We are very choosy when we hire people: Gaurav Hirey

Founded a decade ago, WPP Group’s biggest media agencies came under one umbrella to form GroupM and since then there has been no looking back. In India the agency has been crowned as the ‘Dream company to work with’ as well as ‘Dream employer of the year’; with over 1300 people spread across 10 cities and have 20 offices and growing each day!

With the appraisal season on,’s Meghna Sharma caught up with GroupM South Asia chief talent officer Gaurav Hirey to know more about the machinery that runs the agency.  He has the expertise of around 20 years in talent management and believes himself to be a game changer who brings innovative full impact talent initiatives to life and helps organisations leverage their most important resource - their people - to be the best that they can be.

What makes GroupM the dream company to work for?

Our people make GroupM a "Dream Company”. It is our talent vision to make people our unfair advantage in the marketplace by being not just the best place to work in but the place where the ‘best’ work.

We do not have one single employee value proposition we have six. These are five agencies Mindshare, Maxus, Mediacom, MEC and Motivator and GroupM as the conglomerate. It has been our ability to define our Employee Value Proposition clearly and manage it well which recently earned us the title of “Dream Company to work for” in 2014.

Whether it is having an opportunity of being a part of the Youth Executive Committee (YCO) and working with the best in the industry, or getting a paid holiday on your birthday or being able to have access to a bouquet of learning and capability options or selecting a career path and growing within the company, GroupM as an organisation is able to provide options to our employees at each and every stage. We are a place where we don’t just offer jobs we offer careers!

GroupM was also named ‘Dream Employer of the Year’ in India. How do you choose the talent?

Selectively! We are very choosy when we hire people. 

GroupM is a group of five media agencies and each of these agencies have defined a set of behaviours that they believe in coupled with their client and employee proposition. We match the candidate to these behaviors arriving at a best fit for the candidate not just from a role perspective but also from an agency perspective thus giving the candidate the best possible opportunity to succeed.

How different are your HR policies from the others?

As any responsible corporate, we do have the typical, run of the mill HR policies. However The GroupM Talent function is always striving to ensure that we build policies keeping our employees at the centre of everything we do. Principally we customise all our initiatives to what the business needs rather than focusing on doing HR for the sake of HR.

For example, we have an office policy that states clearly that office times are 9:30 am reporting to 6:00pm. However we allow complete flexibility to managers and teams should they decide they want to stick to these times or need flexibility. We do not in most cases behave typically like companies who deduct leaves and salary for those who report in late to work in spite of working late the previous day! 

Any special benefits or incentives for the employees?

We have several benefits which are a first within the media planning industry.  We offer outpatient support to our employees and they can claim medical expenses up to a certain amount.

We also insure the lives of our employees for four times of their annual compensation so that it secures their families in case of any serious event. We offer hospitalization and medical insurance to all our employees and their immediate family members.

 In terms of absolute rewards we have made our employees our partners in growth and most of our employees are eligible for variable pay depending on their and the company performance in addition to the base salary that they take home. We also have an online system that allows all our employees to be recognised and rewarded! They are eligible to earn stars and then redeem them online for a host of benefits!

Our endeavour at all times is to ensure the welfare of our employees and ensure that they feel they are appropriately compensated for their efforts at work.

What are the various capability-building initiatives undertaken by the agency? What is the frequency of such initiatives?

There is an enormous focus on capability building within GroupM. Within the media industry one of the most common feedback that you get about GroupM is that they build careers of their employees and training is one of their biggest tools. We have an in-house trainer pool of over 45 trainers. This group is called the Aspire team and on an average every employee in GroupM gets about four man days of training.

Aspire does an annual training needs assessment post which the training calendar is prepared. We have a huge focus on training team managers and leaders and we make a considerable amount of effort ensuring that our people are best equipped to handle their roles. We also focus on customised training and personalised executive coaching to those who need them.

Other than the above we offer various external, regional and global training programs conducted by our global and regional partners and by WPP our parent organisation.

 How well-functioned is the grievance cell?

We believe in constant and two way communication with our employees. Open Houses and town halls are a norm and our senior managers make it a point to stand there with our employees and communicate to them very transparently what is happening within the company and how the business is performing on a regular basis. During these interactions employees are free to voice their concerns and we address each and every one of them. 

We also have a “Post Box” which is present in every office that allows employees to write not just about their grievances but also share ideas and suggestions. The best ideas get implemented and the employee who has shared theta gets recognised and rewarded. 

We maintain a continuous feedback system within GroupM, for all new joiners we have a breaking in feedback , a six monthly feedback and an annual feedback which is captured and actioned on. On an annual basis we have an employee satisfaction survey that is conducted not just in India but globally to hear what our employees are saying and post the results of the survey we implement action plans for those areas that employees have pointed out need addressing.

Our leaders operate on an open door policy and team members know that they can walk in to anyone and speak about their concerns in addition to this at any point they have an open option to walk up to any HR team member and speak to them if their  issues are not addressed. We are firm believers of active engagement at all times.

At GroupM we believe that we are in the business of people and it is they who will lead us to creating client delight and they can do so only once they are delighted. To achieve this we believe constant and continuous two-way communication is essential to delivering value to our clients through our people! Our people know that there opinion counts and what they say matter to us!

In today’s world when there are too many opportunities available, how do you retain talent?

It is our belief that gone are the days when you could hire someone and he/she would work all their life for you! Today we consider ourselves as borrowers of talent. People will stay with you only once they are clear about what is in it for them! It is our ability to be able to articulate this clearly that has helped us retain our talent. GroupM and the agencies have the lowest attrition in the media industry in India and this is all thanks to our leaders who have walked the talk and ensured a transparent and an open environment for our people.

During economic slowdown, did the agency let go of any people? If yes, then how many and at which level?

We generally have been a cost conscious company. We believe that if there is an investment that has to be made it needs to be rational and logical. I still remember the high level meeting of the executive committee that was called when we realised that the economic environment globally had taken a dive. There was a complete consensus across the room that we will make it work and that none of our employees will be let go. HR embarked on a project that helped us re-profile and reposition our client teams and structures allowing us to ensure that every employee was gainfully employed and contributed to the organisation. In fact that year, not only did we close with a growth number but we also managed to recognise and reward our employees. I am extremely proud of the fact that in spite of the tough times as an organisation, the leadership team was able to place our people right at the top of our priorities and we were able to ensure continuity for each and every employee of GroupM! We did not let go of anyone.

How does the appraisal system work in GroupM?

We have an online appraisal system at GroupM for all our business units. We follow the management by objectives system, there are two parts, the first part consists of setting SMART objectives and the second part accesses the team member with regard to the behaviours/values of the agency or the business unit the team member belongs to.

We ensure that managers have a conversation and there is a sign off from both the team member and the appraiser thus ensuring alignment on the final rating that is received by the team member. We have recently started getting our team members to also rate their appraisal performance as we believe that managing performance is an ongoing and continuous process and we would like our managers to be better at it.

For leaders and senior managers we also conduct a 360 degree evaluation where even the team members get an opportunity to give feedback to the managers.

According to you, what is the biggest HR issue gripping the corporate in the country?

The issue that really keeps me awake these days is on how we can engage the millennia's and get them to stay with us to build a career. Given that today the motivations of youngsters are very different and they are looking for fast growth, it is a challenge to be able to manage their expectations. The organisation of tomorrow is going to be built on their shoulders and if we are not able to engage, retain and grow them then that would affect us and our business. Even though we enjoy the lowest attrition rates across the media industry, I yet get worked up when I see youngsters joining us and leaving us in a short time. 

We have rolled out several initiatives to engage them and get them to participate in decision making. The most talked about initiative has been the Youth Committee of GroupM where we have displayed the will to take participative management to the next level and give the youngsters a voice in organisational decision making. I am optimistic that with such initiatives like the YCO we will be able to retain and grow young talent within our agencies!  

 What is your take on revision of HR policies to cater to employees' needs? Have any of the policies changed to suit the employees? (Give examples)

Any policy that does not address an employee’s need is there just to be filed and kept in a policy manual with no impact!  HR policies have to be treated as guidelines and they need to be reviewed periodically. As a practice we do this once in two years and make the changes necessary. Like I mentioned we changed the working hours policy and empowered our unit heads to decide how they need their teams to operate. Similarly we also changed the leave policy to ensure that employees take their annual leave compulsorily ensuring a healthy work life balance. Customizing policies to meet the employee and business need is critical to the very existence of the policy without it, it’s just a piece of paper that gets filed in!

One HR policy you are really proud of and why?

There are several but one that I am particularly proud of is the policy of Holidays on Birthdays!

This is because it was suggested by our Youth Committee (YCO) last year and was implemented immediately. The policy clearly states that you can take paid leave on your birthday no questions asked. It is simple and completely empowering, just like many other initiatives/policies in GroupM which allow our employees to decide for themselves!

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