Before the pandemic forced the world to think new, JLL India had begun encouraging innovative ways of thinking within the organisation. The Company was thinking small, not big. “Of course, we can and are thinking big innovations, but those ideas often need a lot of investment in terms of time and resources. They are massive changes that happen gradually,” says Tanvi Choksi, HR head – India & JLL business services global. So, the global real-estate services firm’s Indian counterpart shifted the focus to small innovations, which Choksi describes as, “Small process changes that can be introduced to help one do something faster and better.”
Roses, thorns and buds
Instead of senior management brainstorming in silos from the top, JLL took innovative thinking to the grassroots of the organisation. “We realised that our most important day-to-day conversations and experiences, whether with clients or internally, were happening through our junior-most employees,” explains Choksi. “Therefore, we began thinking on the lines of how to empower them with the right innovation tools to make a difference.”
Design thinking programmes, that turned virtual in the new normal, were one of the tools that helped JLL India foster innovative thinking at a grassroots level. It involves “equipping the organisation’s junior-most people with tools to make their processes better with small modifications.” One such tool, illustrates Choksi, is called ‘Rose, Thorn, Bud’.
“Rose is what has worked really well, the thorn is what hasn’t and the bud is the new opportunities — things that we didn’t do but we could do to make a big difference,” she explains. Large groups of employees are acquainted with such innovative thinking tools and concepts, which then take it to their teams to apply in their workflow. “Managers can ask their teams to reflect on the past week using ‘rose, thorn, bud’ and accordingly modify their approach going forward,” adds Choksi.
“Employees saw immediate recognition of their little efforts, so it almost became self-sustaining.”
Turning innovative thinking into a habit proved a lifeboat for JLL India’s frontline staff who never stopped working through the lockdown. “We also do facility management, so almost 30 per cent of our workforce was on-site serving our clients in residential and business properties,” says Choksi.
This proved doubly challenging for the company because not only were their own employees looking to them for ways to ensure their health and safety while maintaining continuity of work, but so were their clients. “As a facility-management company, they were relying on us for guidelines and advice on the health and safety of their employees,” says Choksi.
Considering COVID-19 is indeed a novel situation for everyone and guidelines continue to change even today, there was no manual to go by. This, depending on one’s perspective, can prove a boon instead of a bane. “The only way was to empower our junior-most employees to make decisions that were in line with the Company’s philosophy on client management,” points out Choksi. The Company decided that it’s the frontline employees, that were most aware of ground realities and better placed to develop solutions tailored to their situations.
For instance, one of the biggest obstacles Mumbai’s lockdown created was that of commute to work. In response, an employee group at one of JLL’s residential sites in Mumbai identified available flats at the property and turned them into makeshift hostels for the staff, doing away with the need to commute and risk chance of infection.
“The staff stayed there through the week in rotation, going back home on their weekly off,” says Choksi. “That idea came from the employees themselves, of running it like a hostel service by themselves, for themselves. They were creative enough to talk to the developers and come up with this plan,” says Choksi. Similar solutions that originated and worked at the micro-level were then replicated by others in the organisation.
The joy of seeing one’s idea being scaled is a job satisfaction little else can match. Next, of course, is recognition. JLL acknowledged its frontline innovative thinkers by celebrating them as ‘JLL Warriors’. “In the initial months of the lockdown, we saw a lot of these frontline employees, in various pockets of the country, making amazing decisions and coming up with great ideas, so we thought of ways to encourage them,” recounts Choksi.
“We called them ‘JLL Warriors’ and started talking about their stories organisation-wide,” she says. “We kept it simple and low effort, asking them to send us a few lines and a photo on WhatsApp about what they did.” Even that small recognition in such stressful times worked wonders for employee morale. “They saw immediate recognition for little efforts, so it almost became self-sustaining,” shares Choksi. “They were, of course, getting immediate applause from the client and their managers, but getting recognised on a larger level within JLL turned it into a movement of sorts.”