Open Communication is the key to Engagement

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The Knorr-Bremse India Private Ltd. Rail Vehicle Systems Division (Knorr-Bremse India) first began its commercial operations in 1995 and has since then emerged as a leading sub-system supplier to a variety of railway systems in India. Knorr-Bremse Systems for Commercial Vehicle Systems India Private Ltd. (KBI CVS) was incorporated in February 2003 and started commercial operations in August 2005 at newly built manufacturing facility at Hinjewadi, Pune, about 150 kms south east of Mumbai. Both Rail and Commercial vehicle divisions of Knorr-Bremse are represented in India. The Rail system division is based in Faridabad and Commercial vehicle division in Pune as well as Technology Center in Pune for both divisions. We recently interviewed Mr. Prashant Prem (Head-Human Resources), Knorr Bremse to know his views on employee engagement and discuss the best HR practices.

Please share with us your professional journey:

Mr. Prashant: Started my career with JayPee group, spent 16 years with JayPee group, while working with JayPee Group, I worked in various divisions e.g. in cement, hydropower, construction etc.  The biggest change in my career came, when I was handed over the responsibility to execute new projects. It was a great learning for me, because my role expanded beyond preparing strategy in a closed cabin, and it was not just limited to collecting data and HR related work, it was about coordinating with people on grass root level, making strategies and plans on the basis of the interaction with people. This role gave me a new insight about people management. I learned how to motivate people, how to lead people from different technical backgrounds for the same objective, I learned how to lead people in a dynamic and volatile environment.

After JayPee I joined SamTel, it was the only TV Picture Tube manufacturer in India. It was highly evolved company in HR operations, With my experience in people management and leadership I developed a completely different perspective towards HR. With all the people management practices and techniques I learned in JayPee, I became very proficient in HR operations because I knew what are the problems of people and how to solve those problems. After SamTel I moved to Knorr-Bremse in 2007, here I am in top leadership role, hence I have all the liberty to introduce all the best practices which I learned while working with JayPee and SamTel.

 Please talk about your current job profile

Mr. Prashant: When I joined the organization, it was 10-12 years old in India but small in size. Leadership’s focus was to grow the organization in size because Indian Railway was growing and Indian Political Leadership was also focusing on well developed Metro and Railway system. At that time we decided to completely revamp the way our operations, marketing division and production units operate.

We were offering customized products, our orders were totally dependent on tenders, if there would be a need in market only then we would produce, that was the approach. We thought that if we wanted to grow exponentially we had to change our approach. So we started focusing on marketing our products. We created a strong marketing team. After we were done with revamping the organization and keeping right people at right places, our focus moved to innovation and becoming a solution provider, by changing our approach our market share grew to 60%.

To reach this juncture there were various challenges which we faced, one of them was to develop our people and to imbibe the same vision in them which leadership had. We found that people had the skills and will also, what they knew they gave to the organization 100%, in return they were not empowered, developed and equipped. There we focused on this area and took charge of empowering our people. We realized that hard skill development is something which can happen easily as compared to soft skill development, because people have a certain degree of experience and technical training and then they learn job related hard skills on the job training but when it comes to soft skills, it becomes very difficult to develop them on their own, organization must focus on developing soft skills of its people through systematic training programs and other engagement initiatives.

Your views on employee engagement and what do you do for employee engagement in your organization

Mr. Prashant: Engagement for me is a very vast subject, we just can’t engage people by conducting couple of fun activities for them. To engage people we need to include them in decisions, empower them and take them on a journey where they have a connect with organization and it becomes a pride for them.

Every individual engages himself or herself in something. In every activity engagement level is different for every individual, some prefer to give more time to family, some to sports, some to arts etc. We need to identify engagement areas of individuals and create opportunities for them to explore these areas. By keeping this thought in mind we established various clubs in our organization e.g. Dramatics Society, Movie Club,  Sports Club etc.

We also started another monthly initiative in which every HOD interacted with his or her people over a cup of coffee but nothing related to work. No work related issue was discussed, everybody interacted on personal topics. We got a great feedback for this from people as it established a bond between leader and the team. We took this initiative to blue collar employees also and it yielded great results at that level also. The new building for our office was constructed in keeping the aspect of employee engagement in mind. We constructed dedicated place for various activities. It was not the case that first building was constructed and then we decided what to keep where.

 Things an organization should do to keep its employees engaged?

Mr. Prashant: There are no fixed three things which organization would do and employees will be engaged, every organization has different phases and different employee needs. Employee engagement practices adopted by a big and stable organization would be different than the practices adopted by a small and growing organization. For employees of a small organization growth in terms of designation, remuneration, challenging projects would be quite engaging but for employees of a big organization might seek work life balance, learning and holistic development. So every organization should open a dialogue with all the employees and as per their needs adopt engagement practices.

When an organization is growth, growth in itself becomes a good engagement tool. Once the organization is big, when the growth rate slows down then the leadership has to look for innovative ways to engage people.

 How do training programs affect the engagement levels of employees?

 Mr. Prashant: Training programs are very effective tools to keep employees engaged. Their effectiveness can only be seen when they are customized as per the needs of the people. Training needs for a smaller organization to keep its people engaged and motivated would be different than big and stable organization. One standard program and standard classroom sessions with no follow-ups on learning would not work at all. Most important thing is whatever training or engagement practices organization should adopt it should be in sync with the values of the organization.

What should employees do to keep themselves engaged at work?

 Mr. Prashant: Employees should not stop himself or herself from talking to concerned people in organization, if something is troubling him or her. Till the time they won’t open up, no one would be there to help them.  From organization’s side it is very important to be ready to do the hand holding if someone who faces problem and tries to bring it to the right set of people.

 Is it possible to drive culture “Thank God it’s Monday”?

Mr. Prashant: Yes it is very much possible to drive this culture, when right set of engagement practices as per people’s needs would be driven by an organization, people love to work and look forward to come to work. There would be times though when one would not feel like going to work. What is most important here is that this feeling should not go beyond three instances, if it is constantly happening there is some problem which one needs to resolve immediately. It could be at personal front or professional front. Here the responsibility lies with both individual and organization to resolve the issue. Individual should be open to communicate with all people whom he or she thinks can offer help and organization should be able to see the warning signals and should be ready to offer help.

Mr. Prashant Prem works with Knorr-Bremse a 100% German subsidiary company. All the views expressed here are Mr. Prashant Prem’s own.

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