Bala Sathyanarayanan, the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and Executive Vice President at Greif Inc. (NYSE: GEF, GEF.B), is recognized as one of the top inspiring business leaders of 2020. Throughout his impressive career, which includes tenure at Xerox Corporation, Hewlett Packard, and United Technologies Inc., Sathyanarayanan has consistently delivered an engaged workforce that played a crucial role in shaping and executing these companies' business strategies. With 27 years of experience, he has held various roles in human resources (HR), talent management, and operations at notable organizations like Avaya, Inc., Polaris Software, Inc., and Coca Cola, Inc.

In an exclusive interview with Manage HR, Sathyanarayanan shared invaluable insights on the challenges, trends, and the future of organizational cultures.

Could you please provide a brief overview of your experience and responsibilities in the HR field, as well as an outline of your current roles and responsibilities within your organization?

I started my career as an engineer and global business professional, but I also pursued a career in human resources. Initially, I began my professional journey as a Field Operations Executive at Otis Elevator Company. Subsequently, I had the privilege of securing positions at several esteemed blue-chip companies, including Coca-Cola, Polaris Software, Avanya, and HP in the HR department.

“We maintain a continuous cultural transformation process that accommodates present-day requirements while preserving the essence of our past culture.”

Furthermore, I held significant leadership positions, notably as the Vice President of HR at Hewlett-Packard and as the Vice President of human relations at Xerox Corp. Currently I serve as the Chief Human Resource Officer at Greif, where my primary responsibility is to ensure the delivery of a diverse, engaged, and world-class workforce in alignment with Greif's business strategy. My objective is to leverage leadership, purpose-driven groups, and technological advancements to establish Greif as an agile and top-tier global organization. I am also a NACD-certified corporate director, dedicated to upholding the highest standards of boardroom excellence.

Could you provide an overview of Greif's business strategy and explain how it contributes to the company's financial performance?

Our business strategy, known as "build to last," has been the cornerstone of our company's remarkable resilience and longevity, enabling us to not only survive but also thrive for an impressive span of 146 years. We believe that people are the building blocks of our organization.  As leaders, it is our priority to build, develop, and deploy a workforce that could effectively execute our organizational strategy both in the present and in anticipation of future demands. Our primary objective is to establish ourselves as the leading customer service company globally. To achieve this goal, we prioritize creating a highly engaged workforce that embraces and embodies our organization's strong cultural values. These cultural values and beliefs unite employees, transcending their diverse cultures and geographical locations, fostering a collective commitment to prioritize customer satisfaction.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges that companies commonly encounter while attempting to implement transformation strategies within their organizational culture?

Cultural transformation within an organization is intertwined with the identity of its people, adapting and evolving in response to external changes. We maintain a continuous cultural transformation process that accommodates present-day requirements while preserving the essence of our past culture. In addition to our previous approach of making independent decisions, considering our vast network of 214 manufacturing facilities spread across 37 countries worldwide, it has become imperative for us to implement a comprehensive global program and system. To drive culture change effectively, it is essential to explain the rationale behind the changes and the benefits they bring to employees. By focusing on culture and addressing the inherent differences, one can successfully overcome the pitfalls and challenges that may arise during the process.

What strategies can be employed to effectively streamline organizational cultural motives?

At the core of our strategy lie two fundamental principles: fostering a shared identity among all our global colleagues, regardless of their origin, and uniting them under the common banner of our global company, Greif. This shared identity instills in them a clear understanding of Greif's purpose, which is to create packaging solutions for life's essentials.

Are there any particular trends that you are looking out for in the future?

I find the process of measuring culture and engaging with our employees' sentiments genuinely exciting. Our approach involves measuring culture through levels of engagement. I have partnered with Gallop, and after measuring employee engagement on a year-to-year basis, we are in the top quartile of employee engagement as compared to any industrial manufacturing company in the world.

What advice would you like to share with our readers when it comes to organizational cultures?

I highly recommend infusing an appropriate sense-giving and sense-making culture within the organization. By doing so, employees can gain a profound understanding of how their work connects them to the larger vision, purpose, and strategy of the organization. By sharing a common cultural identity, the employee can transform themselves into a better performing team with a strong sense of purpose. Furthermore, educating and sharing stories with employees all over the world on a regular basis can help them be aware of different paths the world leverages their day-to-day jobs to deserve a higher purpose. This comprehensive understanding and practice in place, not only helps in building, developing, and delivering an efficient workforce but also makes the firm unique.