Brown & Company PLC (Browns) recently bagged the Gold award in recognition of its contribution towards driving organisational performance through human resource (HR) management practices at the National HR Excellence Awards organised by the Institute of Personnel Management Sri Lanka (IPM). The company established in 1875 is a conglomerate that operates in growth industries such as agriculture, plantations, marine engineering, manufacturing, power generation, travel and leisure, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, etc.
In an interview with Mirror Business, Senior Vice President Group Human Resources Paduma Subasinghe shared insights on their achievement and the processes established for their employees.
By Zahara Zuhair
Could you tell us about your recent achievement?
Winning the Gold award at the IPM HR Conference was a great achievement for us. Browns, in the recent past, went through a major structural change and due to those changes, a lot of the company’s HR practices and policies had to be revisited and realigned. Though challenging during the inception stages, the said changes made, brought in a lot of external recognition from organisations and institution bodies as a company with sound HR best practices.
Whilst it is important to steer employees to align with the company’s HR policies, it is equally important to be recognised and exposed to healthy competition amongst similar contenders in the industry.
Leveraging on this recognition, we, at Browns, have made a concerted effort in attracting the best talent available in the employee market today and hope to continuously add value to Browns as an organisation.
This is the first time that Browns has won a prestigious award of this calibre. Browns has been in existence for 140 years now and one of our goals is to further establish ourselves as one of the best places to work and the HR Excellence Award is just one of many we hope to achieve.
What were the steps taken by your company to develop human resources?
We took a holistic view of the HR strategies and how it affects each sector, business unit, department and employees. It was a lot of hard work, strategizing, brainstorming and consulting. We adopted the methodology ‘Re-think, Re-define, Re-create’.
Browns, with its deep rooted history, is a very traditional and conservative organisation in its beliefs and values and it has employees from all walks of life. The recent changes also resulted in a big generation gap among the employees. Therefore, the management and HR had to be mindful and sensitive to the needs of the business as a whole.
The HR policies and practices had to be strategically realigned, almost tailor-made to coincide with our long-term vision for the organisation and most importantly for its people, the backbone and success of Browns.
One of the steps we took was to allocate HR personnel for each business unit and drive the concept of business partnering. As Browns is a diversified organisation involved in various industries, this method worked remarkably well.
HR was able to obtain industry-specific insight into their needs in terms of recruitment, training, counselling, etc. This information served as a solid foundation in the creation and execution of successful HR values and policies.
We based our policies on creating an environment to attract and retain talent in line with the organisation’s vision, instilling organisational values in each employee, providing career training and counselling to help individuals excel in their career, providing possible career expansion and growth and most importantly building a bigger and better Browns for the future generation.
The talent management framework was broken down into four sub categories: talent acquisition, talent development, talent retention and talent performance. Driving an intense focus on recruitment, Browns took part in and organised various career fairs, personal development trainings and leadership programmes to name a few.
In addition, the group took initiatives in building entrepreneurship amongst employees, driving business results, supporting business heads to empower and developing and building a performance-driven cohesive team driven by customer centricity, which were also the key leadership drivers of the group.
All the efforts taken by Browns HR were aimed at building a strong workforce and a team that thinks big and constantly strives to execute flawlessly.
Do you have any specific structure to reward the employees?
Yes, of course, we do. We have set up a very effective performance-based bonus scheme, which is paid twice a year based on clear performance drivers specific to each business. We have implemented processes that are customized for that specific business unit. For example, the sales staff that is out constantly on the field cannot be evaluated with a performance criteria of an in-house marketing personnel.
Our performance achievements are graded as Top Talent, Corporate Performer, Achiever and Developer and rewarding bonus is defined accordingly.
According to you, what are the best HR practices every organisation should follow?
In my opinion, the HR arm of every organisation needs to firstly understand the business and its people. All HR policies and practices should stem from this deep understanding that one has garnered.
Most organisations have their own performance evaluation systems. Whilst it is necessary and important to have a well-rounded system, it is also important to create customized processes specific to the various businesses an organisation might be into, especially for diversified conglomerates like us at Browns.
Most of our HR personnel play a dual role in this organisation. As I mentioned earlier in our conversation, we gather in-depth knowledge about each sector and customize it. Everything else that follows: recruitment, training, promotions, bonuses, etc., are all affected by that knowledge gained.
At Browns, we strive instilling in our employees a culture whereby, each and every individual adopts an innovation-driven mindset. We want to move away from the old traditional ways of running a business to a more futuristic organisation in a business sense. Our employees are encouraged to propose and attempt at jobs never done before, systems never practiced before and processes never implemented before. We have an open door policy that we take value and take into consideration any suggestion or concern brought in by an employee.
In your opinion, what are the most important elements to have an efficient and happy environment for the employees?
Let me start off by saying that it is not practically possible to make everyone happy all the time. Just as in our daily personal life we face both happy and disappointing moments, we face challenges in the work place as well.
Talking from an HR perspective, the best approach that we can take is to find that strategic balance between the business and its people. Driving employees to produce better results in business growth. Business growth increases profits. Increased profits means better benefits for employees.
In addition, organising company-sponsored career-specific training goes a long way in employee satisfaction.
Other activities such as the culture we create, engagement activities, loyalty schemes, leisure activities, etc., too play a fundamental role in ensuring our employees are made to feel valued and appreciated.
So how do you address their concerns?
Here, at Browns, we have adopted an ‘open door’ policy. In the instance of a grievance, the employees have the choice of either addressing the matter directly to the HR or approach via their immediate superior.
There are two unions currently in operation at Browns. We make it a point to actively engage with these unions and address their concerns fairly and diplomatically and do our best in executing a solution to each concern.
What measures should be taken to build a winning culture among the employees?
My personal preference, I would like to rephrase ‘winning culture’ to more of a ‘performance-based’ culture.
People in general strive for performance and thrive on achieving both personal and career goals. We, as an organisation, must recognise and acknowledge this. The onus is on the management of an organisation to support, mentor and guide their subordinates in carrying out their job roles and tasks well and to bring out the best in employees.
Well-trained and groomed employees help in creating a strong workforce and also aid in employee retention. As in the words of famous Richard Branson, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Another aspect I look at is investing in our employees to be the best they can be, whereby if and when they decide to move on to better prospects outside Browns, we can be proud of the fact that we, Browns, trained and moulded this employee to be what he or she is today. The employee in a sense becomes an ambassador for Browns.
As the company is now stamped as an ‘award-winning employer’ how are you expecting to maintain the standards?
Living up to this status is no easy feat. Every one of us at Browns have to now instil it into our corporate DNA. We have to continuously strive to live by the standards for which we are rewarded for. Our HR personnel research and look out for new trends in the corporate world, best practices and evaluate as to what we can learn from what’s out there.
Could you describe your company culture?
We have a fantastic culture I would say. Living by the values of the organisation is one of our core mottos. Integrity and open communication is another factor we pride ourselves in.
For example, from the point of recruitment, we make an effort in assessing the employee, his or her training needs, career growth assessment, continuous development, etc., are communicated to the individual.
We also take great pride in our value systems; transparency and open communication, applies to every individual in this organisation, including the chairman and the senior management. Should an employee feel that the management is not living up to company values, he or she has every right to address it.
Gender equality is an area that needs much focus. How do you work towards it?
To be honest, at Browns we haven’t yet been able to find that balance. We have definitely improved from where we were years ago. This also solely depends on the types of job profiles at Browns. Most of the time, the vacancies available are ones that would mostly suit a male. This does not mean we have dismissed the idea on recruiting more female employees. We are looking at various expansion initiatives that would encourage more females to join Browns. Our healthcare sector at the moment is I would say 90 percent females, a team of some of the best and dedicated personnel.
Are you planning to attract new talent?
Yes, of course, we are. We have already launched and have got several other initiatives in the pipeline that would benefit in attracting new talent. At the same time, we also have to be aware of our headcount and not end up incurring a heavy cost. Maintaining a balance in employee productivity and profitability is as important.
Is there anything you would like to share with the future participants of the competition?
Receiving an award is exciting. Living up to that standard is what defines us. From an HR communication perspective, an organisation needs to be transparent in its business practices. An ideal situation would be whereby organisations share their knowledge and best practices with other business entities.
One has to create a platform that would facilitate sharing of information. Award-winning organisations in a sense also play a critical role in the development of the country in the long term. Winning an award of this calibre is all about understanding your culture, building policies, procedures, HR practices, etc. And finally, it is about the success of HR, profitability, business strategies and how we, as an organisation, align ourselves to support the business and growth of the organisation and its employees.