Apollo Tyres on how to create a common cultural understanding

Martha Desmond, Chief Human Resources Officer at Apollo Tyres joined HRD Connect to discuss the challenges of a multi-cultural workforce, and how they overcame the barriers by creating cultural awareness workshops. She also revealed how to ease employees into company change without disrupting the company culture.

Apollo Tyres decided to move it’s regional headquarters from a small rural town in Holland to Amsterdam. Along with the practical implications of the move the emotional context for the employees and the surrounding community was significant. What did HR leaders do to respond to the emotional impact?

We addressed it in a number of ways; we put together an employee project team to help with the design of the new offices, this was a successful way to gain early engagement for the move.  When designing the relocation process we also built in a longer than normal transition/ commuting period so that the employees had plenty of time to adapt to the new office environment. In the first few months the Amsterdam office was open we held a number of social events for the employees and their families so that they had an opportunity to visit the new building and spend some social time with their colleagues.  I truly believe that all of these actions helped us to have a smooth transition from Eschede to Amsterdam.

The company’s employee population is made up of an India Project team and Hungarian engineers – how did you create a common cultural understanding?

Not long after the Hungary project team came together we ran some cultural awareness sessions to give the employees the opportunity to learn about their diverse cultural heritage and explore their commonality and differences.  The facilitator skilfully provided a safe and fun environment for the employees to learn more about each other and develop a mutual respect.  We extended the integration activities beyond the employees by hosting evening events for employees and their families as well as encouraging ongoing opportunities to build on the cultural integration of the group through activities such as lunch and learns or the celebration of local festivals.

How do you help your employees become more engaged in training and development programmes?

Luckily the employees at Apollo Tyres are very committed to learning and development, for this reason our focus is much more on ensuring that employees are offered the right training for their current role and also for the future.  We do this through our HR Cycle so that every 12 months the employee has the opportunity to sit with their line manager to discuss their training needs and agree a training plan for the coming year.  There is a big focus on experiential learning as opposed to external programme, as we believe this is a much more sustainable and cost effective way of developing our people.

You said that with the rapid growth of the organisation, even the most seasoned HR professional would feel challenged – what for you are the most important skills for a leader to drive through this growth without disrupting the company culture?

In my view the single most important skill leaders need to have in a changing or growing environment is exceptional communication ability.  Employees will feel far more motivated and engaged if they understand the context for change, what it will mean for them and what to expect from the organisation over the coming months/ years.  Second on my list is prioritization, often during times of change the business becomes busy with a wide variety of activities, it is extremely important for leaders to able to identify the key drives, then prioritize related actions in order to maximize the opportunity.  Then finally I would pick delegation, individuals all through the organisation must be empowered to act otherwise you experience huge bottlenecks and bureaucracy which can stifle the company and stops the growth from happening.

 

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