In February 2017, we were in a CHRO Roundtable in Mumbai. Over breakfast, there was a free-flowing discussion on what keeps all of us on our toes. Invariably, discussions centered around the Generation Z phenomenon. How does one engage with a generation of people who are the most social, visual, technological and global ? They set new standards of connectedness, communication, innovation and sophistication. If one goes by the Gen Z definition of ‘born in or after 1996’, we are all dealing with this generation, as they have started passing out of college and are now entering the work arena. Organizations are going through a culture shock as these new entrants are exhibiting a very different level of technology savviness, pace and an ambition to change the world !
Impatience and impetus – these are the two new characteristics that Gen Z like to be associated with. What then is the new paradigm of employee engagement and excitement ? Around a year back, in early 2016, we decided at Airtel that we should take a leap into the ‘Z’ zone. Let me share the excitement around the small beginnings we have made.
‘This is me. This is my profile’. Gen Z has grown up in the FB and Google era. For them, there is no such thing as ‘low profile’. I have to be visible. Others should know about me even without asking me. At Airtel, when we decided to configure our new Oracle HRMS, we insisted on features such as self-profiling by employees including places for photos, my background, my qualifications, my alma mater, my areas of interests, my passion and so on. I want to join communities of like-minded people, so can I know more about my colleagues from their profiles ?
‘I watch my leaders on screen. I like some. And dislike a few’. Gen Z has a ‘You Tube’ habit. At Airtel, we decided to make town halls, open house discussions and fireside chats a ‘virtual’ event. Thousands of employees now watch these events on their mobile handsets, we call these ‘v blogs’. At the recent Airtel Careers Fair, we had several talks by internal and external speakers, and the number of ‘views’ crossed a stunning 25,000 !
‘I like to share’. Gen Z has embraced the lofty ideals of ‘sharing’. At Airtel, we launched our own social media app, aptly titled ‘Buzz’. Employees click pictures of sales and marketing events, retail store images, new product launches, celebrations, colleagues and work places, and post them on ‘Buzz’. Other colleagues share them, like them and comment on the posts. Thousands of engagement points are created and socialized seamlessly. All by employees. There is no top-down push, no mandates. It is a sheer pull effect !
‘I like to learn. At my own pace’. Get Z is hungry to learn, and excel (and show off). At Airtel, we launched our Learning Management System, aptly titled ‘iLearn’, using the Cornerstone on Demand solution. And we also signed up with global partners like Lynda and Harvard Management Mentor to host thousands of certification courses in functional skill areas, new exciting areas like digital technologies, personality development, leadership development and so on. Thousands of employees are choosing courses of their liking. People managers are nominating team members for courses that will help their performance and development. After completing courses, employees are giving ratings and feedback. Courses with excellent ratings and feedback tend to be more popular. Learning is becoming a movement. It is not a fashion, but indeed it is popular and prestigious !
‘I love to spend a few hours everyday on games’. Gen Z is hooked on to Candy Crush, Angry Birds and many more games. They like to compete with others, machines and themselves ! They go through highs and lows. At the end of the day, they smile to themselves watching the leaderboards ! At Airtel, we launched a few gamified learning modules such as for new joinee induction, understanding telecom business model, problem solving and so on. These are seeing huge traction, again through word of mouth and social media presence. Soon, we will see people playing simulated ‘telecom’ games, fighting for customers, keeping them happy and making some money by placing some big bets !
‘I am on the cloud’. Gen Z likes to do things on the go. They are on the cloud all the time. ‘I feel stressed and disabled if I cannot access my own space in the cloud’. At Airtel, we went in for Oracle HCM Cloud Solution, and recently went live across 17 countries. Employees set targets, do their self-assessments, manage leaves, apply for internal jobs, print salary statements, etc. on the cloud. People managers approve targets, conduct performance assessments, approve promotions and transfers, revise compensation of team members, etc. also on the cloud. My HR stuff has to be simple and intuitive !
‘I am in charge’. Gen Z wants to be in control. They want to be in charge of their own journeys. At Airtel, we are creating mobile apps to enable employees navigate their development and growth journeys within the company. ‘I can choose a destination role, and create my own career paths including a few options. I can then discuss with my boss, mentor or career counselor about the skill development I need to focus on, to be successful in my journey. This is my career, so let me learn, lead and grow’ !
‘I want to express my feelings’. Gen Z like to express themselves. Any time of the day, any day of the year. At Airtel, we no longer rely on annual employee engagement surveys. We have a mobile app (Mood – o – Meter !) which can be accessed by every employee anytime. Answer just 16 questions on how you are feeling, your experience, your team, your boss and simply about Airtel as an employer. Feel the pulse of the organization in a few clicks !
These are only the baby steps we have taken in the last one year or so. As we welcome more Gen Z into Airtel, they will help us set newer standards of employee engagement and excitement. And continue to build Airtel as a place to learn, lead and grow !
Srikanth has over 32 years of experience and has worked with organizations like Bharti Airtel Ltd & Unilever. Srikanth holds a B.Com, Accounting and Finance from University of Madras.