The chief people officer has an increasingly strategic role to play in today’s digital enterprise, as people engagement becomes key to digital success. We interact with Shanmugam Nagarajan, Co-founder & Chief People Officer at 7 on how the role of people heads have evolved in the digital economy, what initiatives he is driving at 7 and how is it contributing towards building a people-centric culture at the company.
How do you see your role as a Chief People Officer of a highly client-centric organization like 7 Inc.?
I firmly believe that if you take care of your people, they will take care of the business. This philosophy is the guiding principle for me in my role as the Chief People Officer (CPO) and it forms the cornerstone of our people strategies and people engagement at 7. All our policies are people-centric and designed with an aim to empower them. As a result, people are inspired not just to deliver on client expectations but to surpass them. I have found this approach to be extremely effective and it’s needless to say that client deliverables are taken care of automatically. Additionally, as the CPO, another area of keen focus for me is to create and sustain a cohesive work culture across all our locations based on our shared vision — ‘We make it simple for consumers to connect with companies to get things done’ and our values of respect, transparency, ownership, results, and teamwork. Common culture keeps us aligned in our mission of fundamentally revolutionizing the core aspects of customer acquisition and engagement, for our clients.
What do you think are the key responsibilities of a CPO in enabling 7’s evolution from a call centre to being a digital transformation partner?
Strategic shifts are more people led than those transactional or tactical in nature and therefore, to successfully drive any strategic change or pivot, what you need foremost is people’s support.
Around 8 – 9 years ago, we were at the cusp of an opportunity to usher in a quantum leap in customer service. With increasing digitization we knew that convergence of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Predictive Analytics and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) held a great potential in dramatically simplifying customer service experience. We set out to build a robust technology platform that could predict customers’ intent and help them across any channel, in a smart and intuitive way. We needed a world-class technology team for this, comprising of experts in each of the above fields, much different from the talent we already had.
Formulating strategies to attract and engage such top notch talent, from around the globe, was under my purview.
In a nutshell, my role was to make sure our people supported us in this strategic shift, everyone was directionally aligned to the new roadmap, and there was complete synergy between the new technology team and our existing high-performing delivery teams, to accelerate our journey towards intent prediction and creation of ‘true’ omnichannel experiences.
How are you trying to build an innovation culture at 7?
7 is still run by the entrepreneurs who founded the company; because of this we have been successful in retaining the spirit of entrepreneurship within the company. We encourage our people to be entrepreneurial and empower and enable them to do things their own way within our ‘7 way of being’ framework, which I believe are foremost ingredients for innovation.
In addition to encouraging ongoing efforts to develop new products, we also have annual events to spur innovation such as ‘Ideon’, where diverse cross-geo teams present their game changing ideas to improve our products and services. A number of excellent ideas that emerge through such events are integrated into our product road map and are considered for patenting. Today, we hold more than 100 patents. The innovators are rewarded handsomely for their break-through ideas.
We have also created a very robust learning culture which feeds into our innovation culture. We have created customized learning pathways for our people that offer them opportunities to learn more about the areas they are passionate about and see how they can find a sweet spot between their passion and the organizational needs.
We have created an enabling work culture that includes access to product demos and discussions, tech meet ups, expert talks etc. so ideas flow freely and this exchange of ideas becomes part of our everyday work life. We also encourage our people to present in industry events and conferences to get external validation of their ideas.
How people-centric is 7? And how is this strategy helping? Can you share some examples?
We are a 15000+ people organization with presence in 5 continents and 11 countries. We are as much people-centric as customer-centric. We allow people to be entrepreneurial. We encourage people to question old ways of doing things.
We run a very accessible and transparent organization with a flat org structure. All our offices have open floor plans. None of the leaders have closed offices or cabins, we all have cubicles. This encourages accessibility to leadership and collaboration amongst teams. Meetings with any CXO, including the co-founders, are just an email or a phone call away. This empowers people to no limits. They know that their leaders are accessible and they have the freedom to discuss any topic — from ideation to suggestions to concerns. I have a strong grasp of people’s pulse, as I meet with 200-250 people every quarter, through focus groups and one-on-one interactions to get ideas, address questions and disseminate information. I visit at least 2-3 of our 11 geographies every quarter.
The people-centric approach has helped us in retaining the top talent and grooming them into today’s leaders. At every level, 85% of our leaders have been elevated from within the ranks and that is because the top talent has been retained by a ‘high touch’ strategy. This approach has helped us tremendously as we have been successful in creating a ready pool of talented leaders who have ably supported 7 through its fantastic growth.