With a total workforce of over 7,000 people across 28 manufacturing locations and about 50 office locations in India, here's how Pernod Ricard India has tracked the impact of COVID on its employee engagement using sophisticated AI tools such as sentiment analysis, and more. 

As the world's second largest wine and spirits seller, a brand portfolio comprising The Glenlivet, Jameson, Ballantine's and more, and a history that spans three centuries, Pernod Ricard certainly has an enviable employer brand. 

Pernod Ricard India is a fully owned subsidiary of Pernod Ricard SA and prides itself on being a socially responsible organisation. Directly and indirectly, it employs a total workforce of over 7,000 people across 28 manufacturing locations and about 50 office locations.

When COVID-19 hit India's shores early this year, the organisation acted swiftly in developing and executing its business continuity plan (BCP) despite its vast and geographically dispersed workforce.

In this exclusive interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, Shrikant Lonikar, Chief Human Resources Officer, Pernod Ricard India (PRI), talks us through this BCP, as well as the employee engagement programmes implemented to keep employees' motivation high while working from home.

Q How has PRI been dealing with the COVID situation for employees? What were the first steps in your business continuity plan?

At Pernod Ricard India, we were prepared for tackling the COVID situation. Keeping the impact first observed in China as a reference point, we developed our business continuity plan altered to the potential impact of COVID and implemented it accordingly.

We kick started our preparation phase by employing restrictions in travel, and addressing our employees on the potential impact of the virus in early January. Guidelines were established for running our operations keeping in mind social distancing norms and other preventive measures to ensure the safety of our taskforce around February. Crisis management committees were set up at locations to manage all COVID related situations early March.

In the pre-lockdown phase, employees worked from home on a rotational basis. We announced a complete lockdown of all operations on 18 March 2020. We took several measures to support our employees during this phase both in terms of business continuity and their safety. The required volumes of PPE were provided to them and their families, an internal self-declaration mechanism was set-up to monitor their health status and movements, tech enablement was activated to empower them to work efficiently from home, a business continuity matrix was developed with critical contacts for escalation at all times – to name a few.

One key transition that we are currently facilitating is the adoption of the new ways of working for our employees through extensive training and providing necessary work-from-home infrastructure support to ensure that this is a smooth process.

Q Coming to specific actions, values and behaviours, what does PRI's COVID response translate to?

We are amidst an unprecedented situation and the safety and wellbeing of our consumers, associates and employees, remains our top priority. Our COVID response is an embodiment of this philosophy which incidentally underlines the people-centric approach we continue to follow.

We truly believe that people are one of our major assets and in times of crisis it is most important to safeguard their interests. We extended our support to our employees on a psychological and emotional level through our employee engagement platform Ananda where we involved their families as well. This inclusive approach has generated significant positivity amongst our employees and has helped them through this transition.

We were swift to ensure tie-ups with doctors and hospitals in all locations, while employing a hotline for employees and families for COVID-related assistance and COVID-19 kits including oxygen concentrator.

Q What further activities is Pernod Ricard India undertaking for keeping employees engaged while they are working remotely?

As our employees started working from home, there existed a strong need to keep them engaged at their work. With the help of our employee engagement platform Ananda, we adopted a structured approach under its eight pillars – occupational, social, physical, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, financial and emotional. All eight pillars are directed to the holistic development of our employees – both at a professional and personal level.

Sessions were conducted remotely and focused on the specific requirements of the individuals. The activities included yoga sessions, 'Leadership Connects', TED-style talks on self-care and parenting, learning webinars, moderated discussions, quizzes, book summaries, e-learning modules, psychological counselling, and more. As keeping our employees connected was identified as key to their motivation levels, we conducted several virtual coffee sessions on a weekly basis where people managers would connect with their teams over a cup of coffee.

Our ongoing leadership chat series, titled ‘Koffee With Shrikant’ invited leaders from India Inc. as guests, during the pandemic phase, to facilitate learning among PRI employees. The show continued to deliver on leadership values and practices, as shared first-hand by guests on the show.

PRI’s culture of conviviality is entrenched in the need for social engagement and coming together to share experiences. Our engagement calendar was built on the lines to include more than one activity in a day providing our employees the luxury to opt for an activity of their choice per their convenience and schedule. Overall, we received an overwhelming response on all of the above activities and we are looking forward to continuing the same going forward.

Q In implementing PRI’s remote engagement programmes, have you seen positive results? How are the data and metrics tracking?

Our remote engagement programmes have received a phenomenal response. We have meticulously tracked participation in all our activities and received awe-inspiring responses from employees.

We conducted five different modes of learning sessions across 1,000+ man days, that cumulatively engaged over 8,000 participants – ensuring that our employees participated in more than one session, with high engagement scores.

Beyond this we have had 540 + chess matches across 64 enthusiasts while our 'Fitness Challenge' tie-up with CureFit yielded 1,000+ sessions in only 7 days. The numbers speak for themselves and accurately capture the essence of the engagement opportunities that our employees have been exposed to.

To capture the effectiveness of our initiatives, we captured the feedback of our participants and a staggering 99% have responded that their overall experience has been positive. Nearly 96% have shared that the activities were most appropriate to engage them and their families.The above data bears testimony to the experience we have been able to provide to our employees during the work from home period.

Q While implementing these programmes, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

While executing these activities, we faced challenges on two levels – operational and mindset level.

At an operational level, recreating physical events into virtual events required development on competencies like being tech-savvy, situational adaptability, innovation and collaboration with multiple stakeholders. My team spent countless hours studying the different technological tools available in the market and their practical application in a PRI context. We also partnered with external agencies to help streamline our plan of action while developing talent internally to facilitate such sessions. Through this collective team effort, we were able to overcome the operational roadblocks to successful implementation.

At a mindset level, we encountered the test of acceptance to an alternate mode of engagement. We employed a change management strategy where we prepared our offerings to cater to the specific needs of the employees. In light of our global strategy, we kept employee experience as the center of such activities and this helped in attraction of new participants and retention of the existing participants. The robust feedback mechanism that we employed for all these activities helped us to concentrate on the drivers that were successful and build our activities around them.

Q How has remote working impacted the work-life balance of employees, and how is the company helping to tackle that? What other business/HR metrics has it impacted, and how?

Remote working continues to impact the work–life balance of employees across all organisations. At PRI, we conducted an organisation-wide pulse survey to gauge the mood and morale of our employees through the artificial intelligence tool, Amber.

Basis the sentiment analysis that the tool conducts on qualitative responses from our employees, we noticed that employees felt that the boundaries of work-time and personal-time got blurred, which sometimes led to employees working long or odd hours.

These inputs have helped us to become proactive in our approach and we continue to develop our action plan based on the data points that we have secured.

One initiative that we would focus on is PRI’s Rendezvous Day where we encourage our employees to take a break from their working life, free up their mindspace, and interact with colleagues personally, instead of over emails. In addition, we are defining the norms to make sure there is a definite end of day hour (e.g. no meetings to be scheduled after 5 pm) and weekends are not encroached by office work.

The survey also revealed similar scores on preparedness while working from home, where we scored high on the metric of interpersonal support which signified the caring nature of our organisation and its employees. This is indicative that the transition to the new ways of working is a continuous journey and will require us as a team to be creative and adaptive always.

At Pernod Ricard India, we remain steadfast in our drive to ensure that employees are motivated and experience high morale during these unprecedented times.

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