Building Blocks of a Market Leader – An Interview with Seepika, Head of Total Rewards, Luminous

10 Min Read | Luminous India is a market leader in power storage and home electrical businesses. They grew by a whopping 1000% between 2012 and 2017 and they still continue to be a…

10 Min Read |

Luminous India is a market leader in power storage and home electrical businesses. They grew by a whopping 1000% between 2012 and 2017 and they still continue to be a top player with an annual turnover of over USD 510 million. In June 2011, Schneider Electric acquired 74 per cent stake in Luminous Power Technologies with the intent of creating greater technological, geographical and value synergies. Currently, they have 7 manufacturing units, more than 28 sales offices in India and 36 other countries, a team of over 6000 employees and more than 60,000 channel partners.

 In this article, we speak to Seepika Singhal, an HR leader at Luminous, who heads the Total Rewards function for this vast workforce. Seepika has more than a decade of rich experience in managing performance, rewards, people processes, implementations and design of total reward frameworks across contexts of over 30 countries and their cultures. She has prowess in strategic HR that spans all the HR functions and an intuitive understanding of organizational behavior.

We talk to her to delve into understanding the building blocks of a market leader – their processes, policies and most importantly, their people.

The Schneider take over probably was the most significant of all the transitions Luminous underwent. How did it impact the HR functions?

Schneider Electric has been in India for more than half a decade now and is known for its best HR practices. The merger with Schneider has a very positive impact on Luminous’ employee morale, digitization of processes and practices. With the transition, there was no immediate impact on all HR policy implementation. However, Schneider’s global best practices served as guiding light. These were the first reference point for bringing in initiatives on diversity, inclusion, workplace effectiveness, well-being and global employee benefits and they were readily made available to Luminous. Implementation is happening gradually as the context and challenges of two organizations were different and such practices were allowed to be imbibed as and when Luminous was ready to take them up. It is an evolutionary journey – a growth journey together.

 How does Luminous’ workforce manage and contribute to this growth journey? 

The pace of change at Luminous is high. The DNA of Luminous culture is deep-rooted in the passion of its people and the sense of individual ownership towards collective targets. We are a very agile organization. Our decision-making processes are also so swift that even key strategic changes are quickly implemented over a matter of days. This pace is notable considering our geographical complexity and multiple business verticals. Passionate people and leaders who echo the same values are also instrumental in contributing to this growth journey.

 Our business strategy also focuses a lot on innovation – which is key to growth. For example, power storage devices were once an inelegant contraption to the house. We transformed this notion to make them chic additions to the home interior through our ‘Regalia’ product line. This is a result of us wanting our employees to have their creative and innovative energies running high.

What role do you believe technology plays in people processes? How are you leveraging technology to achieve efficiency in this?

 Technology has touched everyone. People are constantly hooked to technology in one form or another. This technology that they consume, again, is a unique concoction of services. People crave for choices, Identity and customized solutions and offerings at their fingertips – and this is important for the diverse generations to co-exist and co-play.

 For instance, we have field sales and service employees whose job requires frequent travelling. The travel reimbursement used to be through paper based voucher submission and very cumbersome. People had to collect the manual bills and submit them once they complete the journey and are back in the office. The claim submission used to get delayed and reimbursement again used to take weeks and months. Now, we are bringing an app-based solution that enables them to submit their bills while on the move. These things are very important to improve their work efficiencies. A lot of productive energy of the employees was getting lost in settling the claims.

Another example is when we studied our insurance claim data, we realized many employees between the ages of 35 to 45 were suffering due to lifestyle disorders. We introduced a workplace effectiveness program called ‘fit to win’. We brought in experts on the floor and designed a morning exercise routine for the employees. Every morning employees spend 10 minutes to perform mild exercises right at their workstations before kick starting their day in all locations followed by eating right tips, ‘take stairs’ campaign and ‘steps challenge’.

 How did you make sure your people policies support your organization’s agility and innovation?

There are two parties to this – the very supportive and dynamic leadership team on the top and the HR business owners who are leading the employees from the front. 

International best practices are always a reference for us while we implement our programs. That way our policies are both inward-looking as well as outward-looking – we study the best practices from across the industry, assess our needs and customize and apply them to our internal context. We do this by intently studying the current processes of our organization, evaluating the pain points – of what the need of the hour is and understanding whether we are ready for the proposed change. 

We ensure to be sensitive to our internal climate while we take something foreign into the organization, else, the change management and implementation are bound to suffer.

Fig 1. Luminous’s HR policy creation process

How do you assess the need for change in your HR policy?

 We keep evolving the policies constantly. This evolution also needs to match the evolution of the organization – if there is logical need, we do not hesitate to scrap old ones and build more efficient new ones. 

Our attendance management policies, for example, have undergone drastic changes through the use of technology – the entire process is now paperless and mobile app enabled. Policies are formed based on the gaps that exist in enabling optimal productivity of our employees with respect to business demands. For instance, we dynamically adopt upskilling and training strategies based on live business requirements.

 As I mentioned before, we are highly sensitive to our internal environment while we frame our policies. We use focus group discussions to bring in suggestions from our employees. This process of collecting people’s opinions is important because they are our stakeholders and all the policies that we frame are ultimately meant for them. This constant collection of people feedback is a part and parcel of Luminous’ culture.

We don’t end it there. Each of the HR Business Partners go back to the employees and tell the output of the focus group discussions – we talk about the discussion points that the focus group brought out, discuss which of the suggestions we are planning to implement and discuss what we cannot by describing the limitations. We also make it clear on the estimated timelines to implement these new suggestions. It is important to close the loop and communicate back to employees.

Why do you frequently evaluate your policies for such change requirement? As a mature organization, would you not be more comfortable being less agile?

In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, where in pace of transition in unprecedented, it is dangerous to consider oneself as matured – maturity that does not support agility sets the ground for complacency and status quo which is really not a good thing to have. I believe that the learning process stops once you feel matured and have a know-it-all attitude. We are constantly learning and changing as an organization. Innovation is a KPI for our products, our processes and “Learn everyday” is even a company value.

 How do you go about benchmarking global best practices?

In addition to the detailed best practice collaterals provided by Schneider, we also study the industry for highly efficient people practices. All of this is evaluated within the ‘process simplification’ model that our organization ardently drives. Seasoned leaders from different functions form core teams and are dedicated to the cause of simplification as an add-on project.  Digitization is the most prominent channel we use to implement these process redesigns.

We also interact with industry leaders to understand process and technology best practices. We recently celebrated ‘technology day’ where stalwarts and leaders from Microsoft, NTT Data, SAP labs, KPMG etc were brought in to provide insights and updates of the latest technology advancements. This helped us to gain insight about the technological advancement in various industries and we used it for in-house development for product innovation and process simplification. For instance, our customer experience ratings have improved multifold when their request tracking, servicing and feedback process was made digital.

How do you customize your people policies to uniquely fit the context of Luminous?

Business strategy takes cues from the vision and mission of the company. The people policies build on the business strategy that serves as a guiding light to design all the HR policies and programs. The vision of our CHRO Debolina Dutta is instrumental in bringing about a paradigm shift in our people policies and HR strategies. To make the HR strategy work, there should be a judicious mix of all total rewards elements- that includes compensation, benefits, talent development, recognition,  performance management, and workplace effectiveness. 

An Employee dedicates their talent and time to the company in lieu of some compensation and benefit. Client facing roles are the most significant functions to be managed very well – the impact of their work directly affects the organization’s brand image. Even their career needs to be managed -they need to be given opportunities, incentives, etc.

Knowledge workers like the ones at R&D, technology and innovation – they carve their own growth path and ascension. This is when the total rewards strategy needs to create an environment conducive to learning, development and provide challenges through which they can prove themselves.

How do you further formulate and implement your People policies? 

We never have blatant one-man decisions in our organization. Through each of our policies, we aim to empower all stakeholders by taking the buy-in from all of them. Firstly, the buy-ins from the HR Business Partners are taken for the proposed policy. Secondly, the project needs to be signed off by 3 members – CEO (after evaluation of the policy with respect to the company’s business strategy), CFO (after financial feasibility evaluation) and CHRO (after evaluation of the policy with respect to the company’s people strategy) of Luminous. Detailed data is collected, presented and reiterated, if necessary – a proper case of ‘why we need that change’ needs to be presented and our estimated result areas. 

Finally, we have a panel that consists of all the HODs of luminous. Every policy change needs to go through this panel – we need buy-ins and consensus from all of them. The estimated costs, challenges, pros, cons, support required – all are presented.

How do you evaluate these policies for effectiveness and what role does feedback play in it?

HRs are key observant of the organization – there are many touch points for them with the people. In addition to the focused group discussions there are employee surveys and HR partners conduct one-on-one discussions and skip level meetings. HRBPs constantly review line managers, have goal setting discussions, midyear discussions and yearly discussions.

We are constantly on the lookout for feedback from the employees to understand the effectiveness of the policies.

How did you come to decide that there is a need for an engagement, rewards and recognition program?

Rewarding employees for their outstanding contributions has always been an intrinsic part of the Luminous culture. Despite that, we didn’t have any structured rewarding process at Luminous. The vigour and consistency of these initiatives widely varied depending on business leader availability, HR initiatives and geographical spread and proximity of employees in a function. This incoherence amongst departments for the rewarding process was significant and the employees frequently raised concerns regarding this dissonance.

Even highly enthusiastic departments conducted engagement and rewarding programs with a frequency of maximum two per quarter. These recognition sporadically happened during an all-hands meeting or when a leader is travelling to a regional or plant offices. 

The other issue was that the primary form of rewards were certificates. The most spirited of the business functions got t-shirts and innovative cards printed on their own accord, that said ‘way to go’ or ‘milestone achieved’. 

How did you come to decide that you needed a technological solution like Xoxoday for your rewards and recognition program?

We wanted a solution that was scalable and sustainable. A lot of brainstorming and turmoil went into this before we decided on a solution. We also considered the tax, financial and compliance perspectives of the program and decided that a technological, point-based system was the solution to our problem. Multiple rounds of decision were taken and fine-tuning of the blueprint was done. 

A small percentage of the overall manpower budget was decided for the rewards and thus we formalized a process of the budget reporting and approval. For the scale of our organization, only a technological solution could have managed these budgets seamlessly.

We had to decide on ‘What attributes and behaviours should be recognized’. With the dawn of the digitized rewarding – we could introduce a plethora of awards – team collaboration awards, innovation award, star of the month award, process improvement awards, extra mile awards and value awards. 

How did you evaluate Xoxoday as a solution for your rewards and recognition policy?

We piloted Xoxoday at the end of 3 months from the focus group results. We had evaluated many service providers. Globoforce was the first of the service providers that was evaluated. We attended multiple tech HR conferences during this course. 

Few of the other providers could offer the end-to end-functionality of employee engagement to redemption on a single platform. A few of them used points but were not equipped with the rewarding process. Some of them offered an engagement solution, but either did not have point rewarding or a redemption catalogue.

Xoxoday provided the most critical of the requirement – system integration of the Xoxoday Impulse platform with our existing information systems. This integration was critical for the workforce to internalise the engagement platform implementation.

We wanted a web as well as an app based platform and Xoxoday’s product was enabled for both of these technologies. An app based platform was important for on-the-move rewarding and  a web based version was important to engage employees who did not own a smartphone. We had both blue and white collar employees, both these technologies were essential for the implementation.

We took extreme care in understanding our workforce segmentation to understand their individual motivations – generation wise and interest wise.  We were not in favour of monetary rewards and wanted to build a culture of non-monetary and peer-to-peer rewarding. We considered a ‘pat on the back’ more significant than a money check or a certificate. Xoxoday gave both these features for Luminous, through peer-to-peer rewarding and badges.

Xoxoday’s rewards catalogue were aspirational. The earlier merchandise rewards worked out to be inefficient because the employees did not get to choose their rewards. Hobbies, interests and life-stage based aspirations could be addressed using the ample choices in Xoxoday Plum. When the employee’s social circle comes to know about his/her achievements, the impact of the rewards are multi-folded. Experiential gifting was a unique offering of Xoxoday and it led the way to aspirational rewarding. In other words, experiential rewards made the employees further use social platforms to discuss about their achievements to their family and friends. This also helps create a strong employer branding amongst non-employees.

What did you achieve through implementing Xoxoday to formalise your RnR policy?

We did not want to compartmentalise the reward receiving experience. That is to say, we wanted to identify our employees as unique, with their interests and choices. Xoxoday helped us go beyond blanket rewarding processes and allowed them to be inclusive of our employee’s varied interests and aspirations.

Spot awards drastically reduced the time taken for rewarding and made it a dynamic and continuous process. Positive organisational behaviours were being recognised and developed, thus building a work culture that nurtured employee well being.

Transforming functional silos to a collaborative ecosystem was another significant purpose of implementation. Before Xoxoday, every function worked in strapped silos. The requirement to develop a culture of interdepartmental collaboration was essential for innovation to spur. Many a time, interdepartmental favours went unrecognised and unappreciated and this further encouraged discordance between functions.

Peer to peer recognition of the Xoxoday platform helped break this barrier – with ‘thank you’s, wishes and value badges. Luminous has 4 core values and employees seen exhibiting it are awarded a value badge – and they proudly flaunt it. Peers could recommend a person for awarding – and this provided ample opportunity for a ‘pat on the back’.

Together with Xoxoday, Luminous India achieved an engagement process that helped them make their employee engagement more responsive and quicker. This is also extended to help create a work culture that supports innovation and employee well-being.