EP10: Jacobs Douwe Egberts - Building Connections and Being Transparent (with Mavitri Nanthana)

All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal focusing on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.


The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Mavitri Nanthana: a strong woman in recruitment

Lydia: Welcome Mavitri. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience and insights with us.

Mavitri: Good Afternoon, Lydia, and thanks for your invitation. This is a really great opportunity for me as well.

Lydia: So Mavitri, you have spent a number of years now in marketing and you’ve also been in communications as well as employee relations. It’s interesting to me to see how you’ve taken your core strength in communication into the field of HR and today, you are the country HR head ad Jacobs Douwe Egberts where you’ve spent five years of your time.

So, tell us about your journey into HR and what you’re most passionate about in this field.

Mavitri: Actually, my journey into HR started through my friend, as I didn’t originally plan on making it my aspiration for a career. I worked for 10 years in marketing as well as in a supply chain job at Johnson & Johnson. When I had a career break, that’s when one of my friends noticed me mentoring, training, and working with people all the time at Church and saw that I would be good at HR.

That’s when she invited me to work for her company as an HR head and that’s where my career in HR really began. From that point on, I was able to have more opportunities later in life such as when I worked with Nestle, which gave me a new perspective on HR professionals. Over at Nestle, I saw how HR professionals could contribute to the business and work well to be a part of the growth of the business. 

Even though I wasn’t an HR business partner, it did inspire me and made me learn a lot from the hardworking people there. So in short, that’s really how my career took off. Then later, I received an offer from Jacobs Douwe Egberts where I have been working for the past five years now in HR.

Lydia: In those five years, what might be some key learnings you’ve had in the HR space, especially over the last two years where we’ve seen the pandemic and a lot of disruptions

Mavitri: The pandemic completely changed the way in which people worked and thought. I would have to say that speed would still have to be the number one priority because now, more people are working digitally and remotely, and therefore, they all want a quick response when a situation changes. We have to be on call to make sure that whatever changes come, new numbers of COVID increase, or any other crisis, we respond to it immediately. I’ve noticed that the process for this has tightened and people are more open to change. As a result, I’ve seen that HR professionals are able to contact and connect with businesses more closely and be able to improve in terms of communications. They don’t just stick to one form of communication, but they can utilize new technologies as a way to communicate to make it more natural. This is the change I have seen recently.

Lydia: From your experience alone, it’s interesting that you bring up communication because you were from that field and it’s clear that there are transferable skills from any discipline or field which is useful in HR and recruitment. 

So, what might be some of these transferable skills you’ve had that have helped you make a smooth transition into the field of HR?

Mavitri: I would say that my past experiences in business have helped me to understand what a business person thinks or may need. It’s also helped me to understand how an HR professional can help support business requirements. The main transferable skill I used to work in a business role is that I am able to see things clearly.

Another big thing would be communication, in terms of understanding consumer insight and using project management skills as an HR professional to make the work more efficient. I’ve seen how these skills incorporate well and it has helped me to grow my career faster.

Employee Retention: the bread and butter

Lydia: Employee relations and communications as you said are critical in any business. But, what might be some of the fundamentals of employee relations in your experience that HR teams need to know so that they can create and even maintain positive relationships with employees?

Mavitri: I think it’s about the fundamentals of employee relations or employee engagement which starts from connecting with people. HR professionals have to be able to approach people, or people have to feel like they can talk to an HR professional like a friend. That would be the first part which is to connect.

The second part would be that HR professionals need to listen very well. They need to be able to understand what’s being said between the lines and overall have very good listening skills. Besides that, I think the fundamental principle would be to engage people because engagement means recognizing those people. Once you’ve recognized them, you will show them that you respect them and you will gain their respect, and understand their differences and their abilities which will show that you value them. So when you value people, they will value you in return.

Another important thing is to walk the talk, support functions, and support the business by showing them that you support them. It doesn’t mean that you should follow everyone's requests but at least show them you support them and communicate with them.

Lydia: In other words, HR teams need to be very open. Especially now with people working remotely, the listening has to be more intent and there has to be a lot more attention being paid to the needs of the employees and what they need to do, their work, and their jobs right? Internal communications and culture building has been fundamental in creating strong working environments. But, this is not an overnight success though, is it?

So, do you have any success stories you’d like to share?

Mavitri: Actually, the success story that I’m going to share is not my personal story, but rather, it’s a success story of the managers, leaders, and also the companies that we were working together. This is a story that still touches me today. It’s about the recent factory shutdown where I had to deliver the sad news to employees who worked for the company for more than 20 years. Some people had even been working for the company since the start of their careers.

These types of factories are known as heritage factors and in the 30 years that this factory has been functioning, it has produced highly engaged teams. So, I had to communicate to them about the shutdown and they broke down into tears. They were also upset with the HR professionals because they were wondering why they had to leave this wonderful place. We allowed them the space to express their feelings with us, and concerns about their future. 

We made sure to listen to them and were transparent with them in the regard where we provided them with access to a job fair and asked around neighboring factories for vacant positions. We also worked with the government to help these workers hone new skills so that if some of them choose to be entrepreneurs, they could. We helped them to learn about financial management so that they can manage their own financial plan and we facilitated many different activities before the initial shutdown so that they would be prepared.

Lydia: So Mavitri, how long did your team spend engaging with the employees after delivering the news?

Mavitri: We communicated the shutdown six months in advance, which was quite a challenging situation. This isn’t something we recommend by anyone because it does create a lot of chaos at the end. We want companies to be transparent with people so that we can see what is right for them and have a plan for them in terms of advancing their careers and life. These people worked with us for more than 10 years, so they deserve the right to know of layoffs at an earlier stage. But instead, we decided to inform them only six months before.

For HR professionals, it was quite a challenge because we weren’t sure if we were going to succeed in engaging with these people as well as accomplish our plan. Anyone could go out and make these kinds of promises, so what's the difference? The differences in the way in which you converse especially with senior managers. 

The senior manager told me that he understood the company situation and the business requirement because this job was his baby so you need to take care of it and nurture it. He said that it was time for the baby to join a new world, and experience something new and bigger. 

This touched me and at times made me cry because I didn’t expect him to say things like this about the company. I took what he said and told the team, ‘alright, this is how we are going to do it, we’re going to produce videos and give recognition to these groups of people to indicate that they have been with this company for at least 20 to 30 years. We will give testimonials on how they’ve been working and committing to the work they’ve done.’

We filmed the videos and showed them to everyone as a way of expressing our thanks. They saw the videos and felt impressed and proud that even though the factory shut down, they contributed a lot.

These workers also helped to make sure that machinery, equipment, etc. were packed well and ready to be shipped to a new factory for a new life. During the last week of operations, they even made sure to clean up the factory together. We gave them a farewell party which felt like a high school farewell party as everyone left with good memories. I think since then, they all still meet up each year.

Lydia: That’s a great story because it starts with outreach and rather opening the lines of communication from HR and making sure that you are giving personal attention to any of the fears and anxieties they have. On top of that, you’re reinforcing that message through a very unique perspective from their managers. 

So that led to a smooth transition and even very high ownership rights till the end. That’s a great story and to have people recruited or to have people hired into such strong cultures also requires the role of a recruiter and therefore the role of the recruiter, of course, extends beyond just interviewing and hiring right?

Mavitri: Yes, that’s right.

A recruiters role: beyond recruiting

Lydia: What role in addition to this might the recruiter play to ensure that whoever is just hired becomes a successful hire?

Mavitri: We have to make sure that we aren’t just finishing the job of hiring, but that a recruiter needs to also make sure the new hires are onboarding well at least in the first few weeks at the company. So, after the new hires have accepted the position, we keep in constant contact with them by telling them the things they need to prepare for onboarding, locations, and other stuff. This way, we at least become friends with them because on the first day of work for the new hire, the recruiter will be the one to pair the new hire with a business partner to help them set up equipment, computers, etc. 

We also set a goal that when we onboard new hires on the first day, we must have everything ready for them to be able to connect with other people in the organization including the managers.

Lydia: The recruiter makes a person’s experience memorable and it’s a positive personal first impression and then it leads to the new hire settling in and getting used to their work environment and also performing well. 

Now, that leads us to the question of development for employees. At what stage do you think a company, especially a startup, maybe begin to incorporate learning and development into their people’s strategies?

Mavitri: For startups, I see that it is a very challenging business but it’s also good because there are different ways for employees to incorporate learning and development as part of their job. Learning and development for a startup is a part of a startup life. For example, I will see startups use learning and development in the form of having them deal with real-life experiences. In some cases, they experience it as the company grows or changes.

Technology: the solution to solving challenges in recruitment

Lydia: Yes, I understand what you mean here because the learning is constant, especially in a startup and then it may be formal or informal, and very often, it can be very practical and informal ways of learning. 

But that doesn’t necessarily set a startup to a specific phase where they need to include learning and development. And many startups today, are in the tax base and some of them are in HR technology and many companies as well. Even large ones are starting to use HR technology and it’s a must. So, what kind of impact do you think these tools and technologies have on recruitment?

Mavitri: I see that the impact technology has on recruitment tools is that it gives HR professionals more opportunities to expand their profile and expand their search for talent who may fit the role of a particular job.

Lydia: Expand the talent pool right?

Mavitri: Yes, expand the talent pool beyond the scope that they are currently at because we know these technologies could bring in so many people.

I see the benefit of technology in the future, especially AI technology, helping HR professionals to search for the right talents without personal bias”

Many recruiters have many different perspectives, but with technology, the amount of personal bias will be reduced and it will help people to be able to better select individuals that are suitable for the job and interested in the job.

Getting started in recruitment: a guide

Lydia: So, today you have vast experience in the HR and recruitment space. What advice would you give to someone starting out in recruitment today?

Mavitri: For someone starting out in recruitment today, I would say that the first thing is that you must be interested in getting to know people because as a recruiter you will have to talk to a lot of people and meet with a lot of people. So the first thing is basically, you must be interested in people. You have to understand their needs and find a way to match their needs with the right job. I would say that it’s unavoidable.

Secondly, recruiters have to be very good at listening. They need to listen to what the managers have to say, as well as the customers. It is very important. By listening, they will come to know the needs of the customer and can match those needs.

"A successful recruiter is someone who has listened well and knows the customers' needs and can match people to the right job profile”

Lydia: Listening is very important, even at the recruitment stage as you have mentioned earlier within HR and change communication space as well. Thank you very much for your time today. It’s been such a pleasure to have you on the show. I’m sure the audience wants to know more about you and your company. So, where can they find you?

I have my profile on LinkedIn. My name’s Mavitri Nanthana and you can basically look me up. If you’re interested to learn more about experiences in HR or you have something that you’d like to discuss, any kind of issues relating to people development, send me a message. If you’re looking for a change or a way forward in your career, I’m also very happy to share my experiences.

Lydia: Yes, because you have changed and switched quite seamlessly from one side to the other but they are quite related. As you have just mentioned. We have been speaking with Mavitri Nanthana who is the country HR head at Jacobs Douwe Egberts in Bangkok, Thailand. Do look out for future podcasts from All-In Recruitment and stay tuned for our next videos. Thank you.

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