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Q&A: Ravi Bhogaraju, Global Head HR, Talent and Organisation Development, Archroma

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Growing the perfect shade

In line with Archroma’s swift growth path towards industry leadership, Ravi Bhogaraju, Global Head HR, Talent and OD, speaks to Aditi Sharma Kalra on the progress of setting up operations, and establishing a commercially-focused, ownership-driven culture.

Archroma is a global colour and specialty chemicals company headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. It operates with 3,000 employees in more than 35 countries and with 25 production sites. In Asia, Archroma has 1,200 employees and Singapore is the global HQ of the textile chemicals business. Archroma’s Asia operations consist of all countries in the regions of South Asia, Southeast Asia, China, Korea Japan and Oceania, with employees and manufacturing in almost all major countries.

Archroma has witnessed a swift growth path since 2013 – having first spun-off operations under Clariant, and then the consolidation of the textile chemicals, paper specialties, and emulsions businesses under SK Capital.

Ravi Bhogaraju, Global Head HR, Talent and OD, joined Archroma in November 2013, an exciting time when the business had just been carved out from Clariant. Since then, the team has made great progress in setting up operations and growing them through establishing a commercially focused ownership-driven culture. This has enabled it to integrate selected acquisitions and boost its growth further.

Presently, Archroma has a global HR team of 50 HR associates and Asia has a team of 13 associates. This lends the company a unique HR structure, where instead of having many COEs, they rely on work teams across the local HR organisation to drive global design and implementation of HR initiatives.

In this interview, Bhogaraju shares Archroma’s journey of growth, synergy, building a global mindset, and HR capability.

Q How would you describe the company culture at Archroma?

Our company culture is based on the four pillars of ACTS – accountability for performance; customer and market focus; teamwork and collaboration; as well as speed and simplicity. We work hard as a company to establish this culture in the various countries that we operate in.

Each country understands and subscribes to this core. They, in turn, work to establish this within the norms of their social and country frame. This core enables us with a common language and behaviours that unite us in our efforts to constantly challenge the status quo and make our industry more sustainable.

Q Talk us through Archroma’s growth since 2013 – having first spun-off from Clariant, and then the consolidation of the textile chemicals, paper specialties, and emulsions businesses under SK Capital.

Our growth strategy over the past six years has been to focus on solutions for the speciality chemical customers by continuously challenging the status quo in the deep belief that we can make our industry sustainable.

We drive our overall business strategy by using a number of key components to make this possible – some of them being a sharp commercial strategy, fine-tuned supply chain operations, and continuously innovating our portfolio of offerings and focused acquisitions.

We actively support these with a regular performance rhythm, build leadership and people capability through academy programmes, as well as continuously embed our company culture and mindset.

Q What was your mandate when you took up this role?

For the good part of the first year, it felt like I was working for a number of start-ups at the same time. All of us were very focused on delivering a key component of our operating mechanism.

There were a number of work streams and task forces running to establish the foundations. Each team was empowered and took ownership to make things happen. We simplified processes and policies, as well as enabled these through our IT platforms.

It is hugely satisfying to look back and see how we worked quickly and seamlessly across time zones and functions to deliver this to set us up for the future.

Q Upon immersing yourself with the integration of the business, share with us what exactly the HR and business strategy for the integration was. How was it communicated, and most importantly, what needed to be changed?

Key components in our growth story relate to the people capability (talent bench), leadership and culture.

Our culture programmes have been focused around creating a sense of identity which acknowledged our past strengths and helped mobilise our actions to transform into our vision for the future. We had a number of sessions to help people adjust to the new identity – understand the pillars of our culture and the tools that they have to practise the behaviours.

Culture is an ongoing exercise. We often remind ourselves – “every conversation/interaction is a culture and mindset conversation” – it is not one event, but the cumulative experiences that shape the culture and belief system in the company.

Talent and people capability are being driven through the Archroma Academy programmes which have been running for three years. We started by looking at the key business levers and designed capability programmes to support those.

Our first series of programmes were in the commercial and operational excellence areas. These were face-to-face training programmes that were designed and delivered across the globe through our local team.

As our academy programmes are delivered jointly through leaders and HR, they are well-received. People always appreciate that our leaders are truly invested and working towards their development.

We also launched the leadership model assessment that helped understand our leadership bench strength across the globe. This also helped us reiterate our expectations from what it means to be a leader in Archroma and what they can do to be ‘inspiringly unreasonable’.

Further, we have recently launched the digital Archroma Academy where we will be using an online platform to supplement our existing programmes. We will use this in the development of the digital ecosystem and digital employee capability, supporting the digital transformation initiative in Archroma.

Q How extensively was HR involved in the conceptualisation of this transformation? What kind of conversations did it entail for you?

Archroma is an organisation which is outcome and accountability driven – we value each other’s points of view and respect a mutually agreeable way. HR was involved in working with the leaders to design the initiatives and drive them across the organisation.

Many conversations were really about understanding the intent more clearly and keeping the message simple and easy to understand so that it translated effectively across the globe.

We ensured that we constantly used our local leaders and change ambassadors during and after the launch of the event in every country and region.

Starting off your mandate, how did you start to roll things out?

As with most things in life, we started by creating a plan of what we wanted to achieve as a HR leadership team and worked to formulate the body of work.

We work in cross-border, cross-functional teams. We design and execute jointly with the business teams to ensure that our connection with the business objectives and people-centricity stays strong.

We have also learnt through our experiences that ‘pilots’ are very important – we like to learn quickly and therefore we run with programmes in a very iterative way. We continuously adapt and change the programmes to become more relevant.

We had to pivot and adjust from the pilots. Some things just landed on our plates and we had to take those on board and roll with it.

Q How was the roll out executed? What activities and interventions were planned in order to not only change behaviours, but also mindsets?

A global roll out takes planning and some orchestrating. We ensured that once the leadership team was onboard, a global launch event marked the announcement of the initiative. This was a symbolic event that marked the start of the journey.

This provided a high-level aligned view for everyone on what’s changing and why it was changing. It was also the event that broke it down for employees on what and how they would experience the change. Post our global launch, the change was rolled out in every country by key leaders, supported by country HR and the regional leadership.

We ensured that we constantly used our local leaders and change ambassadors during and after the launch of the event in every country and region. They were key to the successful launch and gave us critical feedback from across the world. This helped us adapt the message delivery in some regions and it also helped us to craft more local events by local leadership where needed.

In order to ensure that we were on track, the road map for change ensured that we have a very well-established rhythm of check-ins and goal-post reviews.

Q How easy or how difficult has it been to roll out this road map? More importantly, what challenges did you face, and how did you clear those hurdles successfully?

When I look back, I see three main challenges that needed to be overcome.

The first was finding a balance between global standards and local execution. It was important to empower the teams and support them to create a more effective programme locally. While supporting the countries, it was imperative that the non-negotiable messages should be clearly communicated. This ensures the overall message does not dilute.

Second, a talented HR team aligned with the competence levels is very important. We as leaders have to work hard to find, develop, and manage our teams. Give open honest constructive feedback to help them develop. Without this, many initiatives would struggle to deliver to their intent in the countries, and would burden you in a regional/global role.

Finally, connection with the business is important. We have found that having HR teams and the country leaders as co-leads of initiatives at the country-level helps tremendously. Help your teams to understand the business and encourage more joint work with the business teams. Coach both the country HR and business leaders actively to nurture this connection.

Q What would you say are the top three success factors when it comes to launching such large-scale unification initiatives?

Strong support from the leaders is foremost. In fact, that was our starting point in all our initiatives. Drive the HR agenda to deliver business goals and not the other way around. Our leadership team is supportive of ideas when this alignment is tight. Once that is established, we have a higher success rate in the implementation.

The second important factor in our success is a team of fully committed and driven-change agents who work with a passion to deliver. Archroma is an accountability and ownership-driven culture and thus knowing who these are is important. The change agents, or change ambassadors, have the pulse of the ground and they are also a great source of feedback as we rolled out our plan.

The last thing is that we realised that any change would have its set of early adopters and laggards. The laggards will sometimes prevent us from reaching our optimal point of change. Often, diagnosing and understanding resistance and slow adoption to change is important for us to create supplemental work to help them with the adoption.

Q How do you measure the results of this journey? Please share specific milestones or metrics that help you communicate progress to stakeholders.

As our programmes all come from business initiatives, ultimately, we use the business result as a key metric to see if they have delivered the desired change. This is further evidenced by the change of behaviour in our employees and the use of new terminology, tools, and ways of working on a day-to-day basis.

However, on a formal basis, we measure our success through the short surveys as needed, and second, through focused group discussions.

Pulse surveys provide information in a very similar structured and anonymous format. This helps us to measure clearly. Also, these throw up themes which we can deep-dive into. We use this then to run focus groups with employees to seek feedback. These are dialogue sessions that provide insightful commentary beyond just data points. It is time-consuming, but useful when you want to go in-depth.

People in the dyes and chemical sector may be seen as traditional, and not perceived as the classic disruptors. Many have the view that disruption exists in other sectors. I had some of these misconceptions as well.

Q What’s the one myth you would change about working in the dyes and chemicals sector?

The industry is transforming rapidly and is in the centre of many important debates such as climate change, water scarcity, sustainability, ecology, safe products, pollution, social impact, and human rights, just to state a few. We also see a number of consolidation moves, that is, carve-outs and acquisitions.
This creates a perfect VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) – for people personally as well as for their roles in the marketplace.

People in the dyes and chemical sector may be seen as traditional, and not perceived as the classic disruptors. Many have the view that disruption exists in other sectors. I had some of these misconceptions as well.

This is not accurate – we have passionate and talented people who are constantly adapting to this whirlwind of change. They continue to engage and help make a significant impact not just to the companies they work with, but also the broader industry – at scale and pace.

Q Reveal to us your wacky outlook on the future of HR – what can we expect if you had things your way?

I am not entirely sure that this is the wackiest idea, but I do envision a world where artificial intelligence will replace policy, employee enquiries, and the shared services function. We see this starting with bots and will continue to evolve rapidly as deep machine learning kicks into high gear over time.

However, this is only one side of the news. We have to acknowledge the fact that work relating to humans is not always the most straightforward and not the easiest to break down in steps. Work will transform into more nuanced ways, needing flexing, and evaluating multiple influencing factors. The more AI we introduce, the more human flexing and adaptation of business strategies will
be needed.

Roles that can shape business strategy and grow human and augmented capability as a key lever will become super critical. Human development needs intuition: understanding people – their motivations and fears. Thus, our HR team members who can do both in the custom company environment will be highly valued. We need to invest and coach our teams so that we help them grow in that direction.


Vital stats: Ravi Bhogaraju has worked in HR and business transformation for over 20 years. In his current role, he partners with the leadership team to enable the transformation of business, building capability, and leadership to deliver better commercial performances. Outside of work, he is passionate about mentoring and coaching students, professionals and start-ups. His coaching style is to encourage people to connect the dots, create personal insights, and take ownership of their actions.


Art Direction: Mohd Ashraf;
Photography: Elliot Lee (Studio Three Sixteen Pte Ltd) – www.studiothreesixteen.com.


This interview has been published exclusively in Human Resources magazine. Read the Sep-Oct edition of Human Resources, Singapore:

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