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Work Remote! Stay productive! Stay Safe!

From holding people accountable to a progressive continual review system, Berkadia reveals the secret sauce of success during this lockdown.

In a conversation with Monday Ready, Debashish Ghosh, VP and HR Head (India), Berkadia, talks about the impact the current situation of COVID-19 is going to have on employee engagement and performance management, he also gives a few tips to the managers on how to deal with the change.

By Tanvi Bhargava

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the world online. As remote working becomes the safest option for employees, companies have been taking various steps to ensure the transition happens smoothly. Commercial Real Estate Company- Berkadia, a joint venture between Berkshire Hathway and Jefferies Financial Group with over 2000 employees has ensured that their productivity doesn’t take a hit during these testing times.

With the aim to drive high enthusiasm and productivity, Debashish Ghosh – VP and HR Head (India) , in a conversation with Monday Ready, shares his thoughts about the measures that companies should pro-actively take to tackle the ongoing situation.


Monday Ready (MR): Work From Home has become the new normal in this global health crisis. In your opinion, how should organizations drive employee productivity during remote working?

Debashish Ghosh (DG): First and foremost, organizations must build a culture of accountability and trust. Holding people accountable for their productivity works most of the time. But building accountable people work all the time. The remedy lies in building an organizational culture of accountability and ownership. Trust your employees, and tell them that you do

Holding people accountable for their productivity works most of the time. But building accountable people works all the time

Thereafter, build a result-oriented performance management system and measure everyone’s productivity by their results. Measuring productivity through inputs like hours spent on the system should be completely avoided. Measure the right thing. Swipe in and swipe out is not the right thing to monitor anymore. We must measure real output – transactions completed, calls made, disputed resolved, etc. We must set clear deadlines and goals, and measure performance against those.

Monday Ready (MR): As an HR professional, how do you think the recent crisis will impact the current HR policies and practices?

Debashish Ghosh (DG): Without any doubt, this pandemic will make HR and organizations revisit all the current policies, systems, and processes. Let me pick three of those factors which come to my mind immediately.

First is the workplace. The current global pandemic will transform how we work, and where we work. Workplace flexibility will be the new normal. We will have to revisit our practices of 9 – 5 shifts or 40 hour work weeks. In the future, employees and employers would agree on flexible work hours and workweeks. The focus would shift towards the productivity of employees, rather than their swipe in and swipe out records. Quite frankly, that should have been the case anyway. However, organizations were still reluctant to go that route. That will change now.

Second is the acceleration of the gig economy. There will be a significant addition of gig, freelance, and contract workers in the workforce post-COVID 19. Till the end of 2019, it was precited that the gig economy would grow by 17% CAGR worldwide. I think that number could double in the next 3-5 years. It will lead to an interesting mix of the workforce, with permanent employees, freelancers, and contractors working in the same team seeking a common goal. For HR and organizations, there will be interesting challenges to manage this diverse workforce. There will be challenges around how to build a common culture, how to engage, and how we pay and provide benefits to employees. Indian employment laws would have to be re-written to ensure that the gig workers are covered under some security schemes which are currently restricted to the traditional workforce, such as EPF, pension, ESI, and paid leaves.

Third is the use of technology in HR systems. There will be a significant acceleration in the adoption of technology in all areas of HR. Since the lockdown, the HR teams came up with a lot of creativity and resourcefulness in the way they hired, onboarded, trained, and engaged employees. It was business as usual for all essential HR service delivery areas. However, these are make-shift solutions and will not work in the long run. All HR systems must be brought under sustainable, long-term, and technological processes. However, one word of caution to HR people. Introducing new technology is still easy compared to the change management challenges around that. Let me give an example. Research and empirical evidence have proved that for recruitment and selection, machines do a much better job than humans. However, you tell this to a line manager, I bet he would be very happy about that.

one word of caution to HR people. Introducing a new technology is still easy compared to the change management challenges around that.

Monday Ready (MR): What are your views on the need for a Continual/Periodic Employee Review system as compared to the generally followed Annual or Bi-Annual Employee Review process?

Debashish Ghosh (DG): In my opinion, the debate between the annual/bi-annual review process vs. continual employee feedback process has been settled. The latter won hands down.

Annual reviews put their heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments. By design, they hold people accountable for past behavior, whereas the focus should be on improving current performance and grooming talent for the future, both of which are critical for organizations’ long-term survival. In contrast, consistent and timely discussions about performance change the focus to building the workforce the organization needs to be competitive. The focus of the conversations moves from a regressive “this-is-what-you-didn’t-do-last-year” to a progressive “this-is-what-you-can-do-better-next-year”.

The focus of the conversations moves from a regressive “this-is-what-you-didn’t-do-last-year” to a progressive “this-is-what-you-can-do-better-next-year”.

Having said that, I have observed that a lot of organizations have been unable to make the change to the continual feedback review process very effectively. The success of this system is heavily dependent on the effectiveness of the supervisors. They need to be coached and mentored on the skills of having difficult conversations, conflict management, persuasion, and negotiation. If organizations don’t do that first and jump to a continuous feedback process, it’s not going to work. This has been a challenge in some organizations.

Monday Ready (MR): Can any opportunities in disguise be seen at this current time of Global Slowdown?

Debashish Ghosh (DG): Absolutely! I am very optimistic about the post-COVID world, especially the post-COVID India.  We need to realize that, unlike the crises in the recent past such as the 2007-08 global depression, this crisis has not happened due to economic reasons. I expect consumer-spending to bounce back firmly once normalcy resumes.

I can see opportunities in many sectors. One of the biggest opportunities lie in the healthcare sector. COVID 19 has completely exposed the deficiency in the healthcare system even in the developed countries. India has only 0.55 beds per 1000 population. I see a lot of domestic and FDIs flowing in this sector. Even before the crisis, India had become one of the leading destinations for high-end diagnostic services with significant capital investments. In fact, if managed well, India has the potential to become the healthcare destination of the world.

The second sector I am very positive about is IT. Digitization and automation will speed up significantly. AI, RPA, and ML will reduce dependency on human efforts. We are literally surviving through the lockdown due to the digital infrastructure – teleconferencing for work, e-commerce for our food and groceries, and OTT platforms for home entertainment. Again, India is in the best position to take advantage of this situation, as we did during Y2K.

The third one is the education and training industry. All the cynics of online and e-learning platforms have been silenced in the past few weeks. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. India has the world’s largest population in the age bracket of 5-24 years and this provides a great opportunity for the education sector. Besides, organizations have realized the importance of creating digital content for all employee training and development programs.

All in all, I see light at the end of the tunnel.

All in all, I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday Ready (MR): What is your advice to the managers & team leaders across organizations in the current scenario?

Debashish Ghosh (DG): I have just one advice for them – keep learning, lifelong.

I would advise them to get better in two areas. They might appear contradictory, and might be, in some ways they are. But that’s the era we are living in. The world around us is more VUCA than ever before.

keep learning, lifelong.

I would like the managers and team leaders to develop their emotional intelligence. Note the word “develop”, because unlike IQ, EQ can be built and grown over time. Empathy, active listening, and interpersonal skills will be more important than ever before. This need has been highlighted by both the WEF report of Future Skills and the LinkedIn Learning 2020 Workplace Learning Report.

Next, they should work on improving their technological and digital literacy. Operations, Finance, HR, Sales, Marketing – each and every department will be impacted by AI, ML, and RPA. They will fundamentally change the way we do things. And now, with this crisis, all the automation, digitization, and robotics initiatives will be accelerated dramatically. It’s now time for managers to learn about these and how technology, in general, will disrupt what they do. This knowledge will help them to “seek” change and act on time, and not just react to and manage change.

Monday Ready (MR): What are some of the socio-economic changes that we might see on the other side of this crisis?

Debashish Ghosh (DG): Again, being a natural optimist, I believe that this crisis will bring about many positive socio-economic-environmental changes in the world.

The first is about women in the workforce. With remote working, there will be an increase in the number of women in the workforce. Women, in a country like India, sacrifice their careers to take care of their families after marriage. Government data from 2019 showed that only 23% of Indian women are either working or actively looking for work. This number is very disappointing. Just to contrast, countries like Pakistan and Libya are better than us. Disturbing trends show that the number is actually declining. This needs to change, and I believe COVID 19 will play the role of a catalyst here.

Second, TCS has recently announced that as much as 75% of their workforce will work remotely by 2025. If I extrapolate that to the current IT/ITES industry only and keep the benchmark at 50%, 20 lakh employees will start working from home in the next 5 years. This means that no travel to work for them, and therefore no cars, and therefore less environmental pollution. Remote working can be a game-changer for environmental sustainability.

Third is the demographic change, especially with respect to the burgeoning urbanization. Till now, employers would set up their offices in large Indian cities, and jobseekers will move lock, stock, and barrel to their Karam Bhoomi. In the new world, the definition of Karam Bhoomi would change. Employees would now be able to work for large corporations while enjoying the benefits of small Indian towns and villages. Our cities will be less choked, and wealth and economic growth will be distributed across the length and breadth of the country.


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