Managing human resources smartly

My Experience with Sanima Bank

Bhuvan Kumar Dahal

An organization can do wonders only if it can manage human resources properly. It is not only the responsibility of HR department officials but others in top management also need to be sincere when it comes to people management. During my tenure as the CEO of Sanima Bank, the bank’s HR department head was under my direct supervision.

HR management comprises broadly two aspects of remuneration and the working environment.

Unless the staffs receive proper remuneration and there is a conducive working environment, they do not give 100 percent on the job and we cannot get the best output.

At Sanima, staff remuneration was gradually increased to make it comparable with the peer group. The salary of a Junior Assistant in mid-July 2013 was just Rs 10,000 which reached Rs 34,000 in mid-January 2020.

The monthly salary gap between the CEO and Junior Assistant in mid-July 2013 was 58 times which came down to 29.5 times by mid-July 2021. At the same time, the bank increased office hours from 7.5 hours to 8 hours per day. We started opening customer service counters from 9.45 am instead of 10 am.
Along with remuneration, additional incentives were also introduced to bank staff to enhance their output. The introduction of Residential Facility and Allowance was one such initiative. The residential facility was introduced to Branch Managers and Province Heads. Similarly, the Group Accommodation Facility was provided to all the staff working in a remote area in addition to other allowances.

The Key Function Allowance was provided to the unit heads of Head Office to encourage them to apply extra time and effort so that they could lead the team with full zeal and enthusiasm. The allowance was linked with the performance rating of staffs. The changes in remuneration were implemented with a view that if the senior people of the bank are honest, hardworking, motivated and innovative, they will have a rewarding career in the organization. To encourage the senior staff to focus more on official matters, personal vehicle drivers were assigned to Assistant General Managers (AGMs) and above-level staffs while also periodically revising fuel and vehicle limits to the top-tier officials.

In the meantime, Home Loan and Motorbike Loan limits and interest rates were changed to make the policy more attractive and the loans were tied up with a life insurance policy. The interest rates of such loans were kept the same for all staffs of the bank. Similarly, Gratuity with interest on accumulated balance was introduced.

Health Check-up Scheme and Medical Insurance are the other important policies for employee welfare at Sanima Bank. As prevention is better than cure, we introduced a health check-up scheme providing the same amount of money for all staffs in addition to medical insurance. As it was felt that there is no need to have a separate category with a higher medical insurance limit for the CEO who draws a higher salary, the category was scrapped and made at par with senior colleagues.
Lunch: We introduced the system of lunch at the office and reimbursing expenses up to the specified limit. It helped save the important time of staffs and enjoy food cooked in the office kitchen. The expense reimbursement limit was the same from the level of CEO to messenger. I thoroughly used to enjoy lunch with colleagues of different levels at the office canteen; it was another forum to interact with colleagues. I used the separate lunch room only when guests were invited.

Star Excellence Award: Every person has unique qualities and the biggest room in the world is “Room for improvement”. In any organization, all staffs irrespective of their position can contribute to the development of new products, improve the existing products, and introduce new systems, procedures, tools, techniques and pricing mechanisms, etc. which help the organization to improve customer service quality, and hence get more customers, increase revenue, reduce cost and manage business risks better. At Sanima Bank, the Star Performance Excellence Award Scheme was introduced to reward such performers (individual staff including support level or team). This award was available also for sales staff recording positive variance beyond x amount. In the fiscal year 2020/21, Sanima ranked as the 9th best bank in terms of per staff return while the was 19th in the category in FY2012/13.

Work Environment
In people management, money can be a motivating factor only up to a certain degree. Professional HR practices play a crucial role in staff motivation. If a staffer feels that s/he gets reward and punishment based on their performance, the organization becomes the best for them. Nepotism, favoritism, and sycophancy are the cancers of any organization.

At Sanima, we did not compromise on merit while hiring Permanent Staff. I and the recruitment committee colleagues were determined to make Sanima an organization where there are fair practices in hiring and deserving people are hired without any connection.
Whenever I used to receive a request to favor someone in hiring and promotion, my response used to be, “I will ensure no injustice against him/her.” If the candidate falls on the merit list, s/he was through, else not.

Sometimes, I used to receive calls and messages from people who thanked me for having ‘helped’ their children get a job in the bank. They were surprised when I replied, “Please congratulate your children for getting the job as s/he got the job purely based on her/his merit. I had no role in their hiring. I had not even forwarded your message to the HR Head”.

We made Sanima one of the best places for hardworking and honest staff as the bank practiced fairness from recruitment to retirement.

Grievance handling is another essential part of people management to keep employees happy and satisfied.

At Sanima, staffs were advised periodically to raise their all issues with their supervisors, the HR department, and even with me.

Though I had full trust in the bank’s recruitment committee colleagues, I used to sometimes interact with Recruitment Committee Convenor and Head HR whether they were facing any difficulty in fair and transparent hiring.

Some staff shared with me that they passed the written exams at a few organizations but could not get the job due to ‘no connection’ there but they got it at Sanima without connection. This gives me a lot of satisfaction that we hired staffs in a fair manner. I think, if the Chairperson and the CEO of a bank are determined, fairness can prevail in all areas of the bank be it human resources, credit, or procurement.

Placements and Transfers
At Sanima, HR officials are mindful of staff convenience to the extent possible when it comes to employee placements. I believe if a staffer can be placed in the department/branch of the interest/convenience, s/he can contribute more. Except for technical departments, we ensured periodical inter-department transfer of all staff.

Annual Performance Appraisal and Promotion
As the annual performance appraisal is the foundation for reward and punishment, the format of the appraisal was periodically refined to suit staffs of all levels and departments. Similarly, we added a layer in the Appraisal Review Committee to review the appraisal made by the First Reporting Officer and the Second Reporting Officer. The Committee was advised to work in the morning or on holidays or at a time when there are minimum disturbances. There were different committees for different levels under the convenorship of the Deputy CEO and other senior colleagues with the HR Head Human as the Member Secretary in all the committees. The committees were mandated to ensure a fair rating of the performance of staffs.

Similarly, the Promotion Committee at the bank is provided a peaceful environment to work and spend the required time to ensure fairness in promotion appraisal. Staff are promoted as per the set criteria without looking at one’s face, color, creed, race and gender, etc. Performance is the sole criterion for promotion. Nevertheless, we used to make some errors sometimes which were corrected at the earliest possible.

The month ending mid-August (Shrawan, the first month of Nepali FY) in Sanima is known as the ‘HR Month’ because we complete the annual performance appraisal and promotion in this month. We are probably one of few banks completing these two very important tasks within the first month of the fiscal year.

Training and Development

Training, traveling and interaction broaden the staff’s horizon, and even if they implement just one good thing in the bank learned in course of those training, travels, and interactions, we get an adequate return on the investment. Hence, I loved sending the colleagues for training/exposure visits. Such visits should however be relevant, transparent, and fair. After a few years of my joining, we even made a formal document to guide the management of Sanima on foreign travel/exposure visits so that the people could not point out fingers at us. We divided the countries into 3 categories and made a rule that a MANCOM (management committee) member should go for a foreign visit once a year, managers below MANCOM, department heads and branch managers once in two years, and other officers once in three years. Assistant and junior-level staff were eligible for domestic training. We conducted training even for support level staffs. I used to encourage HR heads to organize spiritual programs because I found them useful to develop a better understanding of all the stakeholders. To encourage the colleagues to attend more relevant domestic/foreign training, the bank approved three days of paid leave a year even for the one arranged by the staff themselves.

Zero Tolerance in Indisciplinary Acts: Honesty is important everywhere but more important in the financial sector because banks deal with public money.

Unfortunately, greed lures people to commit wrong activities. We introduced the whistleblowing policy, anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) policy, and communication guidelines to make Sanima one of the most disciplined banks. I used to periodically share the real stories relating to the consequence/plight of greedy bankers and used to advise the staff to stay away from such greed in addition to encouraging the people to blow whistles against wrongdoers. Our Audit Department and HR Department also kept track of the conduct of key people at HO and branches. Despite the honesty and sincerity of the bank’s senior management, we had to take strong actions against a few staff during my tenure for their wrongdoings.

In case of negligence, we took the appropriate disciplinary actions. However, we were very lenient in case of unintentional errors/mistakes because ‘to err is human.’ We supported the honest staff to the extent we could personally and professionally. We ran the bank with love and affection without compromise on disciplinary aspects (financial and non-financial).

Grievance handling system/whistle-blowing mechanism: It is a human tendency to dominate juniors. Hence, we issued a communication guideline officially empowering junior staff to complain against their seniors/HO officials if their issues were not addressed within a set timeline/reasonable period. Similarly, the whistle-blowing mechanism was put in place so that the staff could complain immediately after they sensed wrong activities in the bank. They could blow the whistle against any wrongdoer irrespective of their position.

Participatory Approach: We introduced the concept of mandatory participation of all the staff of the concerned branch/unit while formulating an annual budget and reviewing performance monthly.

Morning Tea Meeting: Sanima’s MANCOM used to hold two formal meetings in a month with minutes on the 1st and 21st of Nepali month. If the 21st happened to be the holiday, the meeting used to take place on the preceding working day, not the subsequent working day. We did it intentionally to break the existing trend and to be proactive. On the 11th day (preceding working day if the 11th happened to be a holiday) of the month, Asset-Liability Management Committee (ALCO) used to meet but the date had to be changed later to align with the interest rate publication date, and hence ALCO also started meeting twice a month. The meeting used to start at 9 am sharp.

In addition to formal MANCOM meetings, the committee members used to have an informal tea/coffee meeting in the chamber of the CEO (virtual meeting during COVID-19 pandemic) from 9.30 am to generally 10.00 am on every working Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. During informal meetings, we talked about various topics including movies, politics, sports and family, etc. in addition to banking issues. These informal tea meetings helped us know each other better and strengthened our team spirit.

A Home Like Office: I worked with the intention that the staff should feel something is missing when they are away from the office. I know I have not been able to achieve it, but I sincerely tried.

Sanima staff worked very very hard inspired by Thomas Alva Edison’s famous statement ‘Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration’.
The bureaucracy of Singapore is regarded as one of the best in the world because the government hires the staff based on merit, pays handsome remuneration, and the reward/punishment system is effective. We made a sincere effort to implement it in the Sanima Bank.

Dahal is the former CEO of Sanima Bank who recently retired from the job after serving in the bank for 8 years.

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