The Complete Human Resource Publication

COVER STORY

Creating shared values the key to growth

By Marianne J. Franzen

HR plays a major role in India's transformation process as the development of India can only take place through people.

L'Opéra's Story

We have all seen the word 'L'Opéra somewhere by now; the famous brand known for its French delicacies and patisseries. L'Opéra was founded by a French family who formulated the idea in 2008. The seed was planted, and the journey of watering the seed so that it could bloom into a gorgeous flower was right there in front of them. They shared the idea of L'Opéra in India with other family members during a wedding in Geneva and received two interesting tips from family members with international experience. Tip 1: The most important position in a company is HR so make sure you find a suitable HR person who can support the business accordingly. Tip 2: it is hard to find experienced HR professionals in India. Two relevant yet contradicting tips leaving the L'Opéra key founders with a dilemma at the start of their entrepreneurial journey.

Marianne J. FranzenNevertheless, Laurent Samandari (Managing Director), along with his parents Kazem Samandari (Chairman) and Christine Samandari (Director) pursued their dream by opening their first store in 2011. Besides the Samandaris in Delhi, another 10 odd family members from across the world partook in L'Opéra's journey in India, currently being run by a management team of 14 and with over 150 employees.

Today, six years later with a total of 13 outlets across Delhi NCR and Dehradun, the guardians of L'Opéra are unstoppable as the first round of external investments in India are about to happen enabling this company to grow to a total of 65 outlets pan India during the coming 5 years.

Ruchika JainRuchika Jain, Assistant Manager – Human Resources, is proud to work for L'Opéra as the company provides her a platform to understand the real-life practice of HR. Having worked for L'Opéra since 3.5 years, one of the tasks of HR is to bridge the gap between the Management Team and the rest of the company. Recruitment, however, is according to her the most challenging part. The question is not only how to recruit but also how to retain competent people being of great value to the organisation in a volatile sector like hospitality, known for high attrition rates. The average attrition rate in hospitality is 50% whereas L'Opéra has been able to operate with a rate of 37%. How? The strategy is to retain employees by letting them understand their importance and added value to the organisation as well as sharing core values such as equality and diversity playing a major role in the organisational culture. This, however, is easier said than done and requires a strong focus and modelling behaviour from the management. The L'Opéra family, however, comes from a strong background genuinely committed to certain key values. 'It's not difficult for us to showcase the company values in a natural manner as these values are simply a reflection of who we are, our DNA', says Christine. There are eight key values, inspired by Baha'i teachings, clearly communicated from the moment a fresh employee enters the L'Opéra premises: 1. Commitment to Excellence & Quality, 2. Honesty & Transparency, 3. Gender Equality, 4. Meritocracy & Equal Opportunity, 5. Courtesy & Service, 6. Collaboration & Mutual Respect, 7. Ownership & Accountability, 8. Responsible & Sustainable Growth.

Ruchika clearly indicates 'it starts with respect'. This is emphasized by Christine who adds 'we all build the house together. No matter what your position is, we will all provide an equal amount of respect to everybody. From the driver, the housekeeper, the dishwasher to the store manager to a member from the Management Team'.

'We are creating a human body called L'Opéra. We believe the fingers are equally important as the heart which we try to convey to every single employee. The only main condition is that we, as the management, need to show the right attitude, prevent the so-called 'kingdoms' and make clear that relationships are never purely transactional, Kazem added politely.

Like in every organisation, L'Opéra has had its share of experiences with employees disrespecting the L'Opéra values, its culture or simply the way things work around in the organisation. There were individuals in the organisation who preferred to take shortcuts and succumb to the temptations of “easy” success and monetary rewards. The company has a zero tolerance policy in cases of dishonesty and disloyal behaviour in order to protect the organisation. In one particularly painful case from an emotional and human point of view, in the early days of the company, a senior member of the management team who was terminated due to dishonesty engaged in identical practices with his next two employers who in turn had to separate themselves from him.

Based on these experiences, the company has adjusted its recruitment strategy over the years accordingly resulting in a natural selection of employees. From the first day an employee joins the organisation, L'Opéra emphasizes the importance of its eight values, the organisational culture and zero-tolerance for dishonesty. Once fresh employees join L'Opéra they will either feel at home in their 'new home' or discover that it is not the right place for them. 'Making mistakes is no issue at all, in fact it is encouraged to try out new ideas or innovations without knowing whether it will be successful. Intentional mistakes, however, are not accepted', adds Ruchika. Furthermore, a thorough background check will be executed along with detailed reference calls to the employee's previous organisations. L'Opéra, however, realizes space is required for trial and error as the management experienced many successes as well. There are a good number of employees who joined L'Opéra from the very beginning as drivers, housekeeping staff, and call-centre personnel,who now run the show in their own respective departments. The secret for success? 'Constantly repeating to each and every employee that there is space and time to do more, to be innovative and to take the lead. Every employee is aware that ownership is being rewarded and that we, as the L'Opéra guardians, are always backing them no matter what, says Kazem. He adds that for management positions L'Opéra is careful and follows a collective recruitment process inviting members of the management team to collaborate and share their views.

Behind each successful organisation stands a team of leaders sharing a certain management style or particular leadership style - a style which is unique to the individuals in charge being a reflection of the organisation's DNA.

Kazem took the lead by acknowledging the difference between the intention behind the leadership style and the perception towards the leadership style by the rest of the organisation.

'I may have my good intentions, the challenge, however, is to become aware about how my style is being perceived by others'. Kazem describes his leadership style as 'participative'. He leads by telling everybody I am here for you without falling in the trap of micromanaging. He describes his attitude as being the mentor and similarly trying to correct mistakes which are unintentional as well as rewarding good initiatives of L'Opéra's people. Christine honestly adds that her compassion can take over at times forcing her to rebalance herself between compassion for people and the business figures.

Interestingly, the challenge for L'Opéra is to find people with the right set of skills and training as L'Opéra operates in a niche market. The closest competitor, from an employee skill set perspective, would be Starbucks despite the difference in products and services. There is no such phenomena as L'Opéra yet in India, making it a requirement to provide a tailor made training to each employee working for L'Opéra. L'Opéra is inspired from existing brands in Paris, France like Ladurée, Angelina, Lenôtre and Fauchon; concepts which didn't exist in India at the time of L'Opéra's inception. It's a completely new flavour to the Indian market. L'Opéra doesn't compromise on the quality delivery of both the products and services resulting in a specific mindset and approach of store managers and employees towards customers. We can only be successful if we train our employees ourselves. There is no benchmark as of now as we initiated and created a completely new concept in India, says Kazem. On the other hand, Kazem and Christine are aware that when you innovate, you always have people trying to imitate you. This doesn't stop them from reaching for the stars.

L'Opéra's next step? With three investors and INR 43 crore, expanding into cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune within a lead time of 5 years to reach a total of 65 outlets from today's 13. The growth plans mean an expansion of the L'Opéra family. In order to safeguard L'Opéra's DNA one key person will be appointed in each of these cities. Everything will be built around that person, from stores to production to logistics to HR. This plan forces us to carefully select the key people for each city as they will have to fit into our culture and easily blend with the characteristics of our organisational DNA. And it's not only that, this person will also have to be able to attract the right set of people to grow the L'Opéra brand organically.

What does this mean for L'Opéra's HR policy? Ruchika starts by clarifying the need to reinforce the HR team and to redefine the existing HR policy. Kazem adds, 'We are not alone in this process. Our investors will be hands-on and work closely together with us in this journey. They are our partners'.

India is in the process of defining its HR vision for the near future keeping in mind the HR trends across sectors, (international) organisations and the awareness of professionals and managers in India. As successful entrepreneurs from France, how does the L'Opéra family think of India's HR vision? Christine and Kazem simply put it in two key words: value-driven. Kazem clarifies by explaining that each individual is an independent learner. Everybody is responsible and accountable for his/her own actions. However, companies can contribute to the education of society at large by shaping a clear value-based vision and sharing it with employees. According to Kazem, it is a social responsibility of each company to contribute to the society at large by educating its employees to be good and responsible citizens living their lives reflecting recognized values. The transformation of India will come about at three different levels: individuals, organisations and the society itself. HR plays a major role in this process as the development of India can only take place through people. The challenge for HR is how to contribute efficiently and successfully by answering the question of what needs to be changed from how things are being done now.

L'Opéra feels fully responsible to realize its contribution to society at large from its own perspective and core business.

 

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