“At IME, we analyze the factors that motivate people”

Established in 2009, IME Automotives Pvt. Ltd. is one of the major players in the Nepali automobile sector. As a division of the business conglomerate IME Group, the company expanding its market presence through the delivery of quality products and services. Sudarsan Pathak Head of Human Resources at IME Automotives says that the focus of the company has been on the efficient management of people to achieve organizational objectives. In a conversation with the HRM, he talked about the company’s approach to people management, training and development, and human resources-related challenges, among other topics. Excerpts:  

It’s been 14 years of successful operation for IME Automotives. What role people management played in the success of the organization? 
It is the team effort that has made the almost one and half decade of successful journey of the automobile division of IME Group. The effective management of people, the vision of the leaders, and strategic innovation are the key factors for our success. The way the team was initially set up and the careful nurturing of team members set the initial tone. Then we focused on their efficiency development where they were trained on the technical side of their job requirement, trained on system, process, and innovation. It all resulted in a competitive team with a strong commitment toward their own career as well as the company. Today we have many colleagues who have been with us for over a decade. The commitment of the team is very high and so is the support from the leadership of the organization. Hence, it’s all because of the team play on where we stand today.

What changes in people management have occurred in these years in the automobile sector? 
The dynamics have changed a lot. The requirement in the skills set of people are sophisticated now and the approach and factors that drive the market all have changed. Hence, we need to prepare the manpower accordingly. Actually, it’s not only the market dynamics that have changed but also the mindset of people. The factors of their motivation have changed. Today, it’s not only the financial benefits that motivate the people, but the organizational culture is even more valued. More than just a job, people love the challenge and reward. Such rewards and recognitions have to be instant. Real-time performance feedback is on the trend.

Similarly, since companies rely more on new technologies, they are process-driven too. Hence, people have to be tech friendly and compliant. Most people in our workforce are millennials who normally meet the criteria. But the strategy for Gen Z has to be different. Even it may require a development plan for the millennials too. There’s an impact of the global culture on the way organizations run. Hence, it is very important to keep ourselves updated with global people management practices. Further, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has also taught us a lot of things in people management, especially on the remote work culture and employee wellbeing.

How has IME Automotives responded to these changes?
We adapted quickly to the changes. We have set up our own in-house training center for the technical training of our team. We also do regular in-house/external training both on technical and soft skills to enhance the team’s strength. The knowledge-sharing session is a part of our organizational culture. We have tried to make our performance mapping mechanisms more realistic and real-time. We are investing more in quantifying the performance so that there would be less subjectivity. The best performers are rewarded on monthly basis and there is also a mechanism for instant recognition of specific performances. We have set up a corporate library to encourage our people to read and keep updated. To address the non-monetary values, we have a culture of celebrating achievements/milestones.

Festivals and occasions are widely celebrated. We have been doing many activities to engage our people including health checkups and free doctor’s consultations on need. Our people also get a free whole-body checkup annually. The company is also driven by the system where we have comprehensive software for business operation. This has accelerated the pace of the work. Further, considering situations like the Covid-19 pandemic we have become more flexible. Remote working/work-from-home (WFH) has been integrated into the work culture.

What challenges in people management did the Covid-19 pandemic added to the automobile sector?
The automobile sector was one of the worst hit sectors. This sector is vulnerable to any external factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and the current liquidity crisis. One of the major challenges the pandemic added was remote work practice and ensuring employee health and safety. The automobile sector is not like IT and other services sectors where people can go easily on remote working mode. You cannot expect a technician to fix a broken-down vehicle remotely nor can you can deliver a vehicle to a customer virtually. The industry wasn’t ready at all for remote work culture. Hence, maintaining a balance between remote and physical work was one of the biggest challenges we faced. Further, the automobile industry wasn’t ready to monitor or map the performance of remote work. The health and safety of the people who were there for physical work had to be managed. Employee’s personal health was an issue to be addressed and many companies started to hire corporate medical personnel for the facilitation of their teams.

The emotional well-being of the team members was an even bigger challenge. The people who were diagnosed with Covid-19 or those who lost their loved ones to the disease, the emotional stress was very hard to handle. Such situations impact the overall working environment which will ultimately impact the organizational results. Companies also had to maintain the balance between their performance and their costs as their performance was way below par. Overall, it was a very difficult time managing people during the pandemic. There was panic and anxiety, however slowly by the second wave of the pandemic, we all started to adjust and settle our nerves.

How is the availability of human resources, especially in technical and sales areas, in the automobile sector? How is IME Automotives fulfilling its workforce needs?
Currently, quality manpower is short in the market. At IME, we look attitude as equal to aptitude. People these days look for quick growth and change. Hence, retaining people is a big challenge. A good chunk of ‘ready to work’ manpower is going abroad. From the technical side, we don’t get ready-to-work type of manpower from colleges. In certain areas like spare parts, there’s no academic course. People working in such areas of the automobile business grow up with their experience only. They must go through a training course before sending on full-time responsibility. Plus, because of the shortage of a good workforce, the practice of poaching people prevails in the market.

In terms of fulfilling our manpower needs, we get a regular flow of CVs that go through our screening process. Also, we have tie-ups with colleges/technical colleges and we also attend job fairs frequently. For the fresh graduates, we have our training center to prepare them. We also hire interns and trainees on regular basis and prepare them ready for future manpower requirements. In times of need, we also take support from HR agency partners to find the right set of manpower. Talking about manpower retention, we primarily focus on the positive work culture and employee-friendly environment where people would love to work. We have also been working on immediate/real-time performance feedback and rewarding the performers. Our training plan is always there for competency enhancement. Pay and benefit wise also, we aim to better the industry. Hence, though it is challenging we are up there to handle it.

What specific set of skills IME Automotives seeks while recruiting employees?
In terms of skill set, I personally give equal importance to attitude/behavior along with job-specific knowledge. I believe that technical skill sets can be trained but changing/developing attitude requires a lot of effort. We look for the kind of people who are passionate about what they have applied for and happily accept the challenge with the confidence to conquer it. Confident and specific in communication, updated about the industry, and a willingness to learn are our key job requirements. Additionally, we also expect people to be flexible and keep customers as their first priority. Innovation and team player are other skills we look for.

How much priority is given to training and development programs to enhance the capacity of the staff of the organization?
Training and development is one of the key functions of our companies. As I mentioned earlier, we do various activities to train and develop our people. We have our own training center and mobile training van for the technical training of our team. Regular in-house and external training are done. The knowledge-sharing session is also another way to build the capacity of our team. We conduct training need analyses (TNAs) and also take feedback from the staffs as well as their immediate supervisors to determine the training needs and implement the same. Also, the training we provide has to be effective where the takeaways will bring positive changes. A well-trained efficient team drives the success of any company, we believe in this and act accordingly.

How does IME Automotives ensures that its employees are happy and satisfied?
It’s very important to keep the employees happy and satisfied to meet the organizational goals. Regardless of the skills and competencies of an employee, job-related dissatisfactions won’t allow him/her to hit the targets. At IME, we analyze the factors that motivate people. As I said earlier, today’s generation may not opt the financial benefit only for motivation, the workplace culture is very important for the same. The reward and recognition mechanisms, employee engagements, and grievance handling mechanisms have to be of the highest standard. Also, people, these days seek challenges and quick growth. So, timely addressing such employee requirements will keep them happy and motivated.

I personally believe that people basically have to be sure of the scope they have in the organization. The goals of an individual have to be aligned with the goals of an organization. Above all these, standard pay and other financial benefits have to be there to keep the people happy and satisfied. Collaborating on all these factors, we are working on the employee happiness index to find out the actual status of the same. Normally, we talk a lot about the customer satisfaction index but it’s our people who keep the customers happy. Hence, this is very important to keep our people happy. Yes, this is what we do in this regard.

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