More than a number: Interview with Girish Vohar, VP & head of HR at Ericsson Middle East

Written by
Changeboard Team

03 Feb 2014

03 Feb 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Virtual conversations

Think about the last conversation you had. Were you in the same room with the person? With 12.4 million mobile calls made globally every day, chances are it was on your cell phone.

Mobile penetration has now outstripped the birth rate in this region. Innovation in technology has changed the way we live and work: cell phones are now used to text, send emails, update social media, play games, listen to music, watch videos and of course, have good old conversations.

One company in the thick of the mobile revolution is Ericsson, the communications technology and services provider. For Girish Johar, VP & head of human resources at Ericsson Middle East, the key to the organization’s success lies with employees. “We’re only as good as our people,” he explains. “You need to be the best to attract the best. Because our industry is evolving so fast, the challenge to engage the right talent is much harder.”

Johar’s mission is to ensure Ericsson is positioned as an employer of choice through a commitment to four key areas: transparent communication, excellent work culture, opportunities for organic growth and individual competence development.

Creating a networked society

Ericsson was founded in 1876 in Stockholm, Sweden with a vision to be ‘the prime driver in an all-communicating world.’ Today 40% of the world's mobile traffic goes through Ericsson networks and the company supports customers’ networks servicing more than 2.5 billion subscriptions. In 2012, net sales were SEK 227.8 billion (USD 33.8 billion).

Over the years, Ericsson has been active and operated in all 23 countries in the Middle East and offices in 21. Today, the organisation employs close to 110,000 people worldwide, with 5,000 in the Middle East region, doing business with more than 36 operators.

Open communication

Knowing that employees are happy at work and are able to be productive, innovative and feel a true sense of ownership is vital for Johar. This has a visible impact on employee performance so great emphasis is placed on ensuring that people are comfortable in the working environment.

“When you take care of people, you retain them. Keeping communication channels open with employees goes a long way. In today’s competitive climate, employees are our most valuable asset and our biggest competitive advantage,” he adds.

Ericsson’s ‘open door policy’ helps the organization to be transparent through regular internal communication with employees through online, regular face to face updates, talks and surveys. The internal communication team works closely with HR to provide engagement measurement. One example is Ericsson ‘Dialog’, an employee survey used to measure progress in corporate culture and employee development, and helps senior leaders keep a sense-check on the overall capabilities of the organization.
Johar believes regular communication helps to create trust, loyalty and integrity between employees and managers. “When it comes to communication, there’s never enough – it’s far better to over communicate than under,” he states.  
“Our most important channel is our leaders. We support them with communicative leadership training, which is tailor made learning to support them to become better communicators and inspire them with ideas and plans to engage employees and ensure high motivation.”

Flexible career opportunities

There is a strong internal mobility policy which allows employees to move roles easily within Ericsson. The HR team works with each individual to discuss his or her interests and aspirations and come up with appropriate training and mentoring opportunities to help them achieve their goals.

Johar explains: “Our career and competence model defines what competencies are needed for which role and empowers our employees to upskill themselves. This way, they can take charge of their own personal career planning.”
Employees can access self learning through the content rich Ericsson Academy which offers over 5,000 courses, including on the job training, instructor led training, stretch assignments, projects and job rotations to help employees upskill.

Developing strong future leaders is also a crucial part of managing a global business, says Johar. Ericsson use assessments and leadership development programmes to identify and develop leaders for today and tomorrow. “Firstly, we identify the strategic roles, and then find, recruit and develop leadership talents to assume these positions,” he reveals.

Culture of respect

Ericsson has three core values: respect, professionalism and perseverance, and in the company’s recent annual employee survey, 90% felt these values were relevant to them. “Treating every individual equally and with respect and fairness is the foundation of our company culture. It’s supported by our leaders, who ensure the core values are part of our every day work life.”

However, Johar argues that for values to truly stick, you have to ensure they are not only reflected in your workplace but in your interactions with customers and society at large – which is why corporate social responsibility is high on Ericsson’s agenda too.

Providing relief Ericsson Response

‘Ericsson Response’ is a global initiative that provides communications expertise, equipment and resources in times of need. Founded in April 2000 after employees expressed a wish to help in the wake of the Haiti earthquake disaster, Ericsson Response has supported more than 40 relief efforts in over 30 countries to date, and currently there are around 140 active volunteers. The aim is to assist humanitarian relief organizations with communications technology to contribute to a better and faster response to human suffering when disaster strikes.

All employees can volunteer and are given the freedom to do this alongside their daily work – there’s no requirement to go abroad and work with disaster response, or to have telecommunications expertise.  After completing an interview, employees are sent on a basic training course to learn about the work of the international organizations.
“In recent years, disasters have increased in severity and we want to do our part. We feel that we’re in a great position to leverage our communications expertise and position as a global company. Feedback has been fantastic – employees love to give something back,” Johar says.

Multinational workforce

Although Ericsson’s strategy has always been to leverage its global presence, Johar admits that meeting the demands of a multicultural workforce can be tough. “Ensuring we constantly have employee programs and initiatives that are global and yet cater to the local needs of each market is a real challenge, so having inclusive practices in your workforce is essential,” he says.
As part of this, employees are encouraged to organize teambuilding and social activities outside the working environment, to get to know each other and foster team spirit. Ericsson also holds a ‘family day’ each year. “We’re keen to engage with families to extend our appreciation for the support they give our employees on a daily basis, so they can deliver the best in their role.”

He acknowledges the benefits a multi-national workforce can bring, not least diversity of thought. “Different perspectives are essential in our industry, as we’re constantly innovating. Particularly in the UAE, the environment allows our employees to experience different cultures and be exposed to them in a way that is very unique to this region. You wouldn’t find such diversity in other parts of the world.”

Looking ahead

From a global and local perspective, Johar believes that the next few years are crucial for the telecoms industry, and key to success lies in being able to bridge the gap between demand and supply for skills. “We’re working hard to address the fast changing needs of our company in an evolving, highly technical industry from a competence and resource perspective so our customers can continue to benefit from the value we bring to their business,” he says.
In this region, Ericsson is already taking steps to address skills shortages and ensure a healthy future talent pipeline: “We’re supporting young local talent by increasing our engagement with universities and providing structured training programs for new graduates who join us.

“There is an immense amount of young talent that is yet to be tapped and I see great things in store for the region’s future workforce. We’re always focused on the future – in our industry we cannot afford to be short-term,” he concludes.

Top tips

As an HR leader, how can I stand out?

  1. Understand the business, including its external ecosystem, challenges and strategic choices
  2. Build trust with colleagues, team members and peers through openness, transparency and professionalism
  3. Empower your team members, trust their capabilities and provide continuous coaching and guidance.