Pallab Mukherji is the Chief People Officer of Equitas Small Finance Bank. Prior to joining Equitas Small Finance Bank, he worked with HDFC Bank and Arvind Mills. His last corporate assignment was to head Human Resources for the India Infoline Group. He has also worked as a consultant in HR for several Banks and Financial Services companies in India, South Asia and the Oceania regions. As a consultant, he was affiliated to IFC, World Bank Group and was involved in key organisation transformation projects.
A Civil Engineer with a post graduate in HR from XLRI Jamshedpur, he has also undergone Strategic HR certification from Ross School Michigan. He is certified in various profiling instruments as well as a Certified Coach.
Here are his key experiences in the industry in relation to the current COVID-19 pandemic and WFH situation.
What is the impact on employee performance in the pandemic situation?
Covid 19 has certainly pushed employees across geographies and sectors to work in completely different environment. Banking being classified as “essential services”, needed to continue assisting and engaging with the customers. All this when the some of the employees were themselves affected and we were working with skeletal staff at physical locations.
As a pro-active measure, we ensured that employees who were working from home are given adequate tools and trainings to offer customer services seamlessly. Laptops or computers were transferred by the administration team to homes of the employees. Additional data requirements were met. At the same time, system security measures like MDM were also put in place to prevent data leakage of any kind.
At the branches, we ensured safety being the foremost priority. We sent out masks, sanitisers and the like from the Head Office to all the branches so that they have adequate stock. Products and processes were tweaked to be more compatible to the digital world with the aid of Information Technology division. The Human Resources team was in constant touch with each and every employee of the Bank to ensure adequate support.
These measures ensured that the employees quickly settled into the new style of working. Of course, there were some jobs like collections or customer point verification which got adversely affected as it is a completely field level role. Other roles continued to perform well under the circumstances. The first few weeks were tough, but thanks to our measures and the hard work put in by the employees, we had a good year in terms of performance.
In fact, Equitas Small Finance Bank had its best year ever in terms of PAT in the last year, where we ended with a profit of Rs. 384 crores. This was fuelled by impressive performances both on the liabilities and asset side of the business. Our deposits saw robust growth during this period which was primarily driven by digital acquisition, digital servicing and virtual channels. In value terms, we have grown by 17% and 58% respectively in advances and deposits during FY: 2020-21. These results were possible due to the significant contributions made by our employees, thereby improving our productivity and efficiency across the bank.
Have you taken any proactive measures to maintain employee performance?
Equitas People Philosophy rests on the pillars of Employee Care and Employee Connect. Equitas needed to create a safe environment for employees to deliver their full potential. This proactive two-pronged approach of Employee Care and Employee Connect stood us in good stead especially during the pandemic giving confidence to the employees. To ensure business continuity even during the pandemic, following initiatives were undertaken by HR, that boosted the morale and motivation of our employees, to deliver a consistent performance irrespective of crisis:
- Communication: MD connected on audio bridges with groups of employees across all locations to take their questions and feedback. At a time when the industry was rife with announcements of job cuts and pay cuts, he infused the sense of security in all employees by announcing that there will be no job cuts or right sizing at Equitas.
- Continued with regular communication from HR and Business Heads through mails, messages and whatsapp to employees informing them of safety measures and current business scenarios – more than 500 such communications were sent during the period.
- Conducted increments and promotions across the levels, while there were stories of pay-cuts at other places doing rounds
- Since frontline employees were not able to hit the field during the first three months of lockdown, ex-gratia amounts were paid to them so that they do not face cash crunch during the tough times.
- Reviewed Delegation Matrix to ensure greater empowerment in the field for the lending business
- Redeployed people in the collections function to focus on increase in efficiency
- Adopted to the new norm of Video Conference & Audio Calls. Reduced Travel keeping in mind the safety of employees
- Virtual Rewards & Recognition events were conducted to keep the employees motivated
Will there be any changes to existing appraisal methods? Process & Frequency?
In line with our mission of creating the most valuable bank for all our stakeholders, we focused on balancing growth and profitability while improving efficiency across all our channels. The Bank ensured that the products and processes were compatible to online and digital modes of transactions. We developed an online 100% digital account opening process and deployed a new software for building efficiency in the micro-finance business.
Our current Performance Management System and framework meets our business requirement (pre & post pandemic). We follow a KPI led model that is largely scorecard driven for the goal setting and review exercise. During the pandemic, we ensured that the review mechanism is robust. We ensured that the frequency of feedback or feedforward as the case may be was appropriately increased. The HR team worked very closely with the business / functional team so that every employee knew exactly where they stood vis a vis their goals. Some competition and recognition programs were also conducted to improve motivation and productivity. Equitas also conducts a formal mid-year review for all its employees.
Do you think formalizing feedback and/or regular performance check-ins will make a difference?
It already has. Most of us and particularly the millennials would be keen to know how we are going at work, particularly if one is not meeting his/her supervisors physically on a regular basis. Formalising the regular feedback mechanism or “check-ins” gives the employees ways and means of progress. It also increases the sense of belonging as it becomes clear that the organisation is interested in the employee’s progress.
Periodic feedback ensures that there are no surprises towards the end of the year and it helps both the managers and subordinates course-correct the actions, wherever needed, in an ongoing basis. As mentioned earlier, at Equitas we have ensured that feedback is available to employees on a regular basis – sometimes even on his/her tab as the scorecards get updated. It ties in well with our values of Fairness & Transparency and Pride of Performance.
In this scenario of crisis, what steps are being taken to ensure clarity on work objectives/goals and their priorities?
Equitas strongly believes in the values of Fairness and Transparency. We are living in a constantly changing world with different products and services becoming important in different customer segments and times. For the Bank to perform, we have to ensure that this gets communicated regularly across levels.
We also ensure that appropriate training is coupled with process and product notes whenever there is a change in product or process. Training could be virtual or in self learning mode but is ensures that employees are fully aware of their deliverables. Besides, the business / functional heads regularly have conference calls and reviews where the views of employees are sought and clarifications given. Reward and recognition programs are also suitably modified to align to revised goals.