• Nanang Chalid

"Secret Ingredients" in Managing People during Crisis.

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

Recently, Inspigo has profiled Tokopedia as a use case in managing People (our Nakama) during the COVID-19 crisis in Indonesia. Before the Inspigo podcast, I was also invited to share Tokopedia's people practices, reflections, and insights in various online webinars in the last few months. Everyone was curious to get into the heart of the matters: what are Tokopedia's secret ingredients. From the one organized by DarwinBox with APAC audience, by EngageRockets with Southeast Asia audience, by Binar Academy, Marketeers, Inspigo, and dozens of other organizers at a national scale, everyone wants to hear what did Tokopedia have done differently vs others, which makes Tokopedia thrived as a company in current difficult circumstance (from People perspective). Reflecting on all those many hours of webinars, below is the summary of my personal reflections on what are Tokopedia’s People Team secret ingredients. I hope that these distilled insights will help fellow HR/Business leaders to grab this article as a mini “playbook” that can act as their personal guidance in the future.

(Note: Nakama = Tokopedia Employees; it is the Japanese word for "compatriot, friends")

Focus on Your Purpose.

Tokopedia People Team has a team’s Purpose of “Building a winning People Ecosystem that will #maketheSHIFT”. #maketheSHIFT stands for making things more simple (S), more human (H), more impact (I), more fun (F), and more tech-driven (T). When COVID-19 came, instead of planning for tactical ideas, we actually stick to our Purpose and decided to test whether it is a worthy north star that will help us make decisions now, tomorrow, and in the next decades. The crisis period is the right moment to validate your Purpose: is it strong enough to inspire, to survive the test of history. We make our Purpose as a yardstick to decide which initiatives to hold/pause, and which initiatives to proceed and accelerate. As an example, the plan of building a wellbeing ecosystem (high-tech, high-touch) was something we initially planned for Q3/Q4 in 2020, with mental wellbeing becoming the ‘biggest star’ of the ecosystem since no company seems able to put a self-sustaining ecosystem to address it. When COVID-19 is struck, and mandatory work from home (WFH) is put in place, we know that flexibility of WFH also will be followed by long-hour work that puts additional weight on mental bandwidth. Being purposeful, we decided to change the mix and do mental wellbeing's sprint, which resulted in the launch of SafeSpace ® -- a "high-tech, high-touch" ecosystem that allows Nakama to access a standing-by counselor for a virtual chat through a touch of a button; whereas through that virtual chat, the counselor can gauge whether the mental wellbeing challenges faced by Nakama is sufficient to be met through text-based interactions, or it requires more intensive engagement (ie. video counseling with a certified psychologist); in some cases, where a support group is needed, Tokopedia’s mental wellbeing ecosystem facilitates that. All in a strict confidentiality setup that allows no one to know 'who is reaching out for what supports', except the one program manager (who pledges to safeguard confidentiality as her job’s fundamental). With such a range of solutions (ie. virtual chat to online psychologist counseling to support group facilitation), Tokopedia created an end-to-end mental wellbeing ecosystem that is self-sustaining (as it is powered by technology) and makes it one of its kind. On track with our Purpose, SafeSpace ® is the embodiment of how Tokopedia People Team #maketheshift (#morehuman #moretech-driven).

Be vulnerable, be agile.

Deal with ambiguity by accepting that we need help, but respond quickly afterward.

The Tokopedia People Team has also dealt with ambiguity well, as we enter the period of uncertainty during the first stage of the COVID-19 crisis. One thing about ambiguity is that: we don’t know, what we don’t know -- this feeling was what made most of the Leaders stunned with COVID-19. We were also ‘stunned’, but we moved quickly to ‘sprint’. Tokopedia decides to hire a clinical doctor who also has expertise as an epidemiologist to help us design our online health ecosystem, as we learned that going to hospitals during the plague might actually expose you to risks instead of safety, if you are not COVID-19 patients, as it was proven later at the later stage of the crisis. In the first week of WFH, we launched the online health ecosystem and provide clarity for thousands of our employees that they can contact dedicated online doctors as the ‘first-aid’ solutions for minor symptoms, and through the ecosystem itself, we can detect if certain cases require more serious interventions. The ecosystem also creates a sense of medical security, as when deemed necessary, our ecosystem is able to create a triage with our partner hospitals to minimize unnecessary exposure to potential infections if Nakama or their dependents must visit hospitals on an emergency basis, under the supervision of our company's doctor as long as they follow the health protocol. It was also designed to be "high-tech, and high-touch" to ensure we deliver the #maketheshift proposition. Another case of stunned-to-sprint moved was when we designed our WFH playbook. The playbook was a result of crowd-sourcing, as the content of the playbook was created from Nakama, by Nakama, for Nakama; the People team was simply the curator. This is the reason why the playbook was serious-and-fun, productivity-centered and experience-focus, all-encompassing, very playful, and visually appealing at the same time. It even has a Spotify playlist, where Nakama can add their favorite songs to the list, making it a multi-genre songs list that is ready to play during independent works between virtual meetings and brainstorming sessions during Nakama’s WFH time. When we knew that our ‘WFH Playbook‘ was browsed, downloaded, and viewed by 25,000+ times on LinkedIn in April, it validates again the fact that being vulnerable is actually great. Because the playbook was not the sole work of HR, it was created with feedbacks and the help of Nakama themselves. This is also why our posters have the "People X Nakama" brand whenever we communicate People's team activities internally in Tokopedia because all ideas we have and launched are co-created in some ways with our Nakama. The lesson learned is, when you got stunned by crisis, go accept that you are not a “super genius” who knows all the answers: be vulnerable, reach out, so you move out from the “stunned stage” to the “sprint stage” that really made a difference.

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy.

The Tokopedia People Team has now done dozens of surveys in the last 5 months, to ensure we get the pulse of thousands of our Nakama. We survey WFH productivity: by checking with business leaders whether their deliverables are disrupted, and anything we can do to support them. On the other end, we survey WFH experience from the employee's perspective also: by asking Nakama which element of WFH they are thriving with, and what are things we need to improve. We survey the COVID-19 risk profile of every single Nakama: by checking whether they were exposed to COVID-19 hazards and whether their personal/family circumstances made them a “high-risk” citizen (i.e. if they have morbid diseases, if they stay in the same house with practicing health workers, or parents at old age, etc.). We send health-check surveys, every two days, to thousands of Nakama asking them: “Are you feeling well today?”, and these daily checks will then allow Tokopedia to track everyone’s health status and deal with individual cases, if necessary. We even decided to run our “Voice of Nakama” engagement survey (that is usually done on an annual basis) just to see if all the things we did were relevant and useful to Nakama and whether we can make things even better.

In summary, we try to listen to our Nakama as much as we can. As a result, we stepped up our game. Nakama Experience team launched a monthly People update, where we share all critical information that relevant to Nakama, and use the same opportunity to get direct feedback from Nakama on what works, and what doesn't work, in addition to all big data (from surveys) that we gathered, week-ins, week-out. As a result, the “Work Fun Home” campaigns we did were welcomed very well (this is a mix of virtual fun challenges, a virtual weekend's movie night, online learning modules). The virtual on-stage talent show, “Nakama Got Talents” in May, was the most memorable event in the first 3-months of the COVID-19 crisis where we built back togetherness of the whole company (as if we are physically gathered), and create that precious moment of fun and enjoyment in the middle of the cloudy atmosphere of all sad news circulated in the media, and the feeling of isolations for being locked-down at home alone (for single employees) due to the crisis period. The surprising fact was that, against all odds, our “Voice of Nakama” (employee engagement) scored “all-time high” in the last 3 years.

Having said all things above, HR leaders work hand-in-hand with Business Leaders: let’s not forget this. And the lessons learned I want to share on this matter is that: having Purposeful business leaders helps a lot. When we know that COVID-19 is like a “long winter” that the business must face, we need to re-forecast our business deliverables, plans, and priorities, and identify cost savings, just like many other companies. Tech is not an exception, we also must rethink costs just like the rest of the industry. Tokopedia's leadership was very clear in the early days of the crisis, acting on One Voice that we must protect our Nakama at all cost. Lesson learned: Purpose does matter (again) because Purposeful business leaders will do what it takes, guided by Purpose, which lightens the tough life of all HR Leaders who must co-navigate the COVID-19 crisis in the past 5-months. The crisis is not over yet, let's hold hands to ensure we do what is right based on principles and Purpose. Buckle up!

As I reflected on how my team and me handled 2020's COVID-19 situation, here's three important things that we believed we did differently, behind the thrive of Tokopedia in navigating the crisis well until today. This spoonful of "secret ingredients" is something worth sharing to all HR/Business Leaders out there in preparing for current (and future) crisis, as the world we live in will continue to be volatile and uncertain.

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