Tekraj Sharma is General Manager, Corporate and Human Resource at KL Dugar Group. The HRM talked with Sharma about managing HR during the Covid-19 pandemic, impact of lockdown, and industrial relation. Excerpts:
As a business house with major exposure to manufacturing business of daily essential items and cement, how did KL Dugar Group manage its human resources after the Covid-19 pandemic started?
Having a majority of the business portfolios in food processing and this being one of the essential items for people’s survival, we had to keep our show running even during the pandemic. We had been taking utmost precaution in terms of staff health and their mental well-being. Closely monitored by a dedicated team across functions and locations, sharing and imparting various knowledge-based programmes and orientation made people aware of ways to remain safe. Our people and their positive spirit in taking up responsibility made it easy to handle the odds. People were taken care of their financial obligations extended to their family members to cope up with difficult situations. We made every effort to get our staff members get vaccinated against Covid-19.
What difficulties were there for the Group and how were they addressed?
Managing people and getting them acquainted with the work pattern might have been challenging to many. Managing the show without being physically present in office and working remotely (especially Work From Home (WFH) was a major change to adopt. By nature, humans take time to accept any changes but we could coach our staff and manage issue within a very short span of time. However, working in the process lines like manufacturing facilities were more challenging as it requires physical presence. We firmly believe that educating people in the right direction helps a lot in managing them. This applies to business too. We had to run our show with fewer numbers of people which meant a compromise in our operational efficiencies but not with the health and safety of staff members and the quality of our products. We had to manage their accommodation within the factory premises, trying our best to address all their needs.
What steps were taken to minimize the impact of lockdowns on the operation of KL Dugar Group’s businesses?
The first and most important action we took was formation of an Emergency Response Team (ERT) across functions and locations around Nepal. The team worked in collaboration with all concerned proactively to address unplanned and unexpected circumstances. Various Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) or guidelines were developed and shared with all concerned for reference. As mentioned earlier, we focused more on the human factor, creating awareness of all possible health safety measures. We had been sharing knowledge-based stuff through group e-mails, pamphlets, Whatsapp groups, small group activities and various virtual sessions to meet and exceed the standards prescribed by the government and medical institutions. This helped us align with everyone concerned and in teamwork, achieving common objectives.
What was the capacity utilization of the group’s factories (food items and cement) during the crisis? What is the rate of capacity utilization at present?
We acknowledge that the types of industries we operate, especially those concerning food items, had to run smoothly. However, a couple of Business Units under the group were affected directly. For instance, Cement and Electronics, among other sectors, remained nonfunctional at times.
Operators of many manufacturing companies have reported that they are facing shortages of manpower even now. Is KL Dugar Group experiencing similar problems?
Not very much apart from very few specific/critical job types. We being one of the preferred employers in Nepal have a pool of people showing interest to get associated with us, providing some added advantage to manage the issue. However, we have a low staff turnover rate over periods. In many cases, people eagerly wait to see if there are any chances to rejoin us.
Many organizations resorted to job cuts or salary cuts during lockdown to lessen the impacts on their financial resources. Did KL Dugar Group resort to similar tactics?
We are the company where people come first. Thankfully, there were no any job cuts, but a minor impact was seen on salary payoff for a short time for critical reasons in a few business units that were badly affected over long time. Our people received limitless and unconditional support in terms of medical needs starting from testing to isolation and hospitalization. In all positive cases, they were given paid leaves during isolation/treatment.
What challenges did you see in taking forward KL Dugar Group? How has the group prepared itself for future events like Covid-19?
Covid-19 pandemic has provided great lessons to learn. People have been more flexible and adaptable to tackle the tough scenario, having been equipped with more competencies as a result. However, the ERT is still active and vigilant for any unpredictable situation to tackle. However, the resilience process across all functions and the country as a whole may take more time.
Manufacturing sector is prone to labour problems. In the past also, a majority of labour issues were seen in the manufacturing sector. And, a majority of these issues were politically motivated. How is this issue being addressed now? What should be the ideal solution to have better industry-labour relation?
We believe that while you are proactive in taking care of people, you can minimize such issues to a great extent. Yes, political intervention is something difficult to comment on but if your people are with you in line with the business objective and engaged, then this also can be addressed amicably. Many organizations have set up HR departments to manage staff and address their grievances (if any) on time. The relationship between the workforce and company management is critical to maintain a healthy and good relationship.
How has HR management evolved over the years in the manufacturing sector where the majority of human resources (workers) are labourers? How challenging has HR management been?
HR management as function is still in incubation period especially in Nepal’s context. Initially, one of its purposes was to address the complications of Labour Union, settle disputes and to carry out disciplinary actions, rather that working on personnel development or for better productivity. So it is still challenging to make people understand the actual function of HR management and to advocate the concept. In addition, the millennial and generation ‘Z’ are evolving in pretty different prospects embracing all the changing dynamics of lifestyles and etc.
As someone with a vast experience in Nepali corporate sector, what is your observation of HR management’s evolution over the years? Has the Nepali private sector started giving more priority to HR management?
HR management as an administrative function named Administration to Personnel Management to Human Resources Management and now on a broader perspective People Management has really seen much evolution. All the stakeholders have realised the importance of and need for developing and nurturing people in every sphere of life; individual career, and business organization and for sustaining in the prevailing and emerging complexities of this era.