Creating a winning employer brand - Sanjeev Himachali [Interview]

About Sanjeev Himachali

Sanjeev is the principal consultant and talent strategist at Ecliptic HR solutions private limited. Sanjeev is adept at expediting change management through leadership, differentiated talent models, attracting and developing the best talent, and building a culture of engagement, agility, and innovation. We are extremely happy and honored to have someone of his stature on our interview series today.

Creating a winning employer brand - Sanjeev Himachali [Interview]

Vanessa Rose

We have the pleasure of welcoming Sanjeev Himachali today to our interview series. I am Vanessa Rose from the peopleHum team. Let’s begin with just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and the video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.

Vanessa

Welcome, Sanjeev. We’re thrilled to have you.

Sanjeev

Thank you. 

Vanessa

So the first question I have for you Sanjeev is, could you tell us a little bit about your work as a talent strategist? 

Sanjeev

Yes, certainly. I mean, what basically happens is that as a talent strategist, it is the CEO of a company or an HR head of a company. They give us a goal like where they want to reach. And as a talent strategist, I help them with the ‘How’ part. How they can reach there. So whether it is about talent, acquisition, the skills they need, the competency or the general framework. And whether they will have to manage it locally or they have to go this way and also what are the challenges, I mean once you get good people it is also the role of a talent strategist to help a company create that kind of culture where they can give their best. 

And once, for example, how to kind of set up a right performance management system. How to set up their own compensation and benefits. What are the market and trend? And also how to develop them. So all these are a part of the role of a talent strategist. We basically work with small and medium-sized companies. We also work with startups. Yeah, so that’s what I do as a talent strategist. 

Vanessa

Yeah, that’s very interesting. 

Since you just spoke about culture, how do you develop a culture that ensures employee engagement? 

Sanjeev

Well, I mean, the culture is a very basic foundation for any company. Now, it is the culture that drives our commitment. It is the culture that decides how things work here. How people get rewarded? What gets rewarded? So those kinds of things are something that culture basically decides.

So, culture, though it is the brainchild of the CEO or of the founder of the company, but as a talent strategist, it is also our role to help them create the best culture. The culture that attracts good people, a culture that helps retain the best of the employees. But what we suggest is that they should not micromanage.

“It is also our role to help them create the best culture. The culture that attracts good people, a culture that helps retain the best of the employees. But what we suggest is that they should not micromanage.”

That is the first part. Because when you hire an individual, it becomes very important that you don’t doubt their capabilities. You have to trust them with their work and you should know that if you have given them any work,  it will be done, okay? You need to set expectations. So as a part of culture development, it’s important to let people know what is expected out of them, what kind of behaviors.

So those kinds of things. Then it is important to focus on employee development. That’s critical. That’s part of our culture. Thirdly, when you are creating a culture, it is important that the voice of the employee is heard,

“When you are creating a culture, it is important that the voice of the employee is heard”

right? So if they are involved in any kind of project, it’s important to seek their feedback. Take their inputs, okay? And most importantly, as we know that ultimately the end goal of every employee is to get a good salary, good perks, good benefits and all that. So, it is important that one should have very clear expectations in terms of the rewards. 

I mean, it’s like this, okay? Now, I mean if you will achieve, say, around 50 out of 100, I will give you this, if you achieve 70 out of 100, I will give you this. So, those kinds of relations between performance and reward should be very clear and should be communicated to them. We call it a performance management culture, okay?

So, wherein the emphasis is on performance, okay? Decide the goal for them, help them achieve. Performance management should not be a once a year kind of event, right? It should be something that should be, you should speak to the employees on a regular basis. Ask them if they are facing any kind of challenge. I suggest that it has to be done quarterly. I mean, if not monthly, at least quarterly. 

So, by the end of the year, both employers and employees know how they have done, and it will not be a surprise for anybody. So that’s another thing that I tell. And it’s important to help your employer, it’s important to create that kind of environment within a team. So, developed managers to help manage their team efficiently. That’s a big gap that we are basically talking about because many times, managers face challenges, okay?

Because they are not groomed on how to manage. It’s like handling your team, handling your stakeholders, handling your clients, internal, external, everything, so it’s important that before you elevate somebody to the role of a manager, it’s important to help them get the competences that are required to be successful in that role. And all these things put together create a culture where employees feel engaged, where they feel committed and they go beyond the scope of their work to deliver.

“It’s important that before you elevate somebody to the role of a manager, it’s important to help them get the competences that are required to be successful in that role. And all these things put together to create a culture where employees feel engaged, where they feel committed and they go beyond the scope of their work to deliver”.

So, yeah. 

Vanessa

That’s very interesting So you’re saying, culture is the core of an organization and people are a very important part of it. 

Sanjeev

Yes and I mean, one should, it’s important. I am not saying that one should input in all the things that the company does but if an employee is involved in a certain assignment, his input is required for that. It is not that you give them anything without taking their inputs. 

Vanessa

So they should be aligned with your vision and what you’re trying to do. 

Sanjeev

True. 

Vanessa

Okay. 

So Sanjeev, with a lot of new-age leaders and startups, how would you help entrepreneurs of today,  get ahead in the race? 

Sanjeev

Well, what we tend to do is that most of the startup founders tend to have a very amazing journey in the beginning, okay? I have worked with successful as well as not so successful startups and there is one key differentiator and that is the focus, okay? so, when you start a company, you stay focused for six months, one year, 2 years and then suddenly that focus shifts to other things, okay? So, the difference between successful and not so successful startups, according to me, the first factor is the focus.

“The difference between successful and not so successful startups, according to me, the first factor is the focus”.

So we help founders with leadership coaching and mentoring like we know that as they grow, there will be multiple deviations. They will encounter things that will divert them from their core things, so it’s important that they have a coach or a mentor to keep them focused.

Secondly, I think the word ‘agile’ is misunderstood in many of the startups and the small to medium scale companies, okay? Now, being agile means you should be flexible with your planning. It does not mean that you should not have a plan. It means you should have a plan, you should have a goal and you should know where you want to reach but you should be flexible with your plan.

Now, many companies that I see, they don’t have any plan and when you ask them, you don’t have any system, you don’t have any process, you don’t have any plan, they say that we are a startup. So, we cannot have that. We need to be flexible. So, that is one thing that I want to be very clear with is that, being agile doesn’t mean that you cannot have a plan, okay? 

Secondly, we help these people define their vision. Okay, now, when they start, whether we call it, you are on your beginner’s luck or whatever, at the start they are very enthusiastic to bring their product or service to the market and all that, but often they don’t have a vision. They don’t see themselves beyond two years, three years or stuff like that.

So you might agree with me that most of the startups that we have come across, okay? They have one vision, that is to raise funds and sustain for three, four, five years, then sell off the company to a bigger player and then just exit. That’s not the way we create successful companies, okay?

Vanessa

Right.

Sanjeev

So one should have a vision, first thing. Second thing is that, okay, now, as a founder, as on the founding team of one, two, three people, there is limited work that you can do, okay? You might be competent in a few things but not all the things. So, it is very critical to create that winning team. It is important to bring on people who have the same fire, who have the same kind of vision. Same kind of energy to walk with you, okay? So that’s critical, okay?

Now, I was working with one of the companies and one of the core assignments I had was to develop that winning team. That team of 15 to 20 people on which we could raise a company of  200-300 employees. The winning team is very critical and we help them there. Secondly, culture, okay? Now, people say that right now we don’t want to have any culture or we want to be very flexible with our approach and all that.

Culture is not only important to attract people and retain people, but culture also talks about discipline. Culture also talks about how focused you are, okay? So it’s important to have a culture. People outside the, whether inside or outside the company will relate with your culture,

“It’s important to have a culture. People outside the, whether inside or outside the company will relate with your culture”

When people talk about culture, you see, the culture of this company is so great and the culture of this company is so shitty and all that. They play in politics. And those kinds of things people talk. So it’s important to have that kind of culture and it’s important to create employer branding. That is another thing. 

Next thing is about putting processes in place. So, as I said, being agile doesn’t mean you cannot have a plan or you cannot have a process, being agile means that you can be flexible whenever required, okay? So, we help these startups and these small companies, in creating that processes. Also, it’s important to manage your team effectively, so what that means that is, I have seen companies as small as 15 people or 20 people, and they have their favorites in their teams. When you are so small, your focus should be on delivery, not on playing favorites and I want to support him or I am against him or stuff like that. You don’t have that kind of choice. 

So we help them up coach in that segment and lastly and most importantly, as I said in the beginning, leadership coaching is very critical for startup founders to stay focused, to get right people and to manage them effectively, we do that. We give coaching to these founders and CEOs and all.

Vanessa

So you’re saying, focus, flexibility, processes, and culture. This is the main thing for creating a winning game. 

Sanjeev

Yes.

Vanessa

Yeah, that was really helpful Sanjeev. 

So, what do you think is the future of recruitment?

Sanjeev

Well, as you know that artificial intelligence and blockchain that is already affecting the way hiring is done, soon what will happen is that, imagine this. There is a vacancy. I mean, there is somebody who left the job in your team and a system can automatically create job requisition, the system can also generate the right pull of talent available in-house, in that location, the system can also create the compensation, the benchmark and if the system does not find the right people within the company, the system can post that job requirement on job portals automatically without involvement of humans, okay? 

Now, that’s what we, that’s the place that we are heading for, okay? We will not be needing people to skin CVs. There will be chatbots, okay? Now, based on the job description and the profile of an individual, chatbots will create interview questionnaires. They will do the first level of screening and then send the good quality CVs to the recruiter, okay?

So it will save a lot of time, okay? Another this which is already there and I see that growing more in the future, that is interview scheduling, okay? It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort for an individual to schedule interviews. You have to check with the hiring manager, you have to check with the candidate, sometimes they are not available, they don’t respond, stuff like that. So, imagine there is a system that can manage all those things without involvement, okay? That’s what our future will hold for us, okay?

Artificial intelligence will be able to find the talent gap within the team. And based on of course the data. It’s all about the big data that we are talking about. So yes, humans will be required to create that data. And then from there onwards, the machine will take care of it and also we are talking about integrated recruitment solutions, where you have, you know, I mean rather it is web-based or it is app-based. You have CVs, you can screen it, you can schedule interviews, you can make offers, you can do onboarding all within a system. 

So that’s where I think we are going in terms of the future of recruitment and currently, I mean on one hand we are able to find out the time that takes to recruit a good person. And soon we will be able to find out the metrics to do basically find out the quality of the talent or the impact of the talent on business. 

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Those kinds of things will happen in the future. I mean, when I say the future here, some of these things are already happening though not on a larger scale. But there are companies in Europe and there are companies in some other Asian countries like Japan and Korea where artificial intelligence is helping recruitment teams in a big way. Also, the future of recruitment is that you will not find many MBAs. You will not find many  MBA HR in the role of recruitment. You will find more salespeople. People who have done MBA in Sales, people who have expertise in customer service. Those are the kind of people who would be working in recruitment.

Vanessa

Yeah. It has made the process very efficient now and how do you think organizations can deliver a meaningful employer brand? 

Sanjeev

Employer brand is certainly critical, especially in the last 10 years or so after we got twitter and facebook those kinds of open tools where it’s important to establish and maintain your presence online. That has become the need of the hour. Whether we’re talking about future employees, whether we’re talking about clients, everybody is observing you. Therefore, it’s important for employers to create a strong brand. It not only helps you in getting right people, but it also helps in engaging and retaining the right people.

“It’s important for employers to create a strong brand. It not only helps you in getting right people, but it also helps in engaging and retaining the right people.”

So whether we like it or not, whether we have done any conscious work or not. The employer brand is already created. Good, bad, ugly. That is a different thing. So the first thing is to audit your brand. First, you need to find out what is the impression that people in your company are having about your company? Or what is the impression of external worlds like Talent World or your prospective employees, they have about your brand? How are your clients seeing you? 

So it’s important to first have that audit done. Then it’s important to create your strategy. You know, align your strategy around your company goal. It means it’s important for you to know how you want to be perceived by the external world. So that goal needs to be created by employers, management team, a CEO. Once you align your strategy, once you align your business strategy with your employer brand then it is important to create what we call as your USP, we also call it an employee value proposition. 

So, that clarifies the expectations of both candidate and company. So it is important to create a meaningful EVP. Once it is done, once the audit is done, once you set your goal, then it is important to create a story. You know, we’re here living in a world of stories. We see around and we are either talking about business people, we are talking about politicians, we are talking about sportspeople. Everybody has a story. And people connect with that story. So you also have to create a story as an employer. It’s the story that sells. 

Then comes an effective social media strategy. Once you have a story, once you know your goal, then it is important to share those things. Share your values, share your culture. Share your story through blog posts through videos through slide shares with the world. And it should be impactful. It’s not like, you know, you have shared it once and then you stop it. No, you have to do it repeatedly. And so much so that you know, people could relate with you, people would relate with your story. 

For example, it took me, like  1.5 – 2 years to tell people about relationships, to tell people about a commitment, to tell people about how we have connected with each other emotionally and all those ways and because I have been doing it consistently, now after 1.5 years, people are able to relate to it. So what I mean to say is brand destroying can be a 1-day thing. But the brand building is something that you need to do consistently every day, every week, every month.

“What I mean to say is brand destroying can be a 1-day thing. But the brand building is something that you need to do consistently every day, every week, every month.”

You cannot stop that. 

So know your culture. Know your goal, And start sharing those things with the world and how different you are from the others. I tell people many times, I get requests from employers to help them prepare employee manuals and they look for very low-quality things because they say that you don’t have to do anything. You have to just copy from Google and give it to us. But I tell them, I mean, it’s not just a document. Your employment manual is your culture. It’s something that will set the base foundation for who you are. 

So while you can copy some of the processes, you cannot copy culture because the culture is something that is inbuilt that is decided not by your competition but by the values of the founder and CEO. 

You might have seen that, whenever there is a change in management, there is also a changing culture. So that’s how critical it is. We have social media and we need to use it efficiently to brand us. And as I said, it will take one activity to destroy who you are, but it will take years of hard work to create who you are. 

Vanessa

Yeah, that makes so much sense. So it’s like, conducting a SWOT analysis for your organization should be an ongoing process.

Also, what do you think managers can do for their employee’s mental health during these stressful times? 

Sanjeev

I think this kind of situation has never happened in the past and while everybody, every company was busy with educating and their managers and educating their leaders about big data, artificial intelligence, social media and stuff like that. Somewhere we missed, somewhere many companies have missed to create that competency of crisis management. 

If you see most of us are facing that challenge of How to manage it? Because we have never ever done that. It’s like suddenly people are asked to work from home and there is so much of the negative news that’s going around. Especially recent cases where companies have fired their employees on  Zoom call or on a WhatsApp call.

So that is creating a lot of anxiety, it’s creating a lot of fear among people. People are already facing a lot of challenges in terms of finances. And when these things happen they feel very terrible. So there are a few things that can be done. One is to keep in touch with your employees, with your team members on a regular basis. Check on them. See if they need any help or not. It’s important to be an effective listener now.

“People are already facing a lot of challenges in terms of finances. And when these things happen they feel very terrible. So there are a few things that can be done. One is to keep in touch with your employees, with your team members on a regular basis. Check on them. See if they need any help or not. It’s important to be an effective listener now.”

So many times your team members will be sharing a sad story or painful story or maybe  sharing his or her anxiety. So it’s important for the manager to at least listen. That’s very important. Working from home doesn’t mean that one can work any time or all the time, It’s important to have a schedule. 

So kindly help your employees, create a schedule for them, share joys, share happiness. It can be both ways, even the manager can share his experiences. And when the manager shares his experiences, his joy or his anxiety. He will come across as a more empathetic manager who understands us. Instead of just listening. Because sometimes when you pretend to listen, it becomes quite obvious to the other person that my manager is not interested enough to know what I am saying. 

So, we need to collaborate with our team to find the right arrangement as to what is working for them? Because when they are at home, they don’t have the right space to work. They have so much disturbance with kids around and all that. So it’s important to find out the right working arrangement. 

And secondly, I think this is the time when HRs and managers can show their creative side. And how they are caring for their employees. So sharing with them the right kind of information and making phone calls was fine, when working in your office was okay. But now it’s important to have a video call. Because a video call will give you that personal touch and people will feel that attachment. 

So I think these are some tips that will help them get our support. I mean, some companies have already created a support system for their employees. In terms of hospitals, in terms of purchase and delivery of the grocery, in terms of sending them back home if required. So it’s time not to be thoroughly professional, but to create that personal bond with your team that will help them control their anxiety and not get into depression.

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Vanessa

Those are some really nice tips. So this is like an opportunity for an organization to create an employer brand. So coming to the last question of our interview Sanjeev. 

Do you have any sound bites would like to leave our audience with? 

Sanjeev

Well, I think, one thing that I tell everyone is that you don’t need to be part of the rat race. Whether you are an individual or whether you are a company, you have to create your own USP and your USP should help people find solutions to their problems. Everybody has a problem one way or the other and are always looking for solutions.

To build on your unique selling point and there are three things that I want to stress upon, one is that you cannot grow a company or individual. So it is important to create collaboration, create value-based collaboration with the right people. Customer focus and up-skilling. That is reinventing yourself. These are the 3 things that will keep you focused on your journey and that will also take you closer to your goal.

“So it is important to create collaboration, create value-based collaboration with the right people. Customer focus and up-skilling. That is reinventing yourself. These are the 3 things that will keep you focused on your journey and that will also take you closer to your goal.”

 If you miss any of this if you fail to collaborate, if you fail to up-skill or reinvent yourself and if you fail to collect the right data. In layman’s language, we call it the patterns. So if you are not able to see the pattern and if you are not willing, to collaborate. And if you are not up-skill, then sooner or later you will lose that focus. So it’s important to focus on this.

Vanessa

Thank you for that Sanjeev. That was really wonderful advice and thank you so much for joining us and sharing your views with us. I had a great time. And I’m sure our audience is going to love it. 

Sanjeev

Sure.Thank you for your time

Vanessa

Thank you.