Q&A: Manish Verma, APAC regional leader, global HR solutions, Cargill

Q&A: Manish Verma, APAC regional leader, global HR solutions, Cargill

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With Cargill’s HR team enabling the business to win in the marketplace, this HR leader talks Aditi Sharma Kalra through his winning strategies.

Vital Stats: Manish Verma is the HR leader for AP for the global HR solutions team at Cargill. He leads the group of country HR directors, functions that serve BUs in the areas of HR strategy and service delivery in recruitment, talent, L&D, organisational performance, benefits, employee experience, IR, employee relations and payroll. He is also a member of the GHRS-LT.

Q In the past 20 years, you have lived and worked across India and the UK before moving to Singapore in 2009. How was this multi-cultural experience?

Since my childhood, I have moved places every three to four years. My view of the world is a place full of interesting countries, people, cultures and norms that should be experienced. This has built my passion for travel and subsequently living and working in different countries. It opened my mind to new experiences, challenged and built my perspectives and made me explore places. This way of living has also helped me build my agility and adaptability and hone my creativity.

In my experience of working in India, UK and now in the great country of Singapore, I have had step out of my comfort zone, open my mind and learn to integrate into a new social and corporate fabric each time. Living and working abroad proved to be the most valuable experience in my life.

Along the way I learned that there will always be ups and downs when moving to a new environment where the culture, values and people are different from your own. By making the effort to learn about the local culture, people will see your efforts and will help you fit in. You also gain their trust and respect, allowing you to function better in your new environment. In return for your efforts, you receive an understanding of a different culture and experiences that will dramatically and forever change your views and open your eyes to the world. This helps in building your creativity for solving problems and agility.

I love Singapore – it encourages talent growth and talent sustainability. Being ranked best for numerous criteria from the best IP laws to the easiest country to do business in, Singapore also receives a bunch of accolades for the overall quality of life, top education standards and efficient medical system. As English is the main working language you won’t experience the dreaded language barrier. The local society is an absolute melting pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian.

Q You moved to Cargill in 2011 to take on HR strategic matters as well as HR solutions consulting and delivery. What has your experience been like?

I consider myself very fortunate for having the opportunity to work for a company like Cargill. It has been a great learning experience for me, and I am very proud of what we have achieved as an HR team in Asia Pacific over the last few years. By investing in new HR technologies and platforms, we have shifted our focus from HR management to be more forward-thinking – spending our energies on managing and engaging talent, the workforce and strengthening our culture. The journey is not over yet.

We are in the midst of a large-scale HR transformation – very seldom does one get an opportunity to lead and work on such a change journey for one of the world’s largest privately held companies. The main drivers have been the rapid changes in the marketplace and the ongoing need for HR to step up from just a talent agent to a business value creator. The experience and the thrill of reshaping our HR practice is invaluable. It starts and ends with talent, culture and enabling our business to win.

 The experience and the thrill of reshaping our HR practice is invaluable. 

Q At what stage of maturity would you say HR is at Cargill? What are your team’s current priorities in APAC?

With market and geopolitical changes today forcing the industry to rapidly adapt their business models, HR is consequently undergoing a massive transformation. You hear of such tales these days for most companies, irrespective of their size, location, their industries and their modes of operation – Cargill is no different.

HR in Cargill has seen the evolution from being aligned to the business to enabling the business to win in the market place. HR is enabling the business in a variety of ways – from depth of the CoE in the HR function that builds next-gen thought leadership, to the breadth of HR consulting and solutions in the markets we operate, and very importantly, strong strategic HR business partnering that helps the business propel ahead faster.

Given the diversity of our businesses in Cargill and Asia Pacific as a region, the HR team is currently leading and supporting business functions in transformation work that includes change management (we call it change, communication and education – CCE), organisation design, strategic workforce planning, talent and leadership pipeline building and Asian leadership development.

Apart from these, attraction, retention, culture and engagement continues. The Asia talent strategy is part of the CEO and executive team’s agenda.

Q I understand attracting and retaining the best staff is a challenge in this sector. How do you tackle this?

Talent acquisition in Cargill is evolving from a reactive process – where the core function is to find candidates for existing jobs – to a more strategic approach that develops and nurtures a talent pipeline with a long-term view. Our talent acquisition area has developed a consultative go-to-market and process-oriented approach to ensure successful strategies to find and attract the right fit, equipping hiring managers with the insight and support they need to make hiring decisions.

In the near future, we will look at the business capabilities mapped towards the skills needed to deliver our commitment to Cargill’s strategic direction. We will strengthen Cargill’s employer brand and talent attraction quotient, optimise technology and build strong talent communities. Integrated technology will enable us to capture and analyse data, allowing us to effectively measure success. We have targeted efforts and strategic partnerships externally to ensure we identify diverse candidates and improve our ability to convert talent pools to viable candidates.

We will strengthen Cargill’s employer brand and talent attraction quotient, optimise technology and build strong talent communities.

In order to do this better, we will need to invest in building our manager capabilities to support our diversity hiring and talent pipeline efforts. We will continue to focus on building quality candidate pools for hiring key talent segments such as trading, risk management and others. In the future, we will be focused on better anticipating demand through succession and workforce planning and other internal talent practices with an external talent landscape.

We will better utilise our talent management tools and processes to ensure we have strong internal talent pools while leveraging market data to identify external talent. Retention continues to be the challenge in most industries in emerging geographies.

I like the saying I once heard – “you cannot stop the attrition, however you can delay it by working on engagement, cultures and career opportunities”. Cargill has been focusing on the retention of the right talent by giving them the opportunity to grow and learn; given the sheer size and diversity of its businesses, Cargill acts like an internal marketplace for talent.

Q One of the big topics for Cargill is managing its mature workforce. Have you tailored policies by generations?

The maturing workforce has brought challenges to many companies and in some countries in Asia, the challenge ranges from “just a succession issue” to “mass retirees, nationwide issue.” For us, the situation is not that grave as we see this as an opportunity rather than an issue to be resolved on an urgent basis. Given how the average working age is increasing in some countries we operate in and with the government enhancing the retirement age, many nearing retirement age want to keep working.

To tap into this valuable talent pool, we are exploring phased retirement, contractual and work flexibility. We do strategic workforce planning to plan for business impact. We have launched flexible working arrangements, workplace health and our focus is on inclusion and psychological safety which are all key initiatives to engage a mature and multi-generational diverse workforce.

Q Similarly, you are catering to the Millennials with your recent focus on creating a digital-savvy employer brand.

The use of digital recruitment is at an alltime high, barring a few production sites hiring. Today 90% of industry recruiters use digital platforms to hire candidates. With this, the need to create a digital employer brand is a necessity.

For us, digital employer branding has helped to highlight the organisational culture that we are very proud of as well as showcasing what we offer to potential talent. Our digital branding efforts have been successful in highlighting Cargill’s culture and the unique factors that have made us successful for over 152 years. Being genuine in our branding is key, otherwise we risk attracting candidates of the wrong cultural fit. The world of recruiting is increasing its digital focus.

Our talent acquisition team plans a greater adoption of digital recruiting and enhancing the use of our mobile solutions, allowing for a more simplified candidate application process. Through digitalisation, we will be able to build a more proactive and engaging experience for candidates, including the Millennials.

As we implement our HR transformation, more enhancements will come which include providing hiring managers and candidates the ability to follow the process on their mobile devices, allowing candidates to accept their offer electronically (where the country law allows) and gathering feedback on the recruitment experience from both managers and candidates with online surveys. Our integration with HR tools (My HR Portal) and systems will create a seamless transition from candidate to employee. Digital will play a key role in creating dynamic interactions with our key talent pools and effective onboarding of new employees.

Through digitalisation, we will be able to build a more proactive and engaging experience for candidates, including the Millennials.

We aim to provide a better candidate experience – to do this we have to focus on building higher awareness of our candidate segment and Millennials are in focus given the high growth countries in the region. We continue to invest in manager and recruiter capabilities to position Cargill as an “employer of choice”. We also continue to leverage marketing to optimise job descriptions to attract diverse candidates, across experiences, ages, cultures, and more.

We are also exploring ways to measure our employer brand’s perception in the market and candidate experience through various tools. 

Q How have these borne fruit so far?

Establishing success measures is an important factor in assessing the effectiveness of any efforts. We focus on obtaining external feedback about social platforms and content from different candidate pools as part of our global brand-building efforts. Diversity is a key focus for us and is reflected in the efforts to achieve our corporate goals.

In FY16/17, we hired 42% women globally and 17% ethnically diverse (US only) employees. We will continue to focus on presenting a diverse slate of candidates through improved sourcing and selection so we can build strong pipelines. Stakeholder experience satisfaction is another parameter that we focus on diligently.

In FY17, hiring manager satisfaction across APAC was 8.3/10 versus overall global 8.1 versus external benchmark 7.0 (CEB). Our candidate satisfaction score was 9.0. Our time-tofill in APAC was 31 days versus industry benchmark (CEB and Hackett) of 42 days.

Diversity is a key focus for us and is reflected in the efforts to achieve our corporate goals.

Q Talk us through some of your recent social media victories such as the huge followership on WeChat.

We are constantly thinking about how and why a candidate will choose us. Our goal is to be the top-of-mind employer in the industries we are in. In the near term, we will be focusing on our campus brand, which will require an increased leveraging of social media.

In the future, we will focus on identifying other target audiences and how to accurately anticipate when they will change and choose us. We will also be improving our external online presence as an employer through a strategic and proactive focus on other social media sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn.

To that end, we will better empower our employees to share and represent Cargill online. In China, we leverage the most popular platform WeChat. Launched in 2015, we now have more than 8,600 followers. There are some 420,000 views of online job postings from January to August 2017.

Mobile WeChat utilisation in China was started in September 2015, whereby 13% candidates of our campus hires, applied through this channel in FY17 versus 7% in FY16.

Manish Verma Cargill

Q Cargill has made the transformation from a rating to a no rating-based system in performance management. How was this made possible?

It has been a journey of building a culture of performance management and building managers’ capability to support the culture. Cargill founded the “everyday performance management” process on a few core principles, such as effective performance management being an ongoing process, not an annual meeting; while keeping performance systems flexible to address different needs.

This philosophy is designed to incorporate daily encouragement and feedback into on-thejob conversations. We have seen measurable improvements after managers began giving constructive feedback that was forward-looking, instead of reviewing what had happened in the past.

We recognised it would take several performance management cycles and a focus on continuous improvement to see the effect on individual and organisational performance. This is an incredibly important part of the process. The importance of senior leader involvement and their willingness to sustain focus across the long-term to accomplish any major corporate change is essential.

We ensure this sustenance by focusing on regularly recognising managers who demonstrate good day-to-day performance management practices, and by documenting their experiences and real-world tips, among a number of means. When we surveyed our employees after implementing the new process, 69% of them reported receiving useful development feedback; a similar 70% indicated feeling valued due to ongoing performance discussions with their manager.

We also received positive qualitative feedback from managers, for example: “The simplified process made things much easier so we can spend more time on the things that matter.”

Q What are the typical challenges you face in any new HR initiatives?

HR transformation is the most significant HR initiative Cargill has embarked on in supporting the business transformation. While the challenges are similar like in any change situations, but made more complex by the complexity of Cargill’s business and organisation, Cargill adopted a thoughtful, segmented and stakeholder-centric approach to help with the transition of the stakeholders, getting the stakeholders on board and becoming champions of change by focusing on the increased value which the initiative brings to them.

For the HR community, we focused on the value of an enhanced level of professional capabilities and performance to exceed the expectations of our business and employees, while becoming one world-class HR function.

HR transformation is the most significant HR initiative Cargill has embarked on in supporting the business transformation. 


For the business leaders, we focused on increasing the value of what is delivered to the business and reducing costs, while focusing on ensuring our HR processes provide insights for strategic business decisions.

For the managers and employees, we focused on providing consistent experiences in accessing their personal, employment and organisational data in a single system enabled by modern technology, while we continue to simplify processes and have our services delivered via HR specialist teams.

We have invested in dedicated transformation resources to drive and facilitate change, especially in educating our HR community, business leaders, managers and employees via a stakeholder segmented change, communication and education plan.

Image Credit: Edwin Koo /Captured

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