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‘The mantra of new age loyalty is employability’: Abhinav Chopra

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Abhinav Chopra is a people’s man. At Viacom18 as executive vice president - human resources - he is responsible for talent engagement, talent acquisition and training and development initiatives across the organisation.

An HR practitioner since 1998, he has held several key positions within the domain at Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, previously, where he began his career. He joined Viacom18 in 2006, making a transition from the hospitality industry to the media and entertainment sector.

An alumnus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Chopra hopes to infuse fresh energy and thought brought in by young talent that yields innovation. Recently, the organisation returned to campuses across the country with the third edition of its Future Leadership Program.

Indiantelevision.com’s Meghna Sharma spoke to the man to know how he searches for the ‘right’ talent and what makes an organisation an ideal place to work at.

Excerpts…

What makes Viacom18 a dream company to work for? Could you illustrate with examples?

At Viacom18, just as we pride ourselves on our disruptive and differentiated content, we’re also proud of our differentiated and progressive people practices.

The levels of dedication sought from employees blurs the boundaries between the professional and personal space. Creativity lends itself to the most unexpected spaces and times and it is tough for an employee to switch on and off his role in the professional capacity. Therefore it is necessary that the workplace is at least as inspiring, supportive and comfortable as the home environment.

We facilitate success of our employees by constantly connecting and engaging with, and responding to employee needs through our comprehensive practices which are not just for them, but also by them, and of them.

After every heart to heart conversation with a Viacom18 employee, I reflect upon the steps we have taken over the years to evoke so much passion that it is infectious. On every floor, in every bay, one is met with compelling energy and high positivity, which sets the tone for all the endeavours we undertake at Viacom18. Individual and organisational aspirations find a common expression in this electrifying environment. We not only forge strong bonds with our colleagues, but also with the organisation.

We have worked towards nurturing this unique space by reversing some age old concepts like a boss transcends the formal relationship into being a friend here; the workplace is more a playground where fun and profitability go hand in hand; the high possibility of one’s ideas seeing the light of day is far more precious than just pay here; initiatives at Viacom18 respect the uniqueness of an individual; every opinion is considered before arriving at a conclusion, to which we are rewarded with a lot of passion, dedication, integrity, ingenuity, and hard work.

How different are your HR policies from the others?

Viacom18’s people policies are tailor-made to offer the unique proposition to our employees. They are progressive, in that they are flexible and move with people’s needs and allow space for reactions and opinions to evolve them.

We try and implement this feedback by ensuring that individual needs are catered to while addressing career needs as well, leveraging every employee’s circle of influence.

At the individual level, we have best in class policies in place for rewards, employee benefits such as insurance, leaves etc. We also present our employees with avenues for growth via the internal careers opportunity policy, which allows for people within the ecosystem to apply for vacancies internally. And finally, a set of perks and services are on offer to the employee, which helps them reach out to their loved ones as well as the things they love to pursue in their leisure.

We also pride ourselves in our ability to communicate employee benefits of our HR policies creatively across the organisation. Creative minds are exposed to and constantly bombarded by highly entertaining stimuli. We realize that their attention spans are limited and block out anything that does not captivate them within a few seconds. Our innovative communication channels therefore engage all senses - visual, auditory, kinesthetic – ensuring that the right messages reach the right employees in the right manner.

For instance, we invited employees to donate through the annual charity initiative – the Viacommunity Day. The quirky emailer, made and disseminated internally, backed up with charity boxes on every floor brought out the giver in every individual. We concluded the finale with a sale that provided people the chance to buy from non-profit organisations that support a cause.

Do employees enjoy any special benefits or incentives? We’ve heard of incentives like a tattoo and pet allowance…

In the hectic world of media and entertainment industry, where most of our businesses run on a 24x7 schedule, we take special care to ensure that employees are made to feel cared and valued, as well as they get enough quality time with their loved ones. This message is practised by employee-centric policies that accommodate flexible time schedules, provide facilities that lessen the burden of day to day personal tasks of the employee, provide special interests/hobby/fitness facilities on-site as well as a continuous connect with the employees and families by sharing and celebrating their significant life events with them. Therefore, we came up with a list of benefits that would make their everyday life easier and give them extra time to spend with their loved ones.

Our Viacom 18 Employee Benefit Manual – the Greed Guide is a bundle of 38 extraordinary series of benefits and services to offer a world of perks in celebration of our employees and their loved ones:

* For the employee, we have one of a kind unique perks, which range from creative perks such as an allowance to get a tattoo or buy a musical instrument, weight loss allowances, to wellness related perks such as reimbursements for yoga/kickboxing classes, on-site counsellor, doctor and nutritionist, free annual health check-ups. We also have a concierge service to help our employees better balance their work-home responsibilities.

* It’s not all work and no play for our employees as our Greed Guide also includes fun perks that they can share with their co-workers such as sending a bad day at work gift to cheer up a colleague, a time out allowance to party with their team or a favourite co-worker day where we send out gifts to their best friend in office. We have perks that extend to friends outside office as well with the Viacom18 Coup Card – a shareable perk, which gives our employees and their friends up to 15 per cent discount at restaurants and clubs.

How well-functioned is the grievance cell?

At Viacom18, core HR functions are performed by our Centres of Excellence, who are custodians of people processes and responsible for driving these processes in the organisation. Recognising the fact that we need to create more touch points for candid and informal interactions with our young, intelligent and articulate employees, we have a dedicated HR partner for each business. Since HR partners interact with employees day-in and day-out to understand their needs, they represent the ‘voice of employees’ in the truest sense. This proximity that they share with the employees allows them to pre-empt their concerns and address them even before they become grievances.

We believe in developing the organisation to help itself. It is our constant endeavour to empower our managers to connect with their teams and address their concerns.

We realise that many concerns arise due to lack of information. To manage this, we ensure that our policies are transparent, well communicated and easily accessible. Our people polices have been made available on our Intranet, designed in-house as a social, information sharing platform, which won Bronze in web category at the Indian Digital Media Awards 2012.

However, we understand that some concerns are confidential where the employees are not comfortable in using an open platform. As part of our Whistle Blower policy, we provide a 24*7 dial-in service that is operated by a third party, where employees can voice their concerns in complete confidence.

And on an average, how long does an employee stay with the organisation?

Over the last five years we have had an industry beating attrition of about 10-12 per cent. We currently stand at six - seven per cent, which is far below the industry average.

With our strong brand positioning and innovative work practices, Viacom18 gained the status of the preferred employer of choice in a short span of time. In 2010, Viacom18 participated in the Great Places to Work survey which recognizes organisations that create and sustain great workplaces. We competed with the best across industries and attained top ranking in Media and 26th across industries followed by 7th position across companies with employees less than 1000 in 2012.

In the recent Aon Hewitt All India Best Employer Survey, we surpassed the Global Media Top Quartile score.

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

Our capability building initiatives operate on two levels: one at an individual and team level to and second at an organisational level.

At an individual and team level, the focus is on enhancing knowledge and understanding of the business environment, developing functional skills and maximising leadership potential.

All learning and development initiatives at Viacom18 are anchored under the umbrella of “Bodhi Tree” – Viacom18’s Learning Academy, a one shop stop, integrated learning and development academy that includes select Standard Programs that every employee of Viacom18 has to necessarily go through including the Business Orientation program, which helps a new joiner understand how the media and entertainment industry functions, our Foundation Program, which prepares individuals to become wholesome media professionals to many Innovative and Differentiated Programs starting with Business Focused Interventions such as the Production Workshop for Content and programming teams, Script to Screen workshop for deeper understanding of how to evaluate and appreciate a script and Self-Learning Platforms in the form of Back to School that enables employees to pursue higher education and Base Camp which is a self-study centre consisting of a physical library and an online library.

We nurture leaders at every level – whether among fresh entrants, or those who bring with them a body of experience – through our various leadership development initiatives. From Entry-level Programs to Structured Leadership Development Programs conducted year on year for leaders across levels, we provide opportunities to our leaders to become top notch global media professionals in the creative and business domain.

We have a specially designed Future Leadership Programme for fresh Graduates and post Graduate Creative Trainees called ‘Unlife’ and ‘What’s Your Story’ respectively.

The Young Leadership Development Program is specifically slated as the first step of climbing the leadership ladder at both management and personal level. It is focussed on the leadership skills for first time leaders.

The Senior Leadership Development Program is devised specially to focus on enhancing overall strategic leadership capabilities of the Leadership Team at Viacom18.

We will also launch a Leadership Development Program for functional managers soon.

At an organisational level, we drive a set of key change initiatives to enhance the effectiveness of the organisation that would thereby enable achievement of our goals in the long term. Whether it is about articulating and cascading our Organisational Values or deploying our People Promise, we plan our efforts systematically to build a future ready organisation.

How do you select talent?

At Viacom18, the priority is to build upon existing talent. As a result, we ensure we have searched for a relevant vacancy within the organisation first, promoting existing talent.

We hire fresh talent from top colleges across the country through a rigorous selection process as well as laterals who fit the bill from across industries. We ensure a healthy diversity of backgrounds and experiences to inject fresh thought and energy in the organisation.

In addition, we also seek cultural fits, for Viacom18’s own culture is unique. People with an attitude of openness, edge to excel, high energy and passion thrive here. Our selection process is intuitive as well as backed by scientific insight to select individuals with these traits.

Any examples of people who started their career with Viacom18 and still continue to work with the organisation?

It is a matter of great pride for us here at Viacom18 that more than half our leadership team has been associated with the organisation since the inception. They have partnered the organisation’s exponential growth story over the last seven years, and also provided the opportunity to several leaders in their teams and the wider organisation to boast of soaring careers. Most of our Function heads too began their careers with Viacom18 and, over time, have grown to drive important functional synergies in the organisation apart from sustained profitability.

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

The mantra of new age loyalty is employability. At Viacom18, we enhance this very virtue of our talent pool through learning and development initiatives – whether for entry level or veteran employees.

That said, novel opportunities are not the exclusive domain of places outside the company. We appreciate the wish of our talent to seek change. An exciting world of new learning on the job awaits within the organisation as well. As a growing organisation, we constantly offer new and challenging opportunities to our talent who wish to pursue something new.

How does the appraisal system work in the organisation?

Building a high performance culture has been a constant area of focus for us over the years. Performance appraisal system is an effective instrument that allows us to offer a fair, transparent, equitable system to evaluate the efforts of employees and provide transparent linkage to rewards.

However, there are two sides to Performance Management: the system that drives it, and the intent that makes it work.

We have shifted significantly towards a more objective and measurable performance management system. Driven primarily by a uniform scorecard approach as its fundamental building block, the system presents a unique proposition in a creative business like ours. The approach allows for clearly defined responsibilities, demarcating role accountabilities and performance indicators.

What is the one HR policy at the company that you are really proud of and why?

Having been around since inception, it would be a task to pick and choose one policy that triumphs over others, especially because we have constantly tried to evolve each one to suit the organisation’s larger growth objective.

The very philosophy of this organisation that governs our policies fills me with immense pride – we respect the ‘I’ in You. Individuality is the cornerstone of the nature of our business. As the very germ of creativity, we recognise that it is the reason for our success. Every policy we evolve therefore carries this ethos forward.

According to you what is the biggest HR issue at present?

The big issue in the area of human resources revolves around skills development. However, this issue is multifaceted.

It is a widely acknowledged fact that skilled manpower is hard to come by in India. While a large section of the youth population is qualified, most remain unemployed. On the other hand, several vocations await vacancies to be filled. However, much social stigma is attached to these vocational skills, and very few institutions of education are dedicated to imparting skill development training. These last two factors demand redressal at the earliest.

In addition to this, as much as it is important for a HR personnel to keep their ears to the ground, it is equally imperative that decisions are led by hard analytics-driven insight and not just the gut.

What is your take on - HR policies need revision to cater to employees' needs? Have any of the policies changed to suit the employees?

The key question to ask about revision of HR policies is not so much whether or not they should be revised, but when. They need to suit the requirements of the lifecycle of the business just as much as those who contribute to its progress.

At Viacom18, our people practices are agile, responsive and constantly evolving. We ensure that they cater to the changing needs of the business as appropriately as the employees. An obvious example is our rather quirky Greed Guide, which we review year on year. With unique perks and services that offer flexibility to our employees to expand their circle of influence through the year.

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