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Value Addition: The Chief Culture Officer

PB Jayakumar     February 14, 2015

PB Jayakumar, senior editor, Business Today
Vivek Talwar, a long-time executive with the Tata Group who has specialised in human resources, corporate social responsibility and management training, wields a new visiting card with an unusual designation - Chief Culture Officer.

"Let me make it clear at the outset. My job is not to organise any cultural events, such as dandiya, New Year celebrations or a birthday party, for employees," he clarifies.

Tata Chemicals, too, has a new chief culture officer, and other Group companies are expected to follow suit. It's the brain child of Tata Group Chairman Cyrus Mistry, who likes the concept of ushering in a cultural transformation that differentiates Tata Group employees from others.

In a nutshell, Talwar's job is to inculcate the feeling of love, care and affection, and the sense of belonging, among all employees, and the world they live in and interact with - bringing a human face to the work they do. Most are small gestures, like asking "how is your mother" or "oh, you are going abroad, don't worry, I will take your mother to the hospital", or vacating a seat for an old lady at the airport lounge.

Talwar says the change has to come from within. For this, he runs various training and motivation programmes among the 4,500-plus Tata Power employees to improve their attitude towards society, besides developing the passion and pride to be a Tata Group employee.

He, however, has a bigger mandate. To make Tata Power employees "earn the right to co-exist" at various project sites across India and abroad. The Group realises that it is painful to lose one's cultural identity when one is cut off from one's ancestral roots to settle down in some far-away project site, braving a faceless corporate world. Initiatives to compensate or pacify such 'Project Affected People' (PAP) by offering alternative land, housing and lifestyle options through 'community interventions', have been on the cards.

Sample this: Tata Power runs a 'goshala' project adjacent to its Mundra plant, where local residents take their cattle and Tata Power provides them with daycare and food. The villagers are happy with the initiative. Talwar feels projects, such as 'community intervention', will be more meaningful when the communities develop the ability to 'co-exist'.  

As someone who has headed human resources and trained people in organisational and business excellence across Tata Group companies, Talwar says, with money, any company can buy technology and the best talent, but attitude has to be the differentiator for business growth and problem mitigation.

The initiative by the Tatas could be an interesting concept for many other companies to consider and emulate.

And going ahead, we may see more and more such chief culture officers, a culture division or a culture department, becoming a norm rather than an exception, inculcating values that would subsequently drive growth of, say, an export division or human resources department.

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