Managing Workforce in the VUCA Environment with People-Powered Strategy: An Insight from Normalis Mohd Sharif of Danone

September 14, 202110:00 am3442 views

In a VUCA environment (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) brought by the unanticipated pandemic, strategic leaders are faced with turbulence and rapid change in the workforce management. Only in a few weeks, the global health crisis has had profound effects on organizations and their people. From quarantine and remote work arrangement to economic downturn and recovery, employees have been deeply affected by their experiences over the past year.

Now, as vaccination drive is underway and businesses are reopening, there are new unknowns. How to manage a business in the post-pandemic world? In light of this issue, we at HR in Asia chanced upon an opportunity to derive candid insights from Normalis Mohd Sharif, HR Director of the India-South East Asia region for Danone

Read on…

  • Question: In the VUCA environment of Covid-19, many leaders are baffled by the rapid speed of change in talent management as employees shift to remote working. Ms. Sharif, did you experience a similar situation? If yes, what did you do about it?

Answer: The situation that Covid-19 brought is an uncharted territory for most of us. We are forced to quickly adapt the way we work and run business and along with it, the new ways to manage our talents.

Safety of employees becomes top priority which has led to companies moving from the traditional norms of working to remote working. Digital has been the lifeline of the workplaces with all the physical aspects of HR – recruitments, on boarding, learning and development going virtual. Managing our talents and teams virtually is a new challenge for leaders.

There has also been a renewed focus on the employee wellbeing since Covid-19 has created a lot of physical and mental stress. To keep our teams connected and motivated at Danone, many engagement sessions were held, be it at company, team, or individual levels. Apart from work meetings, virtual lunches, or coffee sessions play an important role in our daily life. As people are feeling worried and stressed due to Covid-19, the efforts we put to connect with them and ensure that their families are doing well go a long way in managing the energy of our talents and sustainability of our business.

  • Question: Learning from your experience, what are the authentic competencies leaders should possess to better navigate their people and business post-Covid-19?

Answer: As employees have adapted to working remotely, leaders should recognize and understand that employees now have the challenge of managing their families while working. It is therefore critical to have faith in the team and to value their home environment. Leaders must also bring their virtual team back together on a regular basis.

We are in a phase of uncertainty as the trajectory of Covid-19 infections will have a bearing on how leaders manage business in a post-pandemic worlds. Working full time in the office may not be the norm anymore, and digital will continue to play a major role in the running of business.

Traits like Empathy, Stakeholder Management, Agility and Flexibility will enable them to tide over the uncertainties that post-Covid-19 world presents but there is a need to upgrade the technical competencies especial when it is comes to digital as the office environment fluctuates between in person, hybrid and remote.

Another trait that leaders must not overlook is listening. It is an underrated skill but with a lot of employees facing duress in their personal lives- it is important for leaders to really listen to what their employees have to say.

  • Question: At DANONE, how does the organization adapt its strategies to address both the challenges and the opportunities created by the pandemic?

Answer: The pandemic has turbo-charged new behaviors that are likely to stick among employees and the most tangible impact of Covid-19 on the labor force is the dramatic increase in employees working remotely. With the restart of business after Covid-19 lockdown in most countries, companies have reviewed the ways of working and are moving into the ‘new normal’.

When the pandemic hit, our first priority as a business was to ensure the safety of our employees. We immediately reverted to the remote model of working to ensure that people can work within the safety of their homes.

To ensure that our employees are connected with their team members, we initiated check-ins so as to prevent the feeling of isolation that builds up during the periods of remote working. Our entire focus in this period was to keep the employee’s morale boosted through employee engagement campaigns and Town Halls.

We also provided additional medical assistance to help our employees and their family members impacted by Covid-19.

Working remotely also presents us the opportunity to leverage on online training and the upskilling of employees since the pandemic has caused several trends to accelerate quickly making it pertinent for us to train our employees in skills that will help them steer the post pandemic world. We launched Campus for All in June which was a month of extensive training for our employees with a mix of technical and general sessions all delivered digitally to them.

Campus for All is a virtual Campus for All ISEA that targets all Danoners across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and India to come together for Launch Series, Leadership Series, Motivational Series and E-Learning Series. We aimed at covering 1,500 Danoners across the region via a Workplace Live using both Internal and External speakers.

  • Question: What is a people-powered organization? And how does it motivate employees to co-own their future?

Answer: We position Danone as an employer of choice and define ourselves as a people-powered company as everyone in Danone, regardless of your position and level can have their voice and co-own Danone’s future. This sense of purpose drives employees daily to serve life through the brands and initiatives.

At Danone, our employees are empowered to co-own and shape the company’s agenda in accelerating innovation and fulfilling our ‘One Planet. One Health’ vision. Through our pioneering ‘One Person, One Voice, One Share’ governance model and engagement program, we empower our teams to shape the company’s future, both at local and global level.

“One Person, One Share”; each eligible employee is allocated one Danone share with voting rights at the annual general meeting of shareholders, and may receive a profit-sharing scheme each year, and a multiple of the dividend. This helps to foster an ownership mindset for all.

Besides, Danone encourages everyone to learn and grow and provide the employees with ample opportunity to develop the skills, travel the world and explore new areas of the business. We even equip our employees who need new skills for the jobs of the future.

As part of this new strategic annual routine which started in 2018, we equip our employees with an internal digital platform with extensive sharing and learning resources related to the company vision and goals. It includes content sourced in collaboration with like-minded partners such as the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

This learning and development helps Danoners to learn and build on the issues, challenges and opportunities that define the company’s vision and its goals. They can also voice their point of view on both the company agenda and the definition of the 2030 Goals roadmaps, at local and global levels. It gives them a chance to co- own the future of the company.

  • Question: Work smart, not hard, people say. Can you share some tips on how leaders should implement this ‘Smart Working’ approach, such that employees can cope with the new ways of working?

Answer: The world of work has been disrupted by Covid-19 foisting years of worth of changes in a span of weeks if not months. Employees who have been used to working in a certain way must adapt to the changing demands of the new office. Depending on the situation-employees may live with in person, hybrid, or remote offices but nevertheless they must be flexible to the new ways of working.

Leaders should serve business needs and empower people by providing flexibility in all aspects including the social interactions among the employees depending on the situation/ challenges met. Besides, leaders should also be caring as to enable work-life fusion and provide health and wellbeing options to the employees. While finally, high performance and efficiency of work should not be ignored as it helps create a sense of belonging.

Technology is an important game changer in the new smart work approach as we live our office life through zoom meetings and virtual events. Managing time and zoom burn out therefore is important for mental well-being and to eschew the feeling of burn out. Maintaining routines and delineating work-personal lives will help to create work life balance. Lastly, time off is important to recharge the batteries and ensure that your mentally and physically are reinvigorated.

Companies are also designing the ‘Smart Working’ framework. For example, at Danone ‘s India Southeast Asia region, we have incorporated data from the internal surveys as well as market trends to create a framework which is our “Smart Work Framework” – it has local elements as well.

The intent is to empower employees by providing them flexibility in their Social Interactions or Meeting Opportunities. We also want to enable Work-life Fusion that helps the Health & Wellbeing of employees.

In Danone, “Smart Working” contexts will be reviewed and adapted through five areas which are the working arrangement, types of employment contracts, changes in policies, rewards & recognition and change in management. For example, Danone has made a new working arrangement which aims to enable flexi-working while maintaining social interactions by providing 2 days in a week to working from anywhere, while 3 days will be working at the office.

  • Question: Investing in workforce upskilling is vital for business continuity. In the era of remote working, how should organizations plan and provide efficient training and development for their talents?

Answer: At Danone, employee development has always been an important agenda for us. When the talents are working remotely, organizations must get creative with the development strategies and the very first step will be to communicate with the employees to find out what they actually need and expect.

Virtual learning tools and programs are essential to provide efficient training and development during remote working. Danone has implemented various initiatives, including providing training and ongoing access to information through innovative learning programs and digital platforms.

Through our various Learning and Development initiatives and platforms, we are invested in the upskilling of our employees. Apart from events like our “Campus for all”, we also have CampusX which is an E-Learning Catalogue for Common Learning & Functional Learning.

Additionally, we have our Danone Academy ISEA which is a community on Workplace for all Danoner to learn on topics which will help them perform better at work. Mentoring and coaching are also important elements in our people development framework. We also have Global Leadership Development Programs for different levels, and this has been quickly adapted to be conducted remotely, while preserving the opportunity for participants to interact with colleagues from different markets and cultures.


Normalis Mohd Sharif is currently the HR Director of the India-South East Asia region for Danone. Before Danone, she was the Vice President of Resourcing & OD for the Sime Darby Group, responsible for Recruitment, Manpower Planning, OD and Change Management.

Normalis is experienced in building team capabilities and bringing together multiple teams to deliver results in a growing and dynamic environment. Throughout her career she has been shaping organization cultures, building high performing teams, and developing different levels of employees in various areas. In her current role, she is responsible for the HR Strategy and initiatives to support business growth, as well as providing HR business partnering to the senior leaders in the region.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)