Joining digital identity specialist GBG in November 2020, Dev Dhiman, Managing Director of APAC, GBG, has had his hands full. In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, he talks about:
- How he has been able to build strong bonds with his colleagues,
- GBG's structured promotion cycle (through which 10% of the team has been promoted),
- Pieces of advice that stand out in Dhiman's career to date, and much more.
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Q You started your new role mid-pandemic – what were some of the challenges you faced as a leader and a new employee?
Starting a new role in the middle of a global pandemic was a huge challenge, and one that I had possibly underestimated as I stepped into the role. The tools and techniques that are usually available when trying to build relationships with new colleagues, such as coffee sessions and team dinners, were not an option and it was certainly evident that people are more guarded and circumspect when meeting with them in a virtual setting.
Having said that, it became obvious shortly after coming on board that the external environment in terms of travel and social interaction was not going to be changing any time soon, and so I had to work harder to find new and innovative ways to engage with our teams in APAC, with my global peers as well as our clients and partners. To this day, I’ve still not been able to meet 95% of my team, but thanks to perseverance and experimentation, I feel like I have been able to build strong bonds with my colleagues.
Q Having to work harder to find innovative ways to engage with your teams in APAC, could you share some ways that you've done so?
The current working environment required me to be more flexible about the tools available for interacting with my colleagues. Since I couldn’t meet the team face-to-face, I used digital methods such as virtual lunches and drinks to get better acquainted with them, initiating conversations as I would if I met them in person.
I have also started ‘walking 121s’ sessions with other members of the APAC and global teams.
We take this opportunity to engage in discussions while taking walks together – in our respective countries – to have a change in pace from the usual routines of working from home.
While bonding in a virtual setting is not the most ideal, active participation by the team made those sessions enjoyable and gratifying.
Q Previously you worked more in finance roles – what are some meaningful lessons you've taken over the course of your career and how do you apply them to your new role?
Prior to my time as managing director across businesses, I spent the bulk of my career in commercial finance roles; in fact, I am a chartered accountant by training. I value the experience that I gained in the boiler room of the finance function, and I feel that it has helped me be able to deliver effectively as a business leader.
For example, I feel like I have a solid grounding to evaluate business decisions, structure complex commercial deals, and crucially, to present business performance updates in a way that makes sense to non-finance people.
No one ever starts off their career as a business leader; the lessons we learn as we build our careers certainly help to shape the way in which we build our leadership style.
Q As MD, what kind of support do you provide for your employees, and what are some ways that you work with HR to offer that support?
Employees are the core of any organisation, and I’ve been lucky enough to see the amazing business outcomes that can be driven when you have a group of talented, engaged and motivated people. As a result, employee experience is a priority for me, along with all that it encompasses (recognition, career development, and learning to name a few).
It’s been obvious to me from the outset that GBG has a great culture – one where the welfare of our people is at the heart of what we do. In fact, there was no better time to put that to the test than the challenges of COVID-19, and it was heartwarming to see the steps that were taken to protect our teams.
In APAC, we are focused on amplifying a few key things at the moment – none of it driven by the agenda of management, but instead all as a result of the feedback from our colleagues. One such area is around recognition, where we have taken simple steps like creating an online channel to give and receive ‘instant praise’, as well as deeper actions like a more structured promotion cycle (through which 10% of our team have been promoted in the first few months of our financial year alone!).
I enjoy working closely with HR – to me, they are the most important business partner for a leader and really believe in the business case for a strong people function.
Of late, we have also taken the opportunity to triple the size of the HR function in APAC, which should give our team a clear signal that there’s much more to come in this space!
Q Could you tell us a little more about your structured promotion cycle, it sounds really exciting!
In a world that is advancing at a rapid pace, we acknowledge that having one annual promotion cycle is no longer sufficient to recognise our employees’ performance. GBG now has several formalised periods in the year where we promote the staff who deserve the commendation.
This provides reassurance to our employees that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed, and they are highly appreciated and valued by the company.
Q What's the best piece of advice you received from a boss or mentor that you apply daily when leading a team?
Two pieces of advice stand out in my career to date, and they both encompass periods of huge transition for me and my career.
The first was before I moved to Singapore and was weighing the potential international roles that were available to me. I spoke with a senior leader at the time (who also happens to be my current boss at GBG!) and was advised that Asia was the better long-term option given the growing importance of this region and the pace of growth here. He was not wrong, and I wouldn’t trade my last five years here for anything.
The second was days after I had made the transition from FD to MD, and just about to hold my first all-hands meeting. As I was preparing, it was obvious I was nervous and was anxious about forgetting parts of the script. Sensing this, my boss pulled me aside and told me to forget about the minute details, but instead “how about you go out there and talk to the people?”. I don’t think I’ve looked back since and those words have always stuck with me.
Q The pandemic has dramatically shifted workplaces – what trends do you see staying and which do you see going?
I think it’s clear that ‘hybrid’ models are here to stay. At GBG, we are embracing this and have just implemented a ‘Work When and Where you Want’ policy, empowering our teams to work in the most productive way possible and also clearly signaling our trust in them.
As a result of this, I see that leaders will need to develop new skills to manage effectively – for example, managing team dynamics and building new relationships in a virtual setting.
Q As a result of the 'Work When and Where You Want' policy, could you list out the top skills that you expect leaders at GBG to develop?
Some base expectations of leaders at GBG are to develop an environment that boosts innovation, trust, collaboration and cultural awareness. I strongly believe that team synergy is at its optimal when leaders possess and embody these values, allowing employees to feel safe and empowered to continue delivering exceptional work.
We are also working on programmes that will continue to help our leaders in this ‘new normal’. The hybrid working environment requires us to think beyond the usual formats of discussions and team bonding, utilising new tactics and resources to deliver the best results. For instance, we are keen on offering sessions to guide our leaders to lead remote or hybrid working teams in a productive manner.
We are always on the lookout for ways to help leaders provide seamless work experience for their teams.
Q What do you think are the most imminent issues when it comes to employees that leaders such as yourself and CHROs should be addressing?
A couple of key things come to mind aside from the generally accepted direction of continuously engaging employees. Firstly, I think leaders and CHROs can do more to create a sense of trust and security.
Establishing an environment where people can generate innovative ideas and try new things, and to not think that failure is career limiting, is important.
Secondly, and a topic close to my own beliefs is inclusion & diversity – clearly this is not a new concept, but it is certainly one that will continue to grow in prominence. Allowing team members to be themselves creates massive value for companies, especially as life and work becomes more integrated. I am firmly of the view that expertise in this area will be something every leader will need to master as we look ahead five or more years.
Q If not this career, what alternative career path would you have chosen?
Growing up, I was into cricket and rugby so I might have turned to a career in sports, even though I doubt I would have been a stellar sportsperson!
Having said that, everything I have learnt in my sporting days has definitely helped during my time as a business leader. For instance, sports teams have players in various positions – in the same way, teams based on compatible and complementary skills can be formed in the workplace to really bring out the best in each other.
Photo / Provided (Dev Dhiman, APAC MD, GBG)