How UST's talent plan helped employees during the pandemic
It has over 25,000 associates; operating in 25 countries across four continents. Top Employers Institute certified UST Global as a Top Employer UK in 2020 - demonstrating that they provide exceptional employee conditions and nurtures and develops talent throughout all levels of the organisation.
COVID Response Strategy
As the pandemic shook the world, UST Global’s leadership team led by their CEO Krishna Sudheendra (named among highest rated 25 CEOs during COVID-19 times by Glassdoor) was quick to analyse and draw up a ‘COVID response strategy’. The strategy included detailed plans to ensure client and UST business continuity, employee safety, welfare and engagement, and developing and deploying scalable, secure, remote work solutions. A global leadership ‘taskforce’ was set up to drive various pillars within ‘COVID response strategy’.
Even before lockdowns were announced around the world in March 2020, their HR leaders were conducting daily scrum meetings with business leaders, REFM, Travel, Legal and Finance to manage the changes required to address the impact of the pandemic. “I am very proud of the contributions of our HR Teams as we navigated the ever-changing and demanding impact of the pandemic around the globe. We were ready to focus on the productivity or our people, creating policies, sharing information, holding townhalls with our people in order to stay safe, healthy and productive during very challenging times,” said Michael Adamson, VP of Global HR Operations.
The global business had activated business continuity plans, with measures such as reducing travel and increasing health precautions. It also mobilised and shipped whatever equipment was needed to employees' homes so they could work remotely. Country specific COVID-19 response teams were formed and driven from a centralised charter. For example, talent strategy and practice were heavily tested by the COVID-19 pandemic and the response of the UK team was to stay ahead of the curve through the planning and implementation of their COVID-19 Talent Plan.
The Talent Plan
UST’s Talent strategy (ECO) is based on three key pillars – Engagement, Capability Development and Organisation (Flat, Agile and Entrepreneurial). UST’s talent strategy is derived from the key tenant “create, enable, optimize, build and sustain a culture for a digitally native organization”. The objectives of the company talent strategy are broadly classified into the following areas:
- Create value for customers through digital delivery supported by enhanced velocity in decision making through high performing teams.
- Enable talent to deliver digital offerings by developing systems for better career management and enhanced talent mobility.
- Optimise delivery of digital offerings to the customers by developing digital capabilities and increasing the incidence of positive client testimonials.
- Build a culture that sustains employee performance by defining digital talent. This includes building a flat and empowered organisation.
The context of the pandemic meant that UK region needed to create and deliver ‘Talent Plan for Virtual workforce’ through an empowered workforce and advanced technology. The UK’s COVID-19 Talent Plan was built on the foundation of its Talent Strategy.
The Talent Plan has five key elements. These are:-
- Performance, Career and Recognition.
- Capability Development.
- Leadership Development.
Here is a snapshot of the various initiatives that were driven under these pillars.
Engagement programmes have been focused on wellbeing (physical, mental and environmental) and driving a sense of belonging and unity within the business. Some of the popular programmes included: weekly "High-Fives" - a Virtual "Coffee series"; “In This Together”, a chain tele-call series, where each UST associate, internally referred as ‘USsociate’ calls another USsociate every week to check on their wellbeing; and “Toddlers to Teenagers”, an initiative to support parents to keep children engaged during school closure. Physical wellness challenges and ‘Meditation & Relaxation’ sessions with experts have also gained popularity among USsociates. Of the Virtual Coffee breaks, one participant said it: “Gives me an opportunity to see my colleagues and interact with them. Keeping in touch with everyone helps me remain positive.” To adapt engagement to meet the needs of a virtual workforce, UST was quick to mobilise all of its internal networking groups (NowU UK– Network of Women USsociates, COLORS etc) to create a digital events calendar. COLORS is a strategic framework to help achieve UST Global’s corporate goals by means of participative management and employee empowerment. This comprehensive framework for employee engagement, consisting of 7 COLOR teams connects USsociates across all global locations with a sense of purpose and belongingness.
Performance, Career and Recognition
In order to ensure remote USsociates remain engaged, the business set up regular virtual "check-ins" between USsociate and their supervisors. This was achieved through its internal talent development app, called “NorthStar”. This app has fitted well with UST’s philosophy of enabling high performance through ongoing developmental feedback. Career Development remains a vital aspect of an USsociate’s journey and UST believes in leveraging technology as an enabler. It was this philosophy that led to the company launching ‘Career Velocity’ – a technology solution to enable career mobility and skill development. The Career Velocity platform has not only been instrumental in capturing career aspirations and helping USsociates with an individualised career path to achieve their aspirational role but also propagates unique concept of ‘skill clustering’. To aid skill clustering, UST leverages Career Velocity to identify on-demand combination of skills and offer them as skill specialisations to USsociates. USsociates are nudged to take training on skills that complement their current skills and hence supporting them to become multi-specialists. The solution has been of exceptional relevance to steer career development for USsociates at these unprecedented times
Additionally, it had a series of initiatives that helped connect, develop and engage its virtual workforce and virtual award events to celebrate success received a lot of positive feedback from associates ‘Meet the Stars’ is yet another initiative where managers and HR leverages Workplace (by Facebook) to share talent stories to inspire associates.
The business has been committed to helping each of its leaders become a multiplier for positive change. UST remained committed to ensure that virtual working mode did not dampen its focus on ongoing capability development.GA Menon Academy (GAMA), UST’s learning academy has been spearheading efforts to create a digital learning calendar across technology areas. These included webinars and thought leadership articles, as well as on-demand online courses. These have been sourced from the world’s leading providers of corporate education and learning, LinkedIn Learning and the technology skills platforms, Pluralsight, Coursera, and edX to name but a few.
Leadership development is an important aspect of the ‘Talent Plan’ and the team has been instrumental in not only modifying its leadership development programs to adapt to a virtual world but also to design new ones. For leadership development, the academy launched its first fully virtual leadership development training programme – “Achieving Leadership Potential”. There has also been a focused effort to ensure that managers and leaders are given ongoing training and support to manage a fully virtual workforce. GAMA has been successfully driving virtual ‘Servant Leadership Workshops’ across the globe. UST’s Leadership philosophy – “Servant Leadership” is in line with the company’s core value system and is designed to help people across levels, to lead by Influence. The Servant Leadership framework at UST Global is based on 7 Leadership behavioural patterns (DEEP BHC) – Demonstrating Conceptual Skills, Empowerment, Emotional Healing, Putting Others First, Behaving Ethically, Helping Others Grow and Succeed and Creating Value for the Community. One participant gave the following feedback: “I consider self-development a very important part of my career and the training programmes assigned to me are helping me to achieve this goal.”
UST Global has continued to provide regular updates on coronavirus symptoms and suggested precautions, helped by its COVID-19 helpdesk, country specific toll-free numbers available to employees around the world and a COVID-19 FAQ available to employees via its internal chat bot. It has also brought in telemedicine to provide counsel to USsociates via smartphones. An SMS campaign where text messages are used to communicate emergency directives from the government has also been launched. Calendarised virtual HR Roundtable meetings and stepped up manager connects help ensure that Ussociates have ongoing transparent communication not only on company response to pandemic but also on the organisation’s business outlook.
The Return to Work
UST Global is committed to providing its USsociates with a healthy and safe work environment. As the government encourages more businesses to reopen, there is a risk of renewed spread of COVID-19.
“In the UK, says Seena Mohan, Global HR Business partner, there are primarily three factors being considered when planning return to work. Firstly, there is the HR perspective - the current situation, industry best practice, what is working or not etc. Secondly, there is the business perspective. Which way is the business wanting to go and what does it need to get there? Thirdly, what do the USsociates really want? All of these things have to be considered in making decisions.”
Like other businesses, UST has been undertaking risk assessments and forming teams to understand and implement best practice on hand sanitisation, social distancing, seating arrangements etc. The impact of the return to work for the UK Talent Plan is still unfolding, although clear communication and engagement are at the fore in helping workers to return to work.
The business needs to know how its talent is feeling and whether they feel safe. And ahead of the return to work, the business had consulted over the summer with employees through communication and surveys, outlining proposed measures and welcoming feedback. Many remain content and engaged with working from remote locations and understanding of the practical difficulties of moving too far, too fast.
The company remains fully prepared to reopen its offices but is in no rush to do so. The UK offices have been made ‘COVID- secure’ as per Government guidelines, with safety measures and phased return approach being transparently consulted with USsociates. As per the phased return to work plan, when the company decides to reopen offices, the business is expecting to get 10 to 15% of workers back for the first four weeks and then review before making further proposed increases in 3 phases over a 3 or 4 month period. What seems most likely is that even when it is completely safe for everyone to return to work, attendance will remain staggered in some form. The ongoing reliance on virtual working during parts of the working week seems set to stay.
The risk and impact of the pandemic is far from over. The possibility of a second wave means that the situation is still fluid, but the elements of the Talent Plan - Engagement, Capability Development, Leadership Development, Performance, Career and Recognition and Communication - will remain as sturdy pillars, whatever happens with the pandemic in the near future.