Airtel Sri Lanka – A truly great place to work

The company’s workplace culture – guided by an insightful HR strategy – has generated high levels of employee engagement, enhanced performance and won accolades

Airtel Sri Lanka is known for transforming the country’s telecom landscape. Since its launch in 2009, it has attracted a large subscriber base by offering innovative services. The company is a fully owned subsidiary of Bharti Airtel, one of the top three mobile service providers in the world. The workplace culture at Airtel Sri Lanka is a part of this legacy. It is a culture influenced by the notion that a company is only as good as its people. This is where the company’s insightful HR initiatives come into play.

Airtel’s multi-pronged HR strategy is closely aligned with its vision of becoming the network of choice among Sri Lankan youth. It’s a strategy that has led to high levels of employee engagement, enhanced performance and won reputed awards.

Kanishka Ranaweera, Airtel Lanka’s Head Human Resources says, “Rather than looking at HR as a standalone process, we craft our practices to align with our overall business strategy.” This gives focus and purpose to the work of employees. He states that the company’s HR goals includes attracting and retaining best in class talent, capability building & succession planning, and high employee engagement. This is achieved through a combination of diverse HR programmes facilitated through flexibility, openness, empowerment, up-skilling, and a system of rewards and benefits. Airtel also puts high emphasis on driving its values – being alive, inclusive & respectful.

The outcome has been remarkable. Airtel has won several accolades in HR and other areas during the past year. In fact, the company was recently listed among the top 25 great places to work in Sri Lanka. This honour was conferred by the Great Place to Work Institute, which assesses and recognises the best workplaces around the world. Commenting on this and other accolades they have won, Ranaweera said, “Obviously, it’s a great feeling when your organisation’s best practices, best people and business operations are recognised in external forums. It gives our employees the confidence to reach higher.”

At the 12th Employer Branding Awards, Airtel won awards for Best Employer Brand, Best HR Strategy and Best HR Strategy in line with the business. Two of their employees won the gold and bronze awards in the Territory Manager category at the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM) National Sales Congress 2017. The company also won five Golden Globe Tigers Awards in 2017 for excellence and leadership in digital marketing. In addition, Airtel was presented a silver award at the SLITAD People Development Awards conducted by the Sri Lanka Institute of Training & Development. Three of their managers were recognised at the Great Manager Awards and the company won the award for ‘Organisation with Great Managers.’ It was also recognised for its efforts in employment engagement as a great HR practice at the recently concluded National HR Conference organised by the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM).

According to Ranaweera, Airtel’s HR practices are unique in how they get people involved in driving business strategy. He explains: “Rather than cascading from top to bottom as in a typical hierarchical setting, we use a participatory approach in strategy formulation. This has helped us get more buy-in from people.

We are happy to be among the top 5 places to work in Sri Lanka

He says that they have created cross-functional teams to drive strategy execution. The entire business plan of the organisation is executed through cross-functional teams. “This has helped us eliminate the departmental silos mentality,” he adds. It has also created synergy and led to valuable insights. The company has a system to measure their HR practices from the perspective of employee experience. They receive constant feedback from HR connect sessions and surveys.

Airtel extends its HR practices and the resultant benefits to third party employees as well. This is because the company follows a strategic business partnering model and it is important to get all those who work with them fully engaged in the business.

Ranaweera says that, in delivering their learning and development programme, for example, they treat all their distributors and sales representatives as equal partners. “We help them build their careers,” he adds, “We even go to the extent of covering them with insurance.”

According to him, Airtel’s promise to its employees is “an enabling work environment and an enriching work experience”. The enabling work environment includes flexi hours, a very relaxed dress code and sabbatical leave. It also involves an open office culture where everyone can directly approach top management to discuss issues. They also have access to an independent ombuds person.

Airtel has a culture that respects diversity and promotes equal opportunity. They offer maternity leave of 22 weeks (above the legal requirement), paternity leave and leave for adoption. Employees also benefit from attractive remuneration including one of the best insurance covers in the country. “We offer all this as we consider the wellbeing of our people paramount,” says Ranaweera. “Furthermore, we even initiate wellness activities like yoga to encourage employees to stay fit.”

An enriching work experience – involves exposure across the length and breadth of the organisation, empowerment, a corporate ethos that encourages risk-taking and a challenger mindset that unleashes the true potential of its people; all this has created synergies, enhanced innovation and led to improved performance.

“Telecommunication is a rapidly evolving industry,” says Ranaweera. “This means that we have to develop diverse skill sets to succeed and grow.” He notes that Airtel’s strategy for the future thus involves constant up skilling of its workforce.

The company takes a multi-pronged approach to meet emerging challenges. It has developed a competency framework that keeps its people aware of what particular skills they need to acquire to succeed in the future. It also conducts programmes on emerging areas such as big data, machine learning, digital marketing, cloud technology, and using artificial intelligence in HR. It also promotes e-learning, organizing courses through online platforms such as Harvard ManageMento, Coursera and Lynda where employees can learn at their own convenience.

The company’s learning philosophy revolves around the 70:20:10 principal where high emphasis is placed on on-the-job project learning. Ranaweera states, “Differentiated development plans are drawn out for each individual based on our learning philosophy.”

As a socially responsible organisation, Airtel has developed partnerships with the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and the University of Kelaniya to offer real life business experience for marketing students. This will enable them to face future challenges and pursue their careers with confidence. As Ranaweera says, “We strongly believe in imparting our expertise to enhance the skills of the rising generation.”