Interview | Ola’s culture of innovation cannot be about anything else, but people: Srinivas Chunduru

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Updated: July 23, 2019 11:55:12 PM

"We have instituted a first-of-its-kind ‘Founders Award’ that goes to the employee who has always been entrepreneurial, much like the founders. Basically, it a grant of ESOPs and additionally Rs 20 lakhs that they can choose towards a social cause or initiative," said Ola's CHRO Srinivas Chunduru.

The average age of an employee at Ola lies between 25-28 years, said Ola’s CHRO Srinivas Chunduru.

Ola’s workforce of over 7,000 employees is the key to the interesting phase that it is going through wherein it is expanding services globally, penetrating deeper within India with new product innovations, and adding more verticals to our business, said Srinivas Chunduru, Group Chief Human Resource Officer at Ola. Chunduru describes how holistic is the company’s engagement with employees across its business levels to ensure that all its policies and practices resonate with its employees globally. “All policies and people initiatives are developed keeping in mind the financial, physical and emotional well-being and fall under our signature programme Ola Edge,” he said elaborating more on how its people are central to its global growth in interaction with Financial Express Online. Edited excerpts below:

How are employee benefits structured at Ola?

Employees can structure and customise their compensation package with components based on their lifestyle, expense style, age etc. We have introduced various flexi-pay benefits such as learning assistance reimbursements, books and periodicals reimbursements, meal cards, leave travel allowances, voluntary provident fund, national pension scheme etc., through which employees are educated and empowered to plan their salary components. Some special perks that fall under Ola Edge are discounts and exclusive deals that our employees can avail on over 10,000 brands across the country. These benefits are worth as much as Rs 3 crore on an annual basis.

We have recently introduced childcare benefits to help our employees with child-care. Parents can make the best choice for their children through our tie-ups with crèches in the vicinity of each and every office, available on our online childcare portal. Ola also encourages a dog-friendly work environment and employees are free to bring their dog(s) whenever they like, bringing a new kind of energy into the workplace.

Organisations today seek talent that is open for experimenting in other areas outside his/her core role but that’s not easy. Should it be incentivised? How does Ola look at it?

We offer a range of learning opportunities to help team members hone their skills including a comprehensive e-learning module. One of our key initiatives — Uday is aimed at driving capability building through the creation of specialised functional academies for functions like  HR, finance, business analysts and more, and helping them build a deeper understanding of various businesses so that their output is more aligned to the business goals. Employees of different functions are encouraged to acquire specialised training by doing special assignments, speaking at public forums, cracking a business problem, attend training programmes that cover deeper functional elements etc.

The idea is to make the training a fun, enriching and engaging exercise and hence we have gamified it. Every employee earns points for every assignment they conduct and these points can be redeemed for a higher learning programme or short term management development program at one of the country’s leading IIMs. The average age of an employee at Ola lies between 25-28 years and hence the employees are more driven to learn further.

What about attrition rate and gender diversity?

Our over 7,000 employees work across more than 250 cities in four countries. Our attrition rate is well below the industry rate. Clearly, there are a few functions like in the case of field jobs, where the rate is higher than in the case of corporate or technology staff. With respect to our gender mix, it is also in line with the industry rate.

You talked about new learnings, so how do you marry this with an innovation culture?

Culture of innovation cannot be about anything else, but people. Policies and people initiatives help set a direction and go a long way in helping employees grow and in giving them space to innovate, assured that their contributions are recognized, they are well rewarded and taken care of. For instance, we recently conducted a 30-hour hackathon where our teams coded non-stop to solve for unique ideas to build a ready-to-ship solution. Also, we recently had our Product Day to help other teams understand the latest innovations that are being built. These examples help going beyond a job description.

Apart from employee recognition, how do you recognize intrapreneurs at Ola?

We have instituted a first-of-its-kind ‘Founders Award’ that goes to the employee who has always been entrepreneurial, much like the founders, in everything he or she does. Basically, it a grant of ESOPs and additionally Rs 20 lakhs that they can choose towards a social cause or initiative they relate to. Also, Ola offers monthly, quarterly, and annual awards in various categories to employees wherein an employee can appreciate their colleagues, recommend their names for rewards through a completely automated system. We see our colleagues using this platform on a regular basis to appreciate each other’s work. More than 100 people are being recognised on a monthly basis using this automated platform.

Would you subscribe to Jack Ma’s 12 hours a day six days a week mantra at work?

I would say that we encourage flexibility and freedom. Employees can choose to work from home when required and take time off from work periodically to rejuvenate that brings in a sense of comfort and empowerment. We have instituted ‘Core Collaboration Hours,’ from 10 am to 5 pm where employees are available to work together given the collaborative nature of the work that we do.

Lastly, what about increasing headcount this year?

We are always on the lookout for great talent and we aim to build a globally respected company from India. We continue to grow globally in our markets and have recently shared our ambition to build an advanced technology center out of San Francisco in the US, aiming to hire 150 engineers to build next-generation technologies in mobility.

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