HML's big ticket wins: Fostering a community-led, people-first culture

HML’s big ticket wins: Fostering a community-led, people-first culture

Nestled between the pristine waters of the Arabian sea on the west and the majestic Western Ghats on the east, and spread across a lush, scenic 13,400 hectares in God’s own country of Kerala, Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML) is the largest producer of rubber and pineapple, and the second largest tea-producer in South India. While HML boasts of being an oasis of natural beauty, its legacy is evident in vintage bungalows with old-world architecture, the essence of which remains unchanged. Clearly, the assertion of Kerala’s divine provenance, along with the best people practices, has had a spellbindingly magical impact on HML’s employees even through challenging times.

Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML)

Despite the barrage of disasters that HML is often faced with, including devastating floods and landslides, the company continues to secure noteworthy ranks at the Great Place to Work (GPTW) survey, amongst the many other feathers in its cap. So, what makes HML a people-first superstar?

It's widely known that company culture describes an organisation’s core set of values, ethics, and beliefs. It can be expressed in different ways, from how business practices are decided upon and implemented, right down to how individual workers interact with one another around the office. Having a clearly defined set of shared values boosts employee happiness and attracts top talent, along with their loyalty.

“We are proud to see HML being an embodiment of RPG’s values, and living the true essence of our pursuit of Happiness. Notwithstanding its business challenges, HML is a leading light in employee engagement and Happiness and, year after year, standing as a shining example for other Group companies and for the industry at large.”

S Venkatesh, President, Group HR

Fostering an emergent family culture…

Company culture might be at its most obvious when observing how team members interact with one another in the workplace. Depending on who you ask, it can also mean the perks and bonuses offered to employees. It could be as light as sharing inspirational slogans displayed on blurry images and it could, in the same breath, be as profound as the driving principle behind everything a company does.

Yet, defining an ‘ideal’ company culture can be tricky. For HML, the bedrock of its culture is formed by building healthy, family-friendly relations. Under the three pillars of Trust, Pride and Camaraderie, the company has fostered a culture of healthy competition, respect and gratitude, with an urbane, unprejudiced and cosmopolitan outlook thanks to its hallmark hospitality and family-style bonding.

…and making it acceptable to break free from a traditional corporate mindset

Our perception of corporate culture, that mostly stems from individual growth, is based on a one-dimensional approach, and doesn’t always correspond to reality. Since employees and their families have been living at the company’s estates for the last three generations, they’re deeply involved in day-to-day activities. Calendars are drawn up annually to keep them engaged throughout the year. Employees and families have a strong bond and socialise regularly outside of office, taking a lot of pride in their work and the organisation.

HML has proven repeatedly that a good workplace culture evolves with progressive people practices, which are honed by building trust, ensuring efficient crisis management, and by taking care of employees and their families, especially during challenging times.

Trust: When HML’s actions meet words

Trust is seen as an essential ingredient for building productivity in the workplace. In times of disruption and recession, employees tend to become scared for their future at work. As a result, they are not always able to put forward their best and speak their mind. This impacts efficiency, advocacy, innovation and feelings of trust.

When new employees arrive, they bring in excitement as well as a host of questions as they embark on a new chapter in their careers. HML promises a safe space for them where they can be honest and vulnerable without worrying about the effect on their performance evaluation or their relationship with their manager and team.

Bold changes are, however, not accomplished overnight. A company can build the social architecture and the foundation to be able to talk about it, but eventually it takes a long period of time for these to be truly considered real and tangible. Job rotation with retention, cross-functional training (CFTs), fast-tracking high performers, a steady Rewards and Recognition (R&R) programme through the pandemic, are some facets of HML’s unique Best People Practices that have instilled trust through the years. Even the unionised staff are brought under the R&R umbrella, where performers are promoted to executive levels, with growth-oriented cross-functional training thrown into the mix.

What this boils down to is that employees generally feel happier, and go the extra mile for the organisation.

Trust in leadership
  • Transparency is ensured in appraisal systems,
    policies are periodically benchmarked to match employee aspirations
  • Meritorious students from the ‘worker’ category are hired in staff or executive positions
  • 45 Joint Labour Management Council (JLMC) meetings take place every month, audited by the corporate IR team
Trust via communications and engagement
  • Employees and their families are involved in daily activities
  • Everyone is constantly updated through channels like email, WhatsApp, notices, etc.
  • Today, staff and employees have access to all information across all digital mediums
  • Employees are kept continuously engaged
Trust by support during crises
  • Open and proactive communications during crises
  • Employees and
    trade unions seek the government’s help to support the management
  • Land and assets are protected from encroachers
  • Employee wellness was a priority during COVID-19
  • HML follows an unwavering sustainability agenda in light of the planet’s biggest crisis

The psychological impact of being in a perfect workplace

In an adapt-or-perish world, roles will continue to change. When a workplace is consistently recognised for being a great place to work, it promises a certain constant – a conducive culture that augments the ability to innovate, speak out against injustice and campaign for change.

For the individual, this translates to less stress, more job satisfaction, and greater confidence. More importantly, it guarantees a high degree of psychological safety.

"Crisis brings people closer. We have been together, day in and day out, during the pandemic – holding hands, taking care, helping each other and protecting our families and the community around us. Recognition by the GPTW Institute is an endorsement of the strong values and culture we follow at HML.”

Cherian George, CEO & Whole-time Director, HML

"We know from research that if somebody goes to work and feels that they are going to be taken care of, they are going to do much better at work."

Michael Bush, CEO, Great Place to Work

"When new employees arrive at a time when we see massive change in the traditional office environment, whether it’s a post-pandemic new normal or other streaks of turbulence, what they will value most is a sense of belonging through the beliefs and goals they share with colleagues. Organisations seeking breakthrough innovation through culture – in unexplored realms – need the kind of freedom and expanded scope of exploration that HML provides."


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