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“More than skill and knowledge, Zee focuses on talent of an individual”: Rajendra Mehta

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The performance of a company depends largely on how happy its employees are. And this precisely is the reason why one of India’s top most General Entertainment Channel (GEC) Zee Entertainment, has been able to climb the ladder of success at the quickest pace. The Network tests how happy its employees are… It conducts an annual Employee Survey, which measures employee opinions and perceptions, based on the level of trust between management and the employees. Called the Trust Index, Zee has seen an increase in it from a mere 65 per cent in the previous year to 74 per cent this year. The Network is now also listed as ‘The Best Company to work for in the Indian M&E (Media & Entertainment) Industry' (as per a study conducted by Great Places To Work).

Zee engages with its employees globally through its ‘Samvad’ philosophy, which ensures prosperity both at a micro and macro level and of the individual and the Company.

The one connect between the employees and management is Zee & Essel Group Human Resource Head Rajendra Mehta. With a rich experience of over 17 years, Mehta has worked with various companies representing diverse sectors, ranging from engineering, lighting, mining, retail, commodity trading and media, giving him profound insight into implementing human resource plans.   

In a t?te-?-t?te with Indiantelevision.com’s Seema Singh, Mehta talks about the reason behind the increase in the Trust Index, why one should join Zee, the best employee policies and much more…

Excerpts:

What according to you has helped Zee become the ‘Best Company to work for in the Indian M&E Industry’?

Building an environment, which is a great working place, to my mind is a journey. And I believe that we are trying to build upon different pillars of strength, which help the company become a great place to work. Zee is one organisation which gives you an opportunity to do what you enjoy doing. It has all the ingredients of entrepreneurship, has the cheek of innovative culture and provides the opportunity to experiment with ideas. Hence, as a professional, if I have ten ideas, I will have people who support them and do not act as roadblocks.

Even the shareholders are very open to new ideas as they want to experiment with them. The biggest advantage with promoter shareholders is that they don’t want a stagnant status quo and the need to keep evolving is the biggest strength of this workplace.

How does the Trust Index work?

In 2012, we came up with a long-term mission objective exercise. It was called the ‘2015 Commitment’. So, we worked on it in 2012 and at that point of time, we were assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation and in our kind of industry, it is the people who make or break it. And therefore, we decided to work around a people-oriented strategy because they are critical to the success of our business. Then, we identified the fact that if we want to know exactly where we are, the only way to find out is to test our Trust Index based on some recognised framework.

We chose the ‘Great Place to Work’ format because it actually does peer comparison; thus, comparing us with others in the media industry and also the top 50 organisations in India. In the first year of our Trust Index, we were at about 63, which is a low from a media perspective. We have worked hard on this since then and now, the scores have jumped to 74 and we are on par with the top media companies.

The plan is to surge ahead and feature amongst the top 50 companies, which include the FMCGs and telecom companies. We want to be right on top because the entry and exit of people doesn’t only happen from the media sector. So, we should be as interesting an organisation for people from other domains to join as well.

We are doing a lot of promos on the social media to vigorously promote Zee as a brand and as a result, there is a decent following that we have created. We have embarked upon a fulfilling journey.

What is the strength of the workforce in Zee? What measures have you adopted to retain employees?

Zee Entertainment has about 2,600 employees globally. Our presence is in 169 countries with full-fledged offices in Johannesburg, South Africa; New York, USA; Singapore, Dubai, UAE; China, Mauritius among others.

Zee has one of the least attrition rates. The environment is conducive to people freely experimenting with ideas. We also ensure that the issues that employees face are resolved immediately so that it doesn’t keep them from working efficiently.

Do you think enough people are looking to enter the media industry? What kind of promotional activities does Zee use to inform people about the industry and the company?

I think people don’t have much awareness about the media and entertainment (M&E) industry. That’s why we do a number of campus sessions, activities online as well as engage on social media to create visibility about Zee. We are trying to attract people from other domains as well. I feel people don’t really understand the subsets of media.

The domain is far more forward-thinking than meets the eye and is looking good and glamorous to boot. We therefore, try to talk about the positives as this domain has tremendous growth potential and is here to stay.

What we also do is create case studies about Zee, which is then studied across premier institutions in India and abroad. We take campus sessions, where we talk about media, because more often than not, we are on the lookout for fresh blood, who we can then groom and they later become long-term assets to the company.

How often do you hire? What do you look for in a person while hiring?

It is an ongoing process. Say our attrition is 10 per cent, then there is still a churn of 200 people and hence, we need those many employees. On top of that, business is growing, new segments are getting added as well as new channels are coming in place; digital is taking shape and so we keep adding on people in these departments. There is a significant hiring spree. We hire about 50 - 55 people from good reputed B Schools every year and fortunately, we find people who end up being long-term resources for us. Generally, the professional lifespan of a management trainee extends over 10 years here. This implies good retention.

More than skill and knowledge, we focus on the talent of an individual. We spend maximum time in identifying the talent suitable for a respective post.

How different are your HR policies in comparison to other organisations?

My belief is that Zee is far more forward looking in terms of its HR practices. I can safely say that from an HR person’s perspective, we are far ahead of others.

What are the incentives and perks given to employees? Do they help to retain people in the organisation?

I think the people-oriented practices that we have such as learning skills and development, capability building and so on. We want to build our learning skills as an organisation. Talent acquisition is focused upon while hiring personnel on the basis of strengths. We have a ‘Samvad’ philosophy, which we follow in this regard.

For Performance Management System, I think we have the best tools. We believe in nine-blocker Performance Management System, and we have turned our organisational structure in such a way that it would be doing far more justice to people and their performances post this method.

We have moved away from grade to band structure, which is far more forward looking and we believe that will bring some cultural changes.  Earlier, we had 10 grades and now we have moved to five band structure. The spirit behind this is far deeper and so, it is not a simple shift from a grade to band structure, but it is with the intent of real change in attitude, in the thought processes of people and what growth means for them and the organisation. The spirit behind it is what counts the most while implementing it.

How do you keep your employees suitably engaged?

We look at not only engaging employees conducive with the environment of the organisation, but also keeping in mind his or her role. Both are critical to us and we keep assessing the happiness quotient around these two broad objectives. If there is a conflict of interest, we resolve it faster. If there is a mismatch of talent and the respective role, then we try and change the role as soon as possible. We keep changing the scenario to make this place a happier one.

We have trainings which we run through a practice called ‘Zenith’, which is our capability development initiative. Last year, we trained more than 1,700 employees through this programme. Our focus is not only on skills, but also behavioural transformation areas.

What is Samvad?

It is a people-oriented philosophy and it is all about the effectiveness of leaders. Talent is the basic foundation of Samvad.

Zee is an organisation, where it is said that people can become business heads after spending 7 - 8 years in the company. Is that so?

We believe that taking up a post is not about having a wealth of experience, but it is a matter of talent that people possess. And if people have the necessary talent, we don’t hesitate in pushing them up the ladder. This also helps them gain in maturity and confidence.

How are people motivated to experiment? Don’t they face flak for their failures? 

This organisation is supportive of failures after experimenting. Even if certain ideas fail, we do not take punitive action. On the contrary, we keep pushing people to experiment with ideas, because we believe that of the 10 experiments, even if two or three are implemented well, it will give you a humongous impetus in business performance. Failure is an integral part of growth and the organisation is supportive of that.

What are the highlights of Zee’s employment policies?

You can aspire to be the business head in the quickest possible time frame. It is an entrepreneur-friendly organisation, where you can experiment with novel ideas, and this place keeps you happy. The HR here supports people in both their personal and professional aspirations. We as HR have a far more inclusive approach in the business and are not sitting at arm’s length.

What are the policies with regard to women employees?

We have a forum on the internet called the ‘Zee Connect’. People can come up and if they have any grievance or feedback they can write to the forum. We also have a formal structure of addressing various concerns of women and are very sensitive to them. Also, we have a lawyer onboard to ensure there is an impartial investigation with regard to complaints. There are senior women from the organisation in the Committee, who are free to take decisions. We have even sacked employees and have also found that at times, complaints have been malicious in nature. There is absolute impartiality.

What are the trends in the media and entertainment (M&E) industry, which would attract fresh blood?

I think digital is a changing trend, which will attract. Secondly, digitisation will create multiple space for a very niche genre, and that will give individual geeks that opportunity to do what they enjoy doing in their characteristic manner. From content consumption, that will continue to grow. It will have its own niche and people can experiment and do well in the segment.  This whole space is growing rapidly in terms of size and volume. That will give rise to opportunities of employment and being associated with this domain.

What keeps you busy?

I think complete focus on growth areas and therefore, thinking about new opportunities and how we can deploy our people. What keeps me busy is also learning and development. If we have to be focused on the future, then we will have to keep building skills. Engagement is a big domain. My foremost aspiration will be that we don’t lose productivity of a single employee, just because he is now disengaged. It is our grave concern and so we keep addressing that issue. We keep building a conducive environment, which is positive so that people feel part of this business, and this helps us to hire with ease. Creating a bigger pool of talent that aspires to be here, is the biggest challenge.

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