handle the panic among employees?
DM: The COVID-19 pandemic was perhaps the most unexpected hurdle any organization had to go through. As for us, we quickly re-prioritized to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees was being taken care of. We developed a daily rhythm to ensure business continuity from Week 1 of the lockdown. The other big thing to address was to get the digital tools and technologies to ensure we minimise the delivery hurdles from employees across Sales, Operations and Support.
The biggest challenge during this time was delivering on a promise of great employee experience. Despite the given challenges, we proactively reached out to each and every employee asking for their and their family’s health. With a strong communications strategy in place, we made it a point to ensure communication not just from the managers to the team, but also the executive leadership team to a large group of employees and managers.
The daily activity rhythm schedule seamlessly got employees to settle down quickly with the new routine, and that became the ‘new normal’ for us at Exide Life Insurance.
The biggest challenge during this time was providing and sustaining a robust employee engagement mechanism. As most other organizations were thrown at the deep end with some very serious and difficult questions from employees, the plan was to be transparent, take necessary but quick action, and engage with the managers to collectively deal with the situation in hand.
Looking back now over the last four months, I think we adjusted rather quickly and put our priorities in place as shared above. In the process, we demonstrated to all our stakeholders and to ourselves that we are resilient.
YS: Thanks for a complete insight into your firm. But before we wrap up this conversation, tell us what ‘Exide Life’ stands for? What is its philosophy?
DM: Exide Life Insurance as a brand, believes in fostering long term relationships and trust. Our identity reinforces the brand's philosophy of preparing people for a long and happy life; customers and employees alike.
Like any other organization, we strive to create an environment to be the best place to work for. We are very strongly driven by our core values and every employee strives to reflect on them every day.
Our Values are:
Dependable – We constantly deliver on our commitments with utmost integrity and take ownership in building trust with customers, employees and partners alike.
Dynamic – Constantly improving, we thrive in setting very high standards of performance and hold the self & the team accountable for the same.
Responsive – Keeping the customer as a priority, we always ensure that we are proactive, adaptable and quick to respond with a caring attitude.
And lastly, we always have a Foresight – We focus on having a very strong and a prudent view of the future while learning from our journey in the past & the present.
So it’s crucial we on-board people who demonstrate these values with the desired behaviors with a willingness to learn and apply themselves.