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BW Businessworld

'There's A Real War For Talent In India'

Traditional leadership models are defunct, says David Binkley, senior vice president of global human resources at home appliance maker Whirlpool. In an interview with BW Businessworld's Sonal Khetarpal, he discussed the need to revise the company's policies to suit the needs of multi-generations. Accompanying him was Sarthak Raychaudhuri, the company's VP of HR for South Asia, to share insights on Whirlpool's India HR policies and the war for talent with startups.

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Whirlpool has recently changed its leadership model. Can you tell us what changes were made?
Binkley: We realised our existing leadership model was way too complicated. It was not even unique to our company. It was a compilation of things taken off the internet. Six months back we started to re-examine it by asking a series of questions, such as, the kind of company we want to build, the kind of leaders we want and expect.
 
Raychaudhuri: Normally a leadership model is full of jargon - competencies, business acumen, strategic thinking amongst others. Now when you say business acumen, to an employee, he has absolutely no understanding what it means or how to apply it in his day to day working life. So, we decided to take a behavioural approach to the leadership model.
 
We broke it down to eight simple belief systems, for instance, straight talk, be bold, unleash talent. This helps people know what qualities we uphold and expect them to portray. We have incorporated it in our orientation process, hiring new people and also assessing the existing ones.
 
Due to the hierarchical mindset inherent in corporate India, do you think people can 'really' do straight talk?
Binkley: I was with 20 people in the meeting and one of them said, "David let me talk very straight about this". Saying these words meant he is expressing what he might have otherwise held back. The idea is to create an environment where everyone can say what's on their mind. If they don't, as a company we are not getting the best out of them. I loved seeing the real example and he was a young employee.
 
Raychaudhuri: Due to these values what has happened is people have got the "permission" to do "straight talk" and express their opinions without hurting the other person. It's almost like saying "I'm not saying this, my values are telling me to say this."
 
Do you think there is a war for talent between start-ups and established companies as yours?
Binkley: I'm just shocked at how competitive Indian universities are! They are describing for me what a real war for talent is. We have our own war for talent in the US and Europe but this is very different. During on-campus recruitment, start-ups are the first ones in line, even before companies such as McKinsey, BCG, Anchor. It is surprising because they weren't even there a couple years ago. Another important issue is the salary packages. What they offer is really high! Due to all these reasons it has become difficult to find the right talent, but it still gets done. It just takes a little longer. The good thing is the market here is really big so you don't find anyone saying there is no talent in the market.
 
A lot of companies work on making their workplace inclusive. Are there any initiatives at Whirlpool?
Raychaudhuri: We have a diversity group but right now it's about gender and generation. Our workforce has got multi-generation people. Fifty-three per cent of our employee base is millennials and then we have baby boomers and some very experienced people. The focus areas, needs, priorities for each group is very different. So the diversity group tries to bring them under the same umbrella. Also, we see how we can have policies that make our workplace more inclusive for genders. Security is a big issue in India. So, when women travel we ensure their entitlements are 20 per cent more than men. If they go back late, we provide a car plus a security guard to drop them home. Also, by law maternity leave is for 12 weeks, in our company it is for 24 weeks. This is because we want them to come back to work and resume their career.
 
Binkley: From research we know most of the purchase decisions for appliances are made by women. So, we want to be an attractive employer for them so they can influence the development process within the company. It makes good business sense for us. We have a lot of women in our global design team. These numbers are low in India though where we have only 11 per cent women. The challenge is there aren't many women to hire in engineering colleges, especially in mechanical engineering.