“Our people are our greatest assets and we must invest in them”

RAJAN UDAS, Head, Human Resources, Standard Chartered Bank (Nepal) Limited

As a multinational bank, Standard Chartered Bank (Nepal) Limited has been practicing people management techniques that have set standards in the Nepali banking sector. The bank is considered one of the best organizations in the country in terms of people management aspects. Rajan Udas is the Head of Human Resources of SCB Nepal. In a conversation with the HRM, he talked about handling human resources during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, people management practices in the bank, staff training, and employee well-being, among other topics. Excerpts:

Q: How challenging it was for the Human Resources Department of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) Nepal in terms of people management after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020? What are the major lessons learned during this period?
A: Whilst Covid-19 was unforeseen and unexpected by the entire world, it also was self-realization and an opportunity to experiment with new things, creativity for new ways of working, future workforce, and technology enhancement that probably would not have happened in the normal routine of our life. Employees are the biggest assets and their health, safety, and well-being are the areas of utmost focus for Standard Chartered Bank.

Being an international organization, we were quickly able to learn from our global counterparts, fine-tune various initiatives as per local needs and implement them in the country as soon as possible. We took a number of initiatives in response to the difficulties created by the pandemic. A hands-on Pandemic Committee was formed to manage the employees who tested positive for Covid-19 and other day-to-day concerns around the overall challenging situation. There was a tie-up with hospitals/clinics for PCR Tests, an insurance company for Covid-19 insurance for employees and their immediate family members, and relationship management with hotels to manage the infected employees’ accommodation requests in case of emergency.

All the costs of the employees related to Covid-19 were borne by the bank. The bank supported the employees’ health and well-being by encouraging colleagues to manage their stress, giving more time to family members, getting the employees engaged in different activities such as sharing their workplace at home, and many more virtual engagement programs. The bank has also partnered with Employee Assistance Partner Center for Mental Health and Counseling Center (CMC – Nepal) and provided free service to the employee for their mental health counseling with experts. Virtual programs were also held with the expert of CMC – Nepal and other expert psychological counselors from the United Nations and other INGOs.

Similarly, communications, useful information, and tips about Covid-19 do’s and don’ts for employees were carried out on a regular basis. Regular Sessions with doctors were held virtually where the medical experts not only shared information about Covid-19 but answered the queries from employees on the spot.
Meanwhile, the Work-from-Home module was extensively exercised by almost 80 percent of the staff, new laptops were purchased and provided to most of the employees to enable them to work from home, and split operations were activated to better manage the unit/branch and for the wellbeing of the employees.
There were many awards given to employees like the Going Extra Miles (GEMS) Award for taking extra stretch during that time, recognition of the employee’s hard work, Disruption Award for those working from the office, and Heroes Award for those bearing the risks.

All health and safety measures were taken for those working from the Office from the entry point into the premises to the workstations and all other sections of the bank. Staff who had to be in the office due to the nature of work were provided pick-up and drop facilities, packed lunch services, and safety toolkits including masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc. Staff in our outstation branches were also engaged regularly with the Business/Function Heads/HR/Pandemic Committee with consistent assurance to reach out for any support required from the Bank during the pandemic situation.

During this pandemic period, the bank did its best to motivate employees to invest in their self-development by taking the opportunity of using various digital learning platforms for free. In our global network, Nepal was listed among the top 5 learners in the ASEAN region. Because of this, we shared lots of best practices that have been adopted in the country which helped us to be featured at the top. For the upskilling and reskilling of our employees, there were opportunities to move into different roles/departments for the short term after analyzing the roles criticality, productivity, and need to manage the pandemic situation.

Q: What changes has the pandemic brought in people management? 
A: The greatest changes have been across new ways of working, focus on using digital channels, and future workplace readiness to name a few. Communication especially while working from home, investment in self-development, upskilling and reskilling of employees, employee crisis management, trust in the top leaders by the employees, recognition of employees for their contributions whilst taking the risk, etc. were the areas of focus during the pandemic to maintain and improve the relationships between the People Leader and team members.

People Leaders were constantly communicating with their team members both on the personal and professional front, scheduling virtual meetings to be on the same page on business/department progress. People leaders also interacted with the employees with genuine concern towards not only the staff but their family members’ health & safety as well.

Top Team Visibility- The Business/Function Heads were in regular contact with their team members, engaging them and updating them about what is happening in the bank. Country Management Team including the CEO kept in touch with the Covid-19 infected colleagues to know about their well-being and to assure the staff that the organization is there for their wellness and ready to provide any possible support required.

Q: As a multinational bank, how different are the HR practices of SCB Nepal compared to other Nepali commercial banks?
A: The HR function is a strategic partner in supporting the business to drive exponential growth and deliver on its strategy. It supports the organization through productivity, simplification, and innovation making us ready for the changing nature of the workforce in banking and becoming more client-centric and high-performing.
We as HR Function:

  • Drive cultural transformation underpinned by valued behaviors “Do the Right Thing”, “Never Settle” and “Better Together”.
    Facilitate continuous learning and development opportunities for People Leaders to sharpen their leadership skills and upskilling.
  • Focus on building a diverse & inclusive culture and providing a platform for development opportunities for all our employees.
  • Take the ownership to recruit, develop and retain a high-performing and diverse workforce and provide equal opportunity to every employee at the Bank to foster their talent.
  • Challenge ourselves to be innovative and use digital applications, improve our colleagues’ experience, and engage more effectively with the workforce of the future.
  • Invest in our people, their careers, and personal development and in modernizing our people practices.
  • Focus to provide a positive experience to the new joiners during their onboarding as well as to the experience of the Hiring Manager while recruiting for any positions.
  • Implement 5 days of working in a week as well as 140 days of maternity leave, 15 days of paternity leave, and 10 days of mandatory block leave since employee work-life balance is of utmost importance for us.
  • Encourage Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) where employees can avail 3 days of volunteering leave in one calendar year by getting involved in CSR activities.
  • Work closely with various engagement groups to organize various engagement programs for our employees.
  • Provide subsidized lunch in the Bank’s cafeteria in most of the branches in Kathmandu and a few of the outside valley branches.
  • Work very closely with the concerned teams to educate about Conduct, Risk and Compliance to employees and ensure appropriate action is taken against those who do not live to it as the bank has a zero-tolerance policy on this.
  • Encourage various recognition channels for recognizing the performance of employees.
  • Ensure smooth exit of the resigned colleagues by following a standard Exit process with the checklist and interview form.
  • Work on conducting surveys to hear the voice/opinion and suggestions of employees on how they feel about working in the Bank, their feedback on team members, people leaders, working environment.
  • Encourage employees to exchange feedback with each other to help them know what they are good at and any areas of improvement for their colleagues which will help in their development.
  • Have partnered with an external specialist agency to provide counseling services to our staff to better manage their stress.
  • Always work on introducing and implementing changes in HR strategy, policy, procedures, etc. for the benefit of our employees and the organization.

Q: How good and agile you’ve found today’s fresh MBAs to be for banking jobs? How sincere are they in terms of learning?
A: The new generation is no doubt ambitious and self-confident. They seek new challenges, have high expectations, not apprehensive to get answers to their questions and clarify things. This age group is mostly attracted to organizations with a clear purpose to which they can relate and work together to achieve a common organizational goal. Employees from this generation are the most digitally savvy and depend heavily on social media. Banks, having well-managed social media presence and user-friendly digital platforms, are key attractions for these age group candidates. They adapt to a physically agile work environment and are relatively more comfortable using virtual platforms which are different from the traditional style of working.

Our annual employee survey results have shown that they value recognition. They look forward to clear and open communication and continuous feedback. Fresh graduates continuously seek opportunities to develop themselves. They look out for upskilling themselves, indulge in networking, participate in activities related to social responsibility and enjoy informal engagement activities. They appreciate organizations that provide ample learning and development opportunities where they can reskill and upskill themselves to be fit for future jobs and adapt to the ever-changing job environment. The combination of our current employee workforce with a blend of today’s generation and other different generations groups is the right mix to achieve our organization’s goals and strategies.

Q: How do you see the situation of staff training in the banking sector in general? How much emphasis SCB Nepal gives to staff training? 
A: Nepal Rastra Bank has mandated to spend 3 percent of the salary cost of the fiscal year on training. The regulation came to enhance the people’s capability which is very important to keep ourselves ready for the future. I feel the banking sector in Nepal is investing sufficiently in people development complying with the regulatory requirement. At Standard Chartered, we give paramount importance to employee development and learning through various sources to provide enhanced service to our clients and also to keep our employees ready for the future.

All employees are required to prepare their Job Objectives covering the things each individual is going to achieve annually at the beginning of the year. The Growth Plan is a part of the Job Objectives, where various learning requirements to achieve the target in the year is covered. The growth plan is prepared basis the 70:20:10 Development Principle and in discussion with the People Leader.

Various trainings are planned based on the learning need put forward by the employees. Further, the bank has enhanced its focus on digital learning platforms especially due to the pandemic. As a result, the bank has invested more in digital learning solutions encouraging employees to achieve their learning target of 64 hours per staff. We have our internal global digital learning platform where staff can find an ocean of learning resources through varied learning mediums like videos, courses, e-books, and audiobooks that can meet employees’ personalized learning and development needs. All these learnings are free of cost for all employees.

Q: How helpful have institutions like the National Banking Institute been in terms of upgrading and strengthening the capacity of the banking professionals? 
A: When a new candidate is appointed in the bank, I think everybody agrees that the staff may not know anything about the organization. It is the responsibility of the organization to take care of the newly recruited employee and provide knowledge about how the organization works so that the employee is well prepared to provide services to the client. In this regard, the National Banking Institute (NBI) is playing a critical role to give banking knowledge to the recruits. The certification courses that NBI is offering to the recruits are very comprehensive. Similarly, other programs that NBI is conducting are equally good and relevant to the Nepali banking industry and contribute to reskilling and upskilling capabilities of employees in the banking fraternity.

Q: What needs to be done more for capacity enhancement of bank staff?
A: Our people are our greatest assets and we must take care of them and invest in them too. As an organization, we act as a guide, coach, and support in helping our colleagues choose the right career path and achieve their career goals and growth aspirations that they have set for themselves.

Ultimately, employees are accountable for their own growth. It is our responsibility to provide a learning environment for our people. We also need to encourage the employee to grab the opportunity to develop their skills using the various resources and platforms provided by the organization.

Building a future-ready workforce is a key tenet of our people strategy. The bank is on a path to help us develop skills that might enable us to become future-ready. Change is happening at an unprecedented rate and we as individuals should gear ourselves up to embrace this change and get ready for the future. The bank has tied up with world-renowned institutions providing digital learning solutions and launched a single sign-in platform to access various digital learning tools for a better employee experience.

Q: Many bank staff nowadays seem to be worried about hectic work schedules and their work-life balance due to rising business competition in the banking industry. How do you view this?
A: People are fundamental to businesses and organizations. They are unique and worthy of care, understanding, and investment. We have experienced that employees are more engaged and productive in a healthy working environment.

Employee well-being is one of the critical components of a healthy working environment and organization. We feel we have a good working environment, infrastructure, and benefits that have been appreciated by our employees. Our effort has been to promote employee well-being whether financial, physical, social, or mental which will ultimately help to manage stress levels and result in maintaining a positive and productive environment with happy employees.

To boost employee experience and keep motivation levels high, we need to provide freedom and flexibility to balance working time with outside interests, better manage their entitled leaves along with the opportunity to live healthier work lives.

Q: How SCB Nepal offers sufficient time to staff so that they can maintain a good level of work-life balance?
A: Our organization recognizes that the most valuable asset is our people. Our people define who we are and how we perform, and it is their productivity that enables us to best serve our customers. With this in mind, we place great emphasis on providing an individualized and tailored approach to working arrangements to meet the unique needs and circumstances of our people and the bank.

The bank has been practicing a five-day working week for more than a decade as part of work-life balance. We have also adopted flexible working arrangements to provide a better work-life balance. It is a working pattern where our working hours are organized to suit an employee’s circumstances and commitments, whilst continuing to meet the needs of the bank and our customers.

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