When silence is not golden

The only way we know, whether it is the best of times or otherwise, is to communicate well, says Harish K. Gandhi (Group Head HR – InterGlobe Enterprises) in conversation with Schweta Chaturvedi

Group–head HR of InterGlobe Enterprises, the company recently adjudged as a Great Place to Work® , Mr. Harish K. Gandhi has nearly three decades of experience in the HR domain. He joined InterGlobe in 2006 and has been vastly successful in linking people strategies to organisational success. His transformational leadership was recognised by the Asia Pacific HR Congress in the Global HR Excellence Awards 2007-08, where he bagged the HR Leadership Award. Mr. Gandhi’s previous work stints were with C-DOT and Bharti-Airtel. He holds a degree in management from University of Kurukshetra and a degree in law from Delhi University.

Q. Please share with us one of the most challenging HR decisions you have taken. What made it so challenging?
A. In my career spanning three decades, there have been many situations that tested me as a professional and brought out the best in me. Almost 15 years ago at Airtel, when our team set up the first private landline business in the country, there was no prior domain knowledge or leadership talent readily available to look after the operations and service delivery. We ended up doing just that. However, the most challenging time of my professional life has been institutionalising a performance-based culture at InterGlobe Enterprises. The airline and travel industry in India – unlike other sectors such as banking, telecom or FMCG – has traditionally trailed behind in adopting the people-centric and performance-based management system. This required persistent change management efforts to embed the practice of having KRAs based on balanced score card, individualised performance and development feedback and short and long-term variable incentives linked to business outcome.

Q. Tell us about your biggest learning in professional life?
A. I am an ardent supporter of Marshall Goldsmith and I too have come to believe that it is difficult to change people. One can only help them get better at what they decide to change.

Q. In an interaction with The Human Factor, IndiGo President Aditya Ghosh once mentioned, “We love giving autonomy – letting our people take the ball and run with it without being told what pace to run at.” How does HR ensure this?
A. At InterGlobe, we believe in living the culture of freedom and empowerment, whether it is providing complete execution space to the CEOs or empowering the frontline employees to be effective and proactive. For example, the passengers will find check-in agents at IndiGo to be far more flexible in taking decisions regarding reporting time, check-in baggage, seat allotment etc. This makes a world of difference to our customers. Ultimately, what matters is making their travel experience hassle-free right from the beginning.


61Q. How have you established InterGlobe as a strong employer brand? What differentiates it from other players in the segment?
A. It has been a fruitful journey to build the InterGlobe employer brand that is in sync with our core corporate philosophy. We are growing as an enterprise. We hire in large numbers for both IndiGo and our technology business and take great pride in our world-class hiring process that is consistent across all our businesses. We have partnered with the best B-schools and are quite contemporary in our talent acquisition. The worldwide recognition for IndiGo and the InterGlobe leadership has contributed immensely in building a credible employer brand.

Q. With the airlines business going through a rough patch in India, how do you ensure the external environment does not affect the internal environment?
A. We work in a very volatile business environment. The only way we know, whether it is the best of times or otherwise, is to communicate well. The airline industry is dynamic and is currently undergoing turbulent times. This puts a lot of positive pressure on the leadership to earmark quality time every month to reach out and communicate to the people in the remote corners of India or overseas. This helps in preventing the organisational energy from getting distracted.

Q. How is social media changing the way HR interacts with employees in the organisation?
A. We have recently started leveraging social media for communication with employees. More than 70 per cent of our employee base is under 30 and social networks provide a lot of potential to reach out to this tech-savvy employee base and keep it engaged.

Q. Going forward, how do you see the compensation and benefits scenario in India?
A. With the increasing competition in global and local markets, the compensation practices have been undergoing a lot of change. The arbitrage pressures have made us re-look at the compensation models for frontline. At IGE, we have compensation frameworks that are customised on the basis of particular skills and roles. The other big shift is towards the increasing variable pay in the salaries. This is helping us keep our compensation levels in line with the market and business outcome.

Q. How can a company ensure quality work-life for employees?
A. Due to the fast paced round-the-clock operations at InterGlobe, work-life balance is increasingly becoming a focus area for us. One of the major initiatives at the ground level has been to streamline our roster scheduling. With a reliability of more than 90 per cent, the roster enables the crew and pilots to plan their schedule in advance. This takes stress away from them. We also have health and wellness programmes that are picking up momentum.