Q. For almost two decades, the Aon Best Employers study has been one of the most reputed studies for India Inc. Please tell us what was the thinking behind launching a study like this and what it means in today’s context?
A. Aon Best Employers is a research study. The idea of the list is rooted in understanding how organizations are achieving competitive advantage. In the early years, the list recognized some elements of best practices. But the era of copying 'best' practices is over. The world is changing at a far rapid pace to adopt others’ practices. Each organization needs to recognize relevance and design of practices in their context, and align employee experiences with their deliberate talent priorities. This principle applies to Aon Best Employers list as well, which is led by business strategy than by adoption of HR best practices or replication of new trends in the marketplace.
Q. What are the ingredients of an Aon Best Employer? Has there been a shift?
A. If you look at Best Employers as a framework, there are four core pillars on which Aon Best Employer stands — Employee Engagement, Employer Brand, Leadership and High Performance Culture. The fundamental construct of the Best Employer evaluation works on three levers like I mentioned above — Intent, Design and Experience.
On the basis of these elements, we understand participant organization’s business strategy and its alignment with people priorities (aka Intent). This could be innovation for one organization, customer focus or operational focus for another. HR is expected to carry the baton of alignment as a functional expert, and translate the same into design of contextual practices. Last, of course, is the delivery of these practices into outcomes that impact employees’ experience. Hence, it is not a matter of scores alone that can certify an organization as an Aon Best Employer.
Given the elaborate framework, supplemented by an independent audit by Aon consultants, the evaluation process is quite challenging for our external jury. Besides observing clear linkage from the Intent to the Experience, the jury also takes into account whether Best Employers are shaping their organization along the future business strategy. This is one fundamental shift we have brought in the qualitative evaluation process. Challenge the participants with questions such as — “Are the practices relevant?”, “Is the context relevant?”, “Are we building a right culture that enables business transformation?”, “Are we moving fast enough?”, “Is there a gap between a CEO’s view of culture and the employees’?”
Q. Why do organizations decide to be on the Best Employer journey year-on-year?
A. Many reputed, well-respected organizations have been a part of the Best Employers list over the years. And it’s been an interesting bag of large Indian conglomerates, multinational companies, family-led enterprises, young upcoming companies and public sector enterprises. When I meet business and HR leaders, they echo a uniform thought — learn from the best, and be counted among the best.
They tell us our study challenges and their thinking on talent management. They tell us it is a difficult process with surveys, audits and interviews, but they appreciate the rigor, and finality of an unbiased, external jury. As one of the winning CEOs told us once, "We participate because it is much more than a beauty pageant."
Q. What has been the thinking behind the theme for this year — “#NextGenOrg”?
A. Over the last few years, we are consistently hearing of Future of Work, Artificial Intelligence and automation of jobs. During our conversation with HR leaders, they ask us “What should we do to prepare for the change?” In truth, everyone is still trying to understand the implications. We believe there is more knowledge to be gained on the subject through discussions. Hence, we began the journey of “Imagineering Tomorrow” last year and conducted workshops with exercises around “What are we doing today to make our organization digitally ready? How will we create that organization? How will we create the mindset in people to ensure they remain agile in the digital world?”
Primary and secondary research like the one above has pointed us in the direction beyond employee engagement. As an example, workers of gig economy need to be engaged through purpose and diversity. Beyond practices, an organization might need to focus on specific personality traits or behavioral competencies to engage such a workforce. Leaders need to re-imagine their organization design, communication channels and enabling infrastructure to deliver to the said mandate. Imagineering the #NextGenOrg is our effort to move beyond crystal ball gazing, and enable organizations traverse to tomorrow.
Partner, Talent & Performance Consulting