Chronicling the Great Place To Work Sri Lanka 2016 Conference

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Swanky lounge music floated out of Cinnamon Grand’s Oak Room. In the opulent foyer, alphabetically marked registration counters warmly received senior management representing some of the trendiest offices in the country. For the team amicably handing out delegate packs to the professionals it was time to get this year’s edition of the Great Place To Work Sri Lanka Conference off the road.

A full day of sessions was followed by an evening of awards recognizing, as the name suggests, great places to work. The local wing of the global research, training, and consultancy organization as we’ve introduced Great Place to Work Sri Lanka brought in a range of guest speakers for the participants to harvest insight.

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Starting proceedings off was CEO of Great Place To Work Sri Lanka, Kshanika Ratnayake who introduced the conference’s theme as “Innovate, Disrupt, Engage.” She went on to say that a company’s most valuable asset “is its people” and it has increasingly been proven that organizations can no longer “make money by hiring good people, setting lofty targets and providing means” to achieve them. It takes “a meaningful connection” between the organization and its employees to make significant progress.

Key Note Address

 Key-note speaker of the Great Place To Work Sri Lanka Conference, Nitin Bawankule who is the current Industry Director at Google India opened with similar remarks. “3 years ago my dad went through some heart complication” he shared. Although “my brother and I are well-off in India and could manage to pay” the bills, “my insurance at Google covered my dad as well.” Upon producing the documents necessary to make the maximum claim he was allowed, in 45 days he found himself reimbursed with the total expense which exceeded his limit. “How they did this is because, they had a floating insurance amount” which was at their disposal if the staff had not exhausted their individual limits.

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

The amount isn’t the point he continued, rather it’s the “proactive measures” that the organization took to show its level of involvement with its employees. Growing from 3,000 employees in 2004 to sifting through almost 2 million resumes every year, the company’s next phase which will see big projects like “the driverless cars” take off, has necessitated no less attention to their hiring process. Before 2014 a potential employee would go through “five to six rounds of interviews.” Once it was found that “no value was added after the fourth interview, the unnecessary two rounds have been abandoned.

It’s still a long process, he told the audience at the Great Place to Work Sri Lanka conference, “around three to six months” to be precise. This is because each interview is carried out by 4 interviewers- three from the department interested in hiring and one from a different department. All this we’re told is to maintain impartiality and look beyond than just to fill a vacancy. In particular, to determine how well an individual would fit in with Google’s culture “we look for something called Googly-ness.” This entails “if you can have a good conversation” in the event of a delayed flight for instance or if “the person is humble, and is passionate about stuff outside of work.”

Even promotions work a little differently he explained. Managers have to make a favorable case for those they feel have proved themselves worthy of one.

Employees are also encouraged to keep engaging with the management. “At one point, Larry and Sergey didn’t want any managers” he disclosed and needless to say the organization suffered for it. Today however managers have “to be good coaches” who don’t micromanage, rather, show an interest and concern for their staff. Even managers he said are under constant evaluation by the employees who are entitled to “transparency and a voice.” For this reason Larry and Sergey he says have a weekly session where quotas for each quarter are discussed and any question by the staff is addressed. In fact, he says the Bengali language was given prominence by Google through such a question. These sessions “are streamed across the world” so employees in all their 50 countries of operation have access to it.

Other Prominent Speakers

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Next up at the Great Place to Work Sri Lanka Conference was Sumit Harjani of Harvard Business School Publishing. Speaking on a rather different type of approach to human capital management, his subject of analysis was Netflix. Urging the audience at the Great Place To Work Sri Lanka Conference to proceed with “an open mind,” he spoke on Netflix’s unique video release. The borderline controversial 127 slides they released formed the basis of his discourse.

The company is “obsessed with hiring the best” and this video which embodies the organization’s culture “is played to every new recruit.” Satisfactory performance doesn’t cut it, to pull in 6.7 billion USD in revenue and function as entertainment providers in over 80 countries. “Job security” for instance is not a priority.

Almost at the same instant an employee stops being of value to the organization, they are served with “a comfortable severance package” and sent packing. Directly inverse to the warm homely atmosphere many modern companies are moving towards, “Netflix says we are not a family.” They prefer to think of themselves as “a professional sports team.”

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Following this speech at the Great Place To Work Conference was one speculating what the future workplace holds by Prasenjit Bhattacharya of Great Place to Work India. Excusing himself prior for the “poor jokes” generously tucked into his address, he delved into an insightful analysis.

The expose run on Amazon’s allegedly tough work conditions and Netflix’s high standard of delivery suggests he felt that it all narrowed down to the employee’s “form.” But much like “forced ranking, what sells most now might not work in the future.”

For example, he invites us to consider “the big fat organizations- think MAS and John Keells.” They will continue to be of importance but not create as many jobs as smaller organizations. “AT & T is just 2/3 of what Google is today, but hires 15% more.”

“GDP growth” has spiked dramatically in the last 100 years and a correlation is seen in the development of technology. “Profits as a percentage of GDP is increasing” he notes but “staff cost as a percentage of GDP is reducing.” Although this data is from the US he felt it rings true even in India- where “the entry level pay for an engineer” has remained the same for the past 9 years, despite inflation.

Accordingly, he felt that opportunities for those who can leverage tech skills will increase and “analytics is going to place professionals at the heart of a business.” The issue is in a day and age where “even my pizza delivery guy knows how I like my pizza” HR policies have remained strictly rigid. This too is slowly melting he feels with HR exception websites emerging to the fore.

Values like transparency are becoming increasingly important he noted while technology will play a bigger part. People analytics will also emerge with prominence and perhaps change to accommodate in a greater proportion non-cognitive skills as well. All these factors will create an impact upon installation of “great managers.”

Next up was Jeremy Huxtable from Dialog Axiata. “By the year 2020, 50,000 million devices will connect to the internet.” Allotting 10 devices online for every middle-class family, connectivity he points out is a massive part of life in this era revolves around being connected.

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Social media, for instance, he said “is common among all ages” if anything a Facebook Friend request from his 80-something aged mother should suggest. “Disruption” especially with industries like telco where services are on-demand “is here and now.”

36 % of the regional population is “still living on less than 1 USD a day” meaning the opportunity and need to affordable services as much as they are futuristic is rampant.

Afternoon Segment

After a gratifying lunch, the audience regrouped for the afternoon segment of the Great Place To Work Sri Lanka Conference which opened with a panel discussion. Disruption and means of handling it was the topic up for discussion.

Dirk Pereira of Union Assurance shared that in his industry disruption is “like a slow volcano, making its rumblings” but is yet to upend things. For instance, gauging damage in a motor insurance claim could be charged with a mobile device, and it’s generally “those who find the sweet-spot” of modifying services with the times are the ones that succeed.

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Jeremy Huxtable of Dialog Axiata took us all at the Great Place To Work Sri Lanka Conference back to the telco industry of 1995. “You had to beg and pray” that SLT would give you a phone, even if you could pay for one. Introducing the chunky ancestor of today’s mobile phone was “about the most disruptive thing I’ve been involved in.”

The traditional revenue strains of “voice, SMS and increasingly, data” may seem like they’re losing hold he admitted, but in order to re-invent such services a large amount of investment is needed. “Dialog is fortunate” enough he feels to command sufficient market share within the country.

However, he feels any disruptive practice should be adopted with caution, particularly in the telco industry. “When I was at a company called Orange in the UK” the trend was wireless he recalled, but “fiber is in now” and wires are back. Disruptions are frequent and faster in the industry he said and sometimes come in a cycle.

Chamila Bandara of FedEx spoke on disruption in the logistics industry. “Tech is the disruption” she shared by way of start-ups offering e-commerce the delivery life cycle is dramatically shrunk. “Amazon will have drones” in the foreseeable future, making 30-minute deliveries possible.

“Companies shouldn’t fear disruption,” she stated, and there’re two ways of handling it. “You need to respond to it well, or make sure it comes from your company.”

Chandi Dharmaratne of Virtusa Polaris said that by 2025 millennials will constitute 75% of the workforce, and the ease of getting what they want instantly will only magnify. Being of digital natives, disruption will be almost expected. Launching with RPA, to mimic monotonous human tasks, this phenomenon could replace 110-140 million employees globally.

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Disruption therefore she felt is vital in the form of innovation and “at Virtusa” she says “there is a platform called We Innovate” where employees can crowd-source their ideas. Alternatively “WeTube is where you could learn” what you need to build the idea to fruition.

The Great Place to Work Sri Lanka Conference Ends.

Discussing is pay alone is sufficient to keep employees motivated, a team from Great Place to Work Sri Lanka debunked this myth. It takes a personal element the team divulged, like human contact and a sense of trust placed in the employee.

One of the more interesting concluding sessions were presented by Rajiv Jayaraman of Knolskape. Just like a pilot or surgeon can’t make it in their fields by merely reading about their crafts, Knolskape is such a simulator for business professionals.

Great Place To Work Sri Lanka
Image credits: Malshan Gunawaradane

Using gamification to take the non-game elements into a game context he feels this method will make for a better means of training. “The sage onstage will show me the promised land” is mentality the industry has to do away with, he said and the only way behavioral change will affect revenue is when constructive habits are formed. These habits, however, take 21 days to crystalize as a practice which a speaker on a podium can’t possibly achieve.

In a world where “3 billion hours are spent gaming every week,” a game tilted towards developing corporate skills has significant potential. DHL also addressed the crowd on how they’ve managed to keep their staff motivated globally. Ken Allan’s inauguration video invites the recruits into the DHL family while programs like the CIS training employees get makes them employable in all DHL’s international locations as well.

The conference came to an end at this point and the Great Place to Work Sri Lanka team was hustling to get the evening’s awards ceremony on cue.

For the 4th consecutive year- AIA Insurance and 99X Technology. Also on the list of the best places to work in for 2016 are: Asian Alliance Insurance, Avery Dennison Lanka, Classic Travels, DHL Keells, Diesel & Motor Engineering, E-W Information Systems, Expolanka Freight, Gamma Pizzakraft Lanka, Hilton Worldwide, IFS R&D Information International, JAT Holdings, Linea Aqua, McLarens Holdings, MHE( License of Federal Express,) NoLimit, Oxford College of Business, Prime Lands, Singer(Sri Lanka,) Softlogic Restaurants (Burger King,) Taj Samudra, Triumph International Lanka, Union Assurance and United Tobacco Processing.

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