Prashanth Achar, CEO, GP Petroleums Ltd

Prashanth Achar
Prashanth Achar, CEO, GP Petroleums Ltd

Prashanth brings with him over 30 years of experience and specialization in the automotive and lubricant industry, across diverse roles within the Asia & Pacific landscape.

Prior to joining GP Petroleums, Prashanth had a 5 years stint at Tata Motors followed by 25 years-long innings at BP/ Castrol.

Over the past 19 months, Prashanth has been driving growth through strategic interventions and cultural makeover.

“The best outcome is when one is playful and passionate, hence, it is necessary to create an Organisation which is a serious-fun-place” he says. “Play for Profit$ with Passion!” poster stare at you from the wall of his cabin.

He is keen to drive the people agenda to the next level and hence calls it ‘people as agenda’ to ensure the bench strength for making GPPL future-ready.

When he is not driving his team, he can be found driving through the meandering hilly terrains. “Speed thrills and nature soothes. I could have made two trips to the moon and back had there been a track,” jokes Prashanth! At other times he is busy taking brisk walks, and in parallel, life-coaching the earnest seekers on holistic living, through his own life’s learnings and relying on traditional sciences and writing articles on leadership and spirituality.

Here are his key experiences in the industry in relation to Performance Management.

What, in your opinion, performance management actually is?

Performance management is one of the tools we use to build a performance culture, and performance culture is all about people. My approach to Performance is based on the motto of ‘play for profits with passion!’ and is simply derived from ‘back to the basics’. I always start from the heart and then balance it with the head. This has worked well in transforming the Organisation. I walked in through the main door on the first day and declared that we are going to play for profit$ with passion. ‘When one is playful about life and passionate about what he does, profits will flow, as a by-product.

That’s why we are a serious fun place, informal, flexible, empowered, entrepreneurial, customer-centric and most importantly ‘performance oriented’. I insisted that my Leadership team commits to create an Informal, Transparent yet Respectful Organisation. Performance and Behaviour are paramount. I started driving Innovation and Entrepreneurial mindset.

Strategy and culture is what the business head must focus on. Strategy decides the goals and orients people around them. Culture is enabler of strategy and is underpinned by values and beliefs. Importance of Culture is well known as Peter Drucker said, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

How does Performance Management actually help companies like yours?

Performance Management ensures the health of the business. It is more like periodic maintenance of our car so that we can avoid the breakdown repairs which could be quite detrimental.

We are a 48 year-old Brand, and we are well lubricated! However, it is not the Brand but the PEOPLE who are our biggest asset and what makes us tick.

We started transformation journey with revisiting the Strategy on what we want to do and where we want to be. Next, we took up People agenda and created the right ambience through capability building and motivation. I also started driving innovation and Entrepreneurial mindset. Employees were encouraged and recognised for sharing ideas and taking initiatives. In short, brick by brick we started building a vibrant Organisation. Once clear about our priorities and the capability being in place, we started driving Performance Management by setting milestones and goalposts.

The importance of performance management through the stages of planning, tracking, developing, and rewarding is critical. It is about dovetailing the people skills to the organisation’s requirement so that the Organisation grows, and the aspirations of people get fulfilled and a strong partnership is established. But it is easier said than done. It’s important for every leader to understand that performance management is a team sport. You want every employee to bite it 100%. It has to go beyond mere paperwork or PMS systems.

A strict adherence to Performance management helps provide clarity in what is expected from the employees and what they can expect in turn. As the performance management gets established, the human bias gets minimised, and transparency gets maximised. Business delivery, Employee Attraction, Motivation and Retention depend on a fair treatment.

We started looking at the Economic Value Added for the employees and we could quickly come up with thumb rules on threshold level of performance for all roles. As they say – What is measured, gets delivered.

KRAs and KPIs are the corner stones of Performance Management. We track them monthly both at the Functional level as well as the employee level. I make it a point to talk with the front runners as well as those who are lagging to understand and share best practices. KRAs set the navigation while KPIs enable their delivery. With this we can correct our path quickly. KRAs do cover not only Business Delivery but the Behaviour aspect as well.

Lastly, for the long-term, the performance management helps keep the bench strength intact as we identify potential employees for succession planning.

What are the key gaps in current industry practices in managing employee’s performance?

The gaps can be covered under two broad heads – People and Processes.

First about people – A couple of decades ago, honesty and loyalty of the employee was all that was needed for a lifetime of employment. We have come a long way. However, a lot more needs to be done. I believe a leader should be good at 3Cs – Coaching, Creativity and Camaraderie ….First C, Coaching – we know that corporate leaders are not expected to be spiritually evolved or psychoanalysts. So, developing the team through motivation, feedback mechanism, mentoring are all a challenge for most of the team leaders I have come across. Leaders end up pointing the finger instead of holding hands. Second C, Creativity – most of the leaders lack ability to think big. Even if they do, they are poor in execution. Creativity lies in thinking big and turning thought into action. Third C, Camaraderie – the leader should create the right atmosphere through transparency and fairness for his team and be approachable both at professional as well as personal level. Usually, leaders become myopic chasing the targets and the human angle gets diluted which is detrimental to Company’s health.

Second, talking about the PROCESSES – Treating policies as gospels is a risk. For example, the practice of forced x% attrition through bottom skimming that is followed by a few Companies or rigorous adherence to the Bell curve while rating employees leads to demotivation and team play suffers. Managers should not become administrators! This is the best way to bring in bureaucracy and kill creativity. The last one is – Management by check sheets – ticking the box is what makes the Corporations hypocritic. If it is not coming from the heart, don’t do it!

Striking a balance between the objectivity of assessment and subjectivity is another challenge. AI can’t run the performance management as we are dealing with emotive beings. But AI could aid in the process.

How many employees are there in your organization & how are you currently managing your employee’s performance with any tools?

There are 276 members in my clan. Through dialogues we arrive at mutually agreed KRAs underpinning the strategy, drilled down to the last level through workshops prior to the plan period. All the resourcing, Brand investment, infrastructure and capex requirements get frozen at that stage. We have an online home-grown PMS web application that captures the performance targets and periodic reviews.

I am spending disproportionate time on culture building in my year 2. Performance management is very close to my heart and I drive it across the Organisation and get involved with every appraisal. We hold multiple levels of interactions – starting from monthly townhalls, weekly one-2-ones with the leadership team, Coffee (virtual!) with CEO sessions in smaller groups, performance feedback sessions with line manager and HR. The monthly town halls provide the opportunity to recognise winners and create a sense of belonging in their minds and set priority for the month. To make it fun, we distribute Kuch meetha ho jaye Cadbury’s – profits during the month decides the size of the chocolate! On the learning front – we take up a goal of certain hours of relevant training for every employee.

As I need to align the entire Organisation to the goal, I use simple analogies, catch phrases and mantras which become memorable. Be it our goal of 2x=3y, cashflow priority of ‘Tank to Bank Velocity’ or our Values of PATH (Passion, Agility, Thinking Big and Honest Culture) they get easily ingrained in all.

What makes a really effective Performance Management programme? Any best practices to share.

Performance Management starts with People. It is primarily the softer issues that need to be addressed first and then tracking it is more for hygiene.

My Performance Management Programme can be summarised by the 4C approach – addressing Culture, Capability, Cash and Clan. Building the right culture is the first priority of the leader. It should be genuine and fair, and the leader should walk the talk. Capability is either home-grown or where not possible hired from outside based on ABC fit (Attitude, Behaviour and Culture). Then is the role of Cash. Money is the best motivator but not the only one. Timely increments and pay-out of performance variable goes a long way in wining employees. Top it up with Reward & Recognition Mechanisms and they feel valued. – simple things like the priest’s bell and hi-5 card to sending a cheque to the spouses for standing behind the great performers works wonders for the organisation. Motivation building by painting the big picture and selling the dream coupled with reward mechanisms helps. Always remember, everyone wants to be an ACHIEVER. Everyone wants to be a success story. It’s a job of leader to give them an opportunity to bring tangible changes and feel good about themselves. The dream must be audacious and at every stage we should celebrate successes. Lastly the clan – build the clan of super performers with right attitudes which is fully aligned with the objectives and culture. No room for hypocrisy or sugar-coating – state clearly if someone is not up to the mark in performance and do the clean-up quickly. Performance culture can’t be built by the carrot alone!

Driving ‘informality’, Whatsapp has replaced emails mostly for communications. I am connected to every employee through multiple WhatsApp groups and get the pulse of the Organsiation. At the click of a button we can roll out an initiative.

If we take good care of people, performance is guaranteed. I have decentralised decision to a great extent. Trust is of highest significance. For example, I have done away with all routine reports at all levels. It is simply non-productive. Even the travel expense statements get processed as received with only 5% random audit. Everyone is on App and the business teams are on ‘Sales Force Automation’, to help them improve productivity.

When people are pushed to take decision wearing the entrepreneur’s hat, innovation happens. When they come to me with a new proposal, I simply ask – would you take it up if it is your Company? If it is your money? I provide space for innovation and insist that one can break rules but then should stand by it; The Laxman Rekha exists only for what cannot be breached – ethics, compliance, and safety.

There is no rocket science here it is really about ‘back to basics’. The devil lies in the execution.

When one works with passion, work becomes a piece of art, ideas will flow. It is all about a journey of transformation, Transform self first, and the team next…. Eventually transform the world…!


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