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Manning Modern Retail: Addressing the challenges of HR in the new retail paradigm

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Retail today is the leading the growth industry in the country. Traditional retail however is fraught with many challenges, while new retail or e-commerce is posing a stern test, the problem of finding, grooming and retaining top talent to drive and sustain growth is one of the most pertinent concerns.

The Retailers Association of India (RAI), India’s premier retailers organisation, has taken up this challenge, and since 2009, has been involved in trying to solve the human resource problem, by organising the ‘Manning Modern Retail’ series, which brings together the best minds of the fraternity, to try and come up with innovative solutions to the ongoing retail HR challenges. The 2015 edition of Manning Modern Retail, was held at the Westin Garden City Mumbai, on Thursday 3rd September, and followed the theme of, “Mining human potential for creating great organisations.”

Setting the tone:

Retailers Association of India CEO, Mr. Kumar Rajgopalan, set the tone of the day by introducing the concept and outlining the objectives of the day long conclave. Addressing the challenges of Human Capital in retail he said, “Is no mean feat and valuable insights were there to be had from other successful service oriented sectors.” Warmly welcoming delegates and dignitaries alike, he hoped that the session would yield great results for those present and the industry as a whole.


Delivering the keynote address, Dr.Jaideep Devare, MD, Mahindra Insurance Brokers Limited, spelled out the RETAIL formula, which highlighted the importance of key Human Resource parameters like Rewards and Recognition, Employee Engagement, Training, Alignment and Motivation, Individual Growth and Development Plans and Leadership styles. In his address he cited examples of how each of these tools has enriched and added tremendous value across the Mahindra paradigm. Simple philosophy, practised with a simple, pioneering spirit can indeed yield great results, was the takeaway from this excellent keynote.

Panel discussion:

Mining Human Potential For Creating Great Organisations

The first panel discussion of the day, featured 4 diverse personalities from the realm of hospitality, consumer products, social media and retail. Moderated by Mr. B. Venkataramana, Group President – HR, Landmark Group, the panel comprised of Mr. Gurmeet Singh, Area Director HR, Marriott Hotel India Pvt. Ltd., Mr. Rahul Gama, EVP, Godrej Consumer Products Limited, and Mr. Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, CEO GoZoop Online. In the discussion that centred around unlocking employee potential and utilising said effort to the betterment and enduring success of the organisations in question, some interesting points were put forward. The audience was captivated by the different methodologies that were discussed and live examples presented. For instance Mr. Gurmeet Singh of Marriott, expounded on the principle of ‘Putting People First’ and the equanimity that his company shows towards all associates, across geographies and roles, and the astounding results it displays. Mr. Rahul Gama of Godrej on the other hand, emphasized the importance of the individual employee and the way with which GCPL helps it employees turn their efforts towards a common goal. Mr. Ahmed Aftab Naqvi of GoZoop shed light on what keeps youngsters motivated and cited examples of how his organisation has, in a short period of time gained a reputation of becoming one of the best places to work at. Mr. B. Venkataramana’s astute observations and insights on how these examples could really benefit the retail industry were worth noting and the session ended on a consensus that in an industry where churn is always going to be an issue, people friendly policies are probably the best way forward.

The panel discussion was followed by the day’s first Ignite Session, which left the audience enlightened and curious about the use of technology in the HR paradigm in the retail space. The tea break saw delegates discussing and debating the learning’s from a truly enlightening morning.

Mid-Morning Sessions:

Recharged and refreshed, the delegates and participants were welcomed back. The focus of the mid-morning sessions were to felicitate HR stalwarts, an ignite session that would introduce the participants to a new form of compensations and benefits (an alternative to meal vouchers), the release of the AON Hewitt on the changing landscape of HR across the retail space and the second panel discussion of the day.

HR Managers are a stressed lot, especially around the beginning of the month, where they are held accountable for the disbursal of compensation and benefits to all and sundry. The effort, tedium and of course the additional headache of coordination isn’t a pleasant task. With this in mind Mr. Bhavin Turakhia, introduced the ‘Zeta’ way which electronically took care of the entire spectrum of ordering, disbursing and tallying the distribution of meal ticket vouchers in a smart, convenient and easy to use solution.

Panel Discussion:

Understanding HR Productivity in the R-e-Tail Sector

In a discussion that was both pertinent, and long overdue, 4 heavyweights of the retail industry, came together to elucidate best practices, solutions and the use of different paradigms and strategies in the widely changing HR role in the Retail business. Moderated by Mr. Roopank Chaudhary, Associate Partner and India Head, AON Hewitt, this session was a true eye-opener. As far as the panel was concerned, it couldn’t have gotten more distinguished. Ms. Shalini Vohra, HR Chief, Infiniti Retail, Mr. BVM Rao, HR Head Shoppers Stop, Ms. Ruhie Pande, VP and HR Head, Marico Kaya and Ms. Monica Bhandari, Chief HR Officer, House of Anita Dongre, swapped instances, anecdotes and learnings of their long and storied careers. This session threw up some interesting insights into the ways at which different organisations within the retail space are managing the issues of attrition, disruption caused by e-tailers and of course the importance of training, rewards, recognition and the right emphasis on human capital in a rapidly changing environment. The floor was then opened to questions, and several enthusiastic questioners, found the collective knowledge of the assembled panel, more than satisfactory, in the words of a participant, it was, “most excellent and enlightening”!

Post Lunch Session:

After a scrumptious lunch, it was time for more mind expanding, thought provoking sessions. An IGNITE session on how the retail industry would benefit from the creation of a national talent pool was the chief thrust of RASCI VP, Mr. James Raphael’s session. The challenge of modern retail lies in the recruitment of the right talent, and addressing the problem of this human capital by creating a nationwide talent pool, seems to be the need of the hour. This session was both thought provoking and stimulating, but what lay ahead was pure information and knowledge nirvana. A half an hour session, with the author of the Chanakya series, Dr. Radhakrishna Pillai. This session yielded some extremely interesting insights about being analytical, trusting one’s instincts and of course being patient and determined.

Storm Session:

The last session of the day was also the most eagerly awaited one. Aptly titled the ‘Storm Session’ it was structured to create a lasting impact with both its format and its content. Selected delegates and panellists, under the stewardship of Ms. Ameesha Prabhu, CEO, TRRAIN discussed important issues that HR is set to face in a disruptive era. Disruption here of course meant more than the challenge of discounting posed by online retailers, but the challenge of recruiting, motivating and retaining talent in an age where loyalties are not what they used to be. The audience was at rapt attention, when panellists of the calibre of Mr. GR Ventakesh of Reliance Retail, Mr. Devendra Chawla, of Future Group, Mr. Rajiv Nair of Celio Fashions, exchanged points of view, practical knowledge and anecdotes from their own professional careers. The storm session truly challenged all present to think differently, and reinforced the thought of lateral thinking in this disruptive age.

It surely was a day of surprises, from learning about what makes a place a truly ‘great place to work’ to pondering existential questions of the role of HR in modern retail, each session had the passion and meticulousness that one has come to expect of a Retailers Association of India event.