Lemon Gupshup: Managing People Assets in Challenging Times

We all understand all the terminologies of the title. We all are familiar with the literal meanings of Assets and Challenging times and Managing. But corporate doesn’t work like this. Let’s take examples to understand the neural schema of corporate. Ryan Bingham? Heard this name ever? Ryan Bingham was the main protagonist of ‘Up in the Air’, played by George Clooney. Bingham played a corporate downsizers role. He did what many seasoned HR professionals dread to do. He told people that their services are no longer required. He did it well and with compassion but that did not make it easier or palatable for either the people being fired or for that matter, himself. While corporate downsizers are not the norm in our industry, especially in India, it is true that sometimes, unfortunately, tough situations demand tough responses that if not handled responsibly, can lead to catastrophic consequences for the organization. In terms of Human Resources, our worst crisis in recent times was during the recession of 2008-2009, when organizational restructuring and layoffs were the order of the day. The situation has definitely improved since then, but unfortunately, the modern business context is a challenging one and very often, hard decisions cannot be avoided. In every tough situation, HR has a leading role to play in ensuring it is all handled in a fair, empathetic and respectful way. Same is happening in this Covid-19 situation. Human Resource the department is getting a lot of files to complete.

This session was for the management of the people assets in challenging times. Deepak Menaria Sir, the CEO of Lemon Ideas told us that it’s a vacuum situation popped-out. It’s a crazy situation as well. He told comically that he didn’t meet even his key team for 6 months. He told to the webinar participants that he had zoom in his laptop since the previous 3 years but he used thrice than that of 3 years within 6 months. Being an experienced entrepreneur, he told that uncertainty is natural. It’s our responsibility to keep our weapons sharp and strong to tackle this. He invited Rajesh to put his thought on this. Rajesh is connected to Lemon Ideas for a long time. He told the Lemon Ideas is something up in his sleeves and he returns back for guidance whenever he is in any entrepreneurial trouble. Sagar has his own startup on healthcare, working vertically. He is also an awardee of IIT Hyderabad healthcare fellowship. He told that during this lockdown, definitely, the productivity has decreased, and to sustain this we need to design the complete ownership setups in our offices and workshops.

So, basically, this session was divided into 3 steps.

  1. Hiring or attracting Talent
  2. Making sure the productivity of the team
  3. Retaining in tough Times.

Simran is pursuing her LLB program. She told the participants that this time is best to hire. A whole lot of experienced people are jobless and staying home. If we can turn their experience and skill into an integrated current, we can find the best team for the future. She also told that communication is crucial in this. Lethargic attitude can also affect productivity. Chinmaya, a graduate and living in Amravati sees this situation as an opportunity. He told the panel that all of his friends were working in metro cities earlier and living their hectic and mechanical life. Chinmaya holds the opportunity now to make them listen and understand his idea to execute in near future, as his friends are in Amravati now due to the pandemic. Priyaranjan finds hiring very tough in these days. He supposes the body language a key factor, in the selection of the team. The physical interview plays a vital role in this. But, nowadays, with the virtual interview, it’s tough to know the person. And even after the selection, everyone is working remotely. No one knows how the other one is working. So we have to be very aware of finding the team. He took the example of Dabbawala in Mumbai. No one knows where the Dabbas are coming and where they are going. But they deliver exactly. A whole lot of Harvard and Massachusetts research got organized on this. And the summary of this mechanism is this that everyone is doing their part exact. We can also take the example of ‘Sleeper Cell’. This is the concept to commence a mission. No one knows the holistic picture. They all just play their part professionally and flawlessly. We can see this in the movie ‘Holiday’ of Akshay Kumar.

Deepak Sir told us that ‘Idea is okay. And it is idealistic too. But, for professional output, you have to pay.’ And it’s a challenging situation for compensations and salaries. The virus of having a vision is more severe than that of Covid- 19. Having an idea is good but to execute that professionally is tough. And it’s tough to believe on people virtually, people we didn’t meet. In that case, Deepak sir told about the trail. A 15-20 days trial can help. We can know the dedication and professionalism of our new member of the team. But amid all this, a basic livelihood should be taken care off. Our funnel should have to be wide enough to pick a talented member. For this, talking to entrepreneurial people can help. Jahnavi told the panel that language plays a huge role in productivity is the team. Approach and attitude of communication are vital in the time of distance working. Vaibhav told that whether it’s a challenging time or not, but the diversity is important for people assets. Let’s take the example of Maruti workshops in Haryana. Union Leaders of labourers hold the supremacy to stop the work with one call. Ethnicity played a negative role in productivity there. Most of the Laborers were from Punjab and Haryana. Every fortnight, riot-like situations used to break there. Later, Maruti strategically hired labourers from Himanchal and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and Orissa and Andhra and deep down the south. Jasdeep Singh is working with a startup – India. Working in the food security sector, he told that nowadays a member with a spiritual approach is essential for an organization who can motivate us through tough times. Rajesh told that in this turbulent time, promising a fix compensation or salary for any kind of fix talent or skill is very difficult. That salaried mode of corporate is getting disturbed. A target base setup is emerging. Rishikesh told his experience that initially in the first 2 months of lockdown, he worked a lot. After he shifted from chair to bed. Anxiety and revenue and so on played the role in this. Deepak sir told the solution of all this. He told that, to get a narrow escape from anxiety, he accepted 2020 as a slowdown year. He accepted that he can grab only 40% of business this year. Earlier it used to be 80-90 %. We can give it a fancy term ‘Act Of God’ or ‘Force Majeure’, but the slowdown is the reality of this year. Hearing all the discussion about this, we can summarize points like below.

Fairness and Empathy and Respect: The team member you are letting in, should be evaluated fairly and empathically and respect. The team member you are letting go, may have financial obligations and most likely a family to support. Understand and empathize with his/ her situation. Pay dues upfront. Most organizations offer employees what is termed a ‘golden handshake’ and this is an excellent move on the part of the company if they can afford it. It will help tide the team member over till he/she finds another job and he/she will appreciate it. Remember this decision is a big blow for them and they are likely to react emotionally. Allow them to do so without getting involved in a personal discussion. Thank them for the work they did for your organization and recommend them to other organizations if the opportunity presents itself. But sad, it’s an idealistic approach. Most of the organization even don’t want to pay for the work they did, while leaving. But this kind of approach can help in the long term. They will remember the company for a lifetime and will give positive reviews in the market and society.

Casual Communication: I cannot overemphasize the importance of communication during difficult times. Open and two-way communication is the most basic criteria for managing change in an enterprise, and this must come from the very top. The leadership team and management must be seen as being transparent, responsible and approachable during an HR crisis. Proactive and continuous communication from the management on all details pertaining to the situation always helps to clear the air and stop rumours from spreading. Executive emails and town halls can go a long way in restoring faith and goodwill in the company.

Standard Communication: While the top management can and should reach out to the team at large, it is important to make sure line managers are on the same page as far as key items are concerned. Some companies go as far as to create a separate microsite handled by the change management team that includes FAQs, updates, information on organizational policies, change of designation, news and also allows for employee Question & Answers. It is a good idea to create a change management team, especially in situations of reorganization, and equip them with a standardized FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document. This makes the entire process transparent and open to all and nips all water cooler gossip in the bud.

Welcoming Back: Working with a former mate is always productive. You can feel the alignment with new dynamics. Former team members are the most valuable resource before any organization. Whether you let them go or they left on their own accord, any chance to bring them back to the fold should be capitalized on. Former team members already know the work and the work culture and policies so they will be able to hit the ground running and not need a settling in a period like newcomers. Additionally, they will bring with them the depth of experience gained at another organization. This can only be achieved if the layoff or reorganization situation is handled well, and efforts are made to keep in touch with the team member after he leaves the organization. The team should reach out to people who were let go earlier the moment there is an opportunity for hiring in the organization. In fact, once the worst is over, and the company is back on its feet, there should be proactive efforts to bring back former teammates.


Vaibhav Singh
Hindu College. University of Delhi
New Delhi – 110007
Phone. +91-9455599489