Be More Podcast: Unlocking Your Inner Hero with Ford's Anoop Chaudhuri

Anoop Chaudhuri, vice president of human resources for Ford Motor Company in Australia and New Zealand, shares his thoughts on the importance of employee wellbeing, alongside insights from Ford’s wellbeing strategy.

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Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. This week we’re joined by Anoop Chaudhuri, Vice President of Human Resources for Ford Motor Company in Australia and New Zealand, to share his thoughts on the importance of employee wellbeing, alongside insights from Ford’s wellbeing strategy.

Superheroes might be dominating silver screens and televisions alike, but how often do we actually think of ourselves as heroes? The idea that within each of us lies the potential to be a hero is a powerful thought, and one that can contribute massively to our personal and professional wellbeing—so says Anoop Chaudhuri.

Renowned for his vision and critical thinking, Anoop Chaudhuri has had an impressive career at Ford, spanning over 32 years. He stands at the forefront of the future of work, harnessing the power of technology and combining multiple disciplines to unlock the potential of everyone in the workplace. That’s why he’s been so well positioned to solve the complex challenges organizations face in our fast-paced world.

“Most people want to come to work and do the best work they can, and that inner hero that we have in all of us—it’s waiting to be unleashed. With the right support, and the right guidance, and the right environment, people can do amazing work.”

Anoop Chaudhuri

If you want to learn more about how Ford have made employee wellbeing a priority, then tune in, check out the key takeaways, or read the transcript below.

Key Takeaways

  • Anoop’s background and thirty-two-year career at Ford. Anoop’s love of all things automobile resulted in a move from India to Australia when he started working in a car company. Along the way, he worked as an engineer, salesperson, and manager in warranty operations until he got into the HR department. Having such an expansive career across multiple different department has made Anoop the leader he is today.

  • “Unlocking your inner hero.” Anoop believes that each person has an “inner hero.” He states that people want to come to work and do the best they can. As that inner hero exists in all of us, it’s up to people leaders to find the best way to tap into it for each individual on their team.

  • How does Ford approach employee wellbeing? About five years ago, Ford shifted its focus from manufacturing to engineering and work development. During that time, they started to notice changes happening in their people because of the tremendous work pressure. As a result of this, the company implemented a wellbeing strategy called Flourish. It provides any mental health support that employees require, adapting to their needs as the company continues to evolve and, well, flourish.

Transcript:

Patrick Cournoyer: Unlocking our inner hero. I really like the sound of that. When I was doing research on guests for this season of Be More, I came across the profile of my guest today. He believes that there is unlimited inherent human potential to unlock inner work heroes. I immediately knew that he had to be a part of the conversation. Anoop Chaudhuri is the Vice President of Human Resources for Ford Motor Company in Australia and New Zealand and has had an impressive career at Ford for over 32 years.

Today, we are going to discuss how we unlock our inner hero, how that can impact employee wellbeing, and how he has had success with this approach at Ford in Australia and New Zealand. Anoop, thanks for joining the conversation today.

Anoop: Very welcome Patrick. Really great to be here with you.

Patrick: It is the end of day for me and it is the start of day for you, so thank you very much for spending time. We have a day in between us. Anoop and I are on opposite sides of the world right now. First off, Anoop, can you just give us a quick couple-minute overview of your very impressive 32 plus year career at Ford Motor Company. That’s amazing.

Patrick: Thank you so much. 32 years gone by very, very fast, I have to say, incredibly fast. Just last night I was recollecting this, so the journey started about 32 years ago. Gone and I hopped on a plane with a one-way ticket from India to Australia because I loved cars, and I wanted to work for a car company. I haven’t looked back since then. Started on the Broadmeadows Assembly Plant on the shop floor, and I knew there was much more to me, and I knew that I had so much more to do. Things happened after that. Worked on the shop floor, became an engineer, worked in e business, went to purchasing, worked in warranty operations.

Somewhere along the way, I felt from the outside looking in, there was a calling to do work with people, and I thought I could go, and work, and do a better job being an engineer, go and fix things in HR. [laughs] I’m cutting short 32 years into a few minutes, but a really impressive, fantastic journey, and I’ve loved every minute of it. In between all of that, I worked, of course in Australia, in Thailand, India, the US, and back again in Australia right now.

Look, if there is one red thread through all of that is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s cross-functional movement and I’ve worked in so many different parts of the company in some different business units, it’s been my love for the business. It’s been my love for people. It’s been my love for learning something new and different that has really taken me or taken me from one role to the other. I’ve had enormous fun along the way, despite lots of ups and downs, as we know, Patrick, life is full of ups and downs.

There’s been so much learning right throughout, even though it’s been 32 years and right now, the Vice President of Human Resources for Australia, New Zealand, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like it went by in a flash. It feels like I’ve been so fortunate and so grateful to have worked with so many different people. The bit that really, I’d take away is being able to influence, it’s being able to grow, develop others, and see them blossom into just amazing human beings, amazing teams, and they’re all doing great work. That’s a bit of a snapshot of my 32 years career journey.

Patrick: Well, congratulations because, honestly, it is very impressive. You just made a very good point to bring us on to the first part of our conversation which is around developing people. You have this personal motto around unlocking inner heroes. That really struck me as A, being very inspirational, and it made me think for a minute and say, “Well, okay, inner hero, and what does that mean?” I’m curious, let the audience know a little bit about what this means unlocking inner heroes, and where did you find this passion for this concept of unlocking your inner hero?

Anoop: I have to say it’s something, Patrick, that grew and evolved over many years. I say that because if I look at my own life, and my own career progression, and my journey, I’ve always been a big believer that anyone, doesn’t matter who it is, where they’re from, what they look like, how they speak, et cetera, anyone can be whoever they want to be. Time and time again, and again, I’m extremely grateful for the journey that I’ve been through.

Time and time again, I have moved from completely different parts of roles into totally new roles, and what I learned through that whole journey is that if one applies their whole being, and they’re open to growth and development, they have the right support, that they can be whoever they want to be. To me that has become, particularly in the last three or four years, that has become a bit of a personal motto, a rallying cry, if you will. When I talk to people, when I work with, whether it’s my team or different teams or leaders in different parts of the business, or even one-on-one, a big part of that is that anyone can do that. What people are looking for, what we’re looking for is that support mechanism, is that someone to guide us, and someone to walk us through that.

When we are able to do that, not only do we feel fulfilled in our work, but more importantly, we’re able to bring the best version of ourselves to work, and, particularly in the last 12 to 18 months as the global pandemic has disrupted and has become a major, what we would call as a black swan event, and there aren’t many of those that happen, but they’re happening more frequently right now as you know. I have seen enormous change in the organization’s ability, in people leaders, and managers’ ability to appreciate that we have someone who turns up to work, and they bring this work persona, but there is so much to life. There’s so much more to it than just what they bring to work.

We are all human beings. We are a connection of so many different pieces of the puzzle if you will. In a way, I feel, as much as it has been an incredibly challenging issue for us globally, it has actually disrupted the way we look at people, and the way we look at work, and the way we look at human beings because it’s taken the veil off. We all have so much more complexity to our life and, but that’s what makes us human. That’s what makes us really rise above. That’s what really brings us to work because work is such a big part of our life.

To me, coming back to your question, the most fundamental thing is I think most people, in my experience working for so many different cultures and then thousands of people that I’ve worked with, most people, they want to come to work and do the best work they can, and that inner hero that we have in all of us, it’s waiting to be unleashed. With the right support, and the right guidance, and the right environment, people can do amazing work.

Patrick: Providing that environment and encouraging this concept of unlocking this inner hero, how do you see that affecting an individual’s wellbeing? Because, as you know, this season, we’re talking a lot about wellbeing, and, obviously, it’s incredibly important to businesses today. It has been important for many years but never as important as it has been today for so many companies around the world and will be continuously important for the foreseeable future. We’ve been talking through our conversations this season around ways that we can look at wellbeing that maybe we haven’t before or different things to consider. Getting new ideas of how we can enhance the wellbeing of our teams, of our employees, members of our workforce. How do you see a focus on unlocking inner heroes, this idea of it directly impacting somebody’s individual wellbeing?

Anoop: That’s a great question, Patrick. I will say this, in many ways, what we have seen that has happened in the last 12 to 18 months, what it has brought to the surface which, perhaps, wasn’t visible before, is that we, whether it’s us or people that we’re working with, everyone is dealing with challenges, issues in their life. A lot of it is not visible, a lot of it is not as known, a lot of it is not seen, because for many years, and it continues to be, and we are working very hard, for example, in Ford to break through this, is this whole taboo about talking about how perhaps, feeling. We all know, you talk to anyone and most of the conversations are, “How are you doing, I’m fine,” but if you dig beneath it, there’s a lot of challenges, there’s a lot of issues people are working through.

I have seen that in the last 12 to 18 months, because we are now working from people’s homes, we are looking at and really have a window, if you will, into the way people live, and where people think, and work, et cetera. It is becoming much more apparent that there’s a lot of people who are working through these issues. For example, in Australia, if I take that, this data was collected before the global pandemic, one in five Australians are challenged with some mental health issue.

As an organization, as an employer, as a group of people that were working with others, this is a topic that we all have to, one, be aware of, and second, we have to really understand and think through, what is it that we can do to help our team members or employees or the rest of the organization work through this? Because at the end of the day, they’re showing up for work. Wellbeing is such an important red thread.

About six months back, I was asked to take on a leadership role and be the champion for wellbeing for our region, which is the international markets group. Ford of Australia, New Zealand has done some amazing work, some really groundbreaking work over the last three to five years in the space of wellbeing. We have then taken that model of the overall strategy, and many of the bigger markets in a region, like South Africa, India, ASEAN, et cetera, they’ve taken the model and adapted it to what it means for them.

One important thing that came out was we were looking at how we take this to perhaps the next version of it, the next evolution of the work we’ve done. I’ve had many conversations with business leaders, with the HR directors and the HR leaders of all these markets, and with employees and people who were in the space of wellbeing. One thing that came out is how might we, and I’m using a design thinking question over here so we can open our mind and be expansive in our thinking, how might we make wellbeing a red thread, if you will, of everything we do? It’s not a secondary issue or a tertiary issue, it becomes a primary issue.

Whether I’m designing an employee experience process, whether I’m thinking about, we might be fully remote we’re going to be coming back into some a hybrid working model, whether I’m thinking about how I’m designing my objectives for the year and I’m going to cascade that to my team, how do we make wellbeing a red thread of that so that it’s front and center of all of this conversation, so that we are not actively caring for it?

To give you a direct example of that, one of the things that we are doing is as we are looking at moving from remote to some kind of a hybrid model and perhaps onset also is proactively, in the conversations that we’re having with the people leaders or employees, bringing in that wellbeing red thread, thinking about what specifically do you need to care for for that particular process, if that helps?

Patrick: It’s I know that, as you said, that Ford of Australia New Zealand has been doing a significant amount of work on employee wellbeing, as you said, before the pandemic. How did it become a priority, because for so many organizations, maybe it wasn’t as much of a priority but has definitely become a priority over the past year, or even the past six months for some organizations. The concept of wellbeing with employees has also significantly changed in the past two years.

If I think about two years ago, three years ago, we were very focused on physical wellbeing for employees, people were thinking about gym memberships, how do we help keep our employees physically healthy with different types of benefits. Then, all of a sudden now we’re talking about mental wellbeing and how important mental wellbeing is, and being able to speak about it, financial wellbeing. This is a topic that we were not really talking about a couple of years ago. As a critical area of wellbeing, financial wellbeing was not really something that was a priority for organizations, actually, something that may have been an uncomfortable area for some organizations to be involved in.

The world of wellbeing for employees has just significantly expanded. How did it become a priority, Ford of Australia and New Zealand, and a bit of, how did you first approach it? Because I think there are many organizations that are listening today that are just trying to figure out, “How do I get started? Where do I focus, and how do I get going?” Any advice or thoughts or experiences that you had, especially at the start, when it became a priority?

Anoop: Like many, many great things, Patrick, as you know, everything starts with one little seed of an idea. About four or five years back, that seed of an idea was, we are noticing some shifts in the business. At that point in time, we had started the closure of our manufacturing operations in Ford of Australia, and we were shifting from being a very big focus on manufacturing to more into the areas of engineering and development work that we are now in. A lot of that was around the work that was working at that hour, that we were going through in terms of the whole transition because of that.

We noticed that there were shifts happening in people, we noticed that there were shifts happening in the way people were interacting with each other because of the tremendous pressures around them. That awareness led to a group of leaders sitting down, having a conversation, and saying, “We need to do something more in this space.” What started was a beautiful journey, I would say, of a grassroots-led movement that has flourished into an amazing body of work. By the way, our wellbeing strategy is called Flourish.

It was really fascinating when we think about the choice of the word by the team, and the team has done an amazing job, going back to my personal motto about unlocking inner heroes, flourish and then extent, it’s about we want everyone to flourish and be the best version of themselves at work. The work started off by acknowledging that. We started very small and very slowly, like many big change initiatives. In Australia, there is one day in the year when we celebrate what is called, R U OK? Day. It’s a national campaign. We used that as a way to kick off the movement by getting groups of people together at grassroots level, teams together, and having conversations around.

We made a bit of a fun activity around R U OK? Just those few words, are you okay, has tremendous power to open up a conversation, just a one-on-one conversation between someone you know, someone you trust, someone you might be working with, “Hey, are you okay?” That movement led into many more things that happened after that. Some of the things that happened after that were well thought through in advance in terms of, if we’re looking at expanding this grassroots movement into something that is more sustainable, something that can live through, because there is a lot more power and energy and interest, how might we design it in such a way?

We started deliberately building in, we would call it the foundational blocks of what has now become a really fantastic movement. One of those foundational blocks, for example, is about two years ago, we were one of the few organizations, we started expanding this concept of– We’re very familiar with the First Aiders in the workplace. We have a different, an interesting concept called Mental Health First Aiders. There is an organization in Australia that runs certification programs for Mental Health First Aiders. The whole idea about the Mental Health First Aiders was, we just can’t rely on one person or 10 people in a company, we have 2,500 employees in our company over here.

The whole idea of doing that was to have people in your work teams, people in natural workgroups who are certified Mental Health First Aiders who can recognize early signs of challenges or issues. You can open up a conversation, but not only open up a conversation, but provide an opportunity for support and other aids that the person may need or the team may need to help them work through that.

The other thing that we did, Patrick, which was really amazing, was a few years ago, and again, part of the foundational blocks, we asked two of our senior leaders to come forward and share their own personal story about mental health and wellbeing. I happened to be one of them and I, along with another very senior leader in the business, stepped up and shared our story. My story was when I was in the US. I had a very, very fantastic job, loved it. Loved working over there. We were going through some very difficult times, probably one of my darkest days was living over there and working through what was not just challenging, and really, I enjoyed the job, but also some really challenging mental health issues I was facing in my family at that point in time.

I shared that and the other person also shared this, as a way of breaking down this taboo, if you will, that this is a topic that we don’t want to talk about. We know that because people feel uncomfortable talking about it, it’s not normal. People just say, “I have a headache,” or, “I’ve got a stomach ache,” or whatever. It’s okay to talk about that but I’m not feeling well in my mind. It’s something we’re not okay to talk about. One of the things that I remember you were asking before is what were some of the things that didn’t work well, or what were some things that perhaps we didn’t intend, but happened?

I would say this was a beautiful example of the ripple effect that it created, because we recorded the videos, and we showed it during the R U OK? Day that year. What happened as a result of that is many leaders in the business came forward as part of their own celebration of that day, and talked about their challenges. That opened up a beautiful space of dialogue, discussion, understanding, empathy, willingness to care, willingness to support.

One of the big things, we’re recently going through a major transformation and a big thing Ford has always been known for which happened, which is one of the things I love about the company, is care for each other. That was front and center, that came about as front and center as part of some of the thought through and some of the beautiful, unintended consequences that happened as a result of that.

Patrick: Was there ever a moment for you, or initiative or program that you launched that didn’t have the intended effect that you expected it to? Or maybe it just didn’t work as well, that could be a learning for somebody in the audience that’s saying, “Oh, I’m thinking about doing this.” Every organization is unique and obviously every team is unique but is there anything that stands out to you where you really think this is going to work and put a lot of time, effort, energy behind it, and then launched it and said, “Well, it just didn’t have the intended effect that we expected,” or maybe it just didn’t work. Is there anything that stands out to you in your mind?

Anoop: Looking back, because the work has been evolving over about four or five years and it’s not a one hit wonder if you will. We didn’t invest huge amounts of resources just in a very short period of time and expecting to see amazing results. I would say, I’m struggling to go back and say what actually didn’t work, or we could have done better but if there is a lesson learned, which we definitely are very much aware of is that as you and I know, Patrick, as we all know, this issue of wellbeing, particularly, as we’re seeing right now with COVID and the pandemic, the issue of mental health and wellbeing, it knows no boundaries.

It affects everyone in some shape and form. A lesson learned for us is that we need to think about how we, when we put in these measures, when we put in these practices, and organization systems, et cetera. How do we make sure we cater for everyone, rather than just one population that might be easily accessible versus another population that might be more difficult to access and perhaps get left out?

I think that was awareness for us and we were focusing on some parts of the organization more than the others. That definitely was one thing that I would say. The other thing, to flip that a little bit I would say is and I have spoken, particularly in the last one year in other industry forums about our work. What really, I have taken away from that is the three, four or five years of work that we had put in was so well-placed, so well-placed to help people and support people work through the challenges of the pandemic.

It’s not that you cannot respond to it immediately but the point I’m making here is that it’s worthwhile spending the time and energy to think through a sustainable, long term project and process if you will, rather than just applying something immediately.

Patrick: That is very true with so many organizations today that are thinking about how we react in the moment because we need to. I was just speaking in the last conversation that I had, in a previous episode, we were talking about the fact that organizations, if you think about organizations, at the start of 2020, were planning for two, three, four years down the road.

Had long term strategic business plans and strategic plans around their people and their people initiatives and then three months later, the pandemic happens and organizations are planning a month at a time, because they’re just figuring out how to keep their organizations resilient and handling all of the different constant changes and being as agile as possible. Now that’s really become a big part of how organizations are thinking about working, moving forward to be able to be more agile, be able to react to the needs of not only the business, but the needs of the employees, and in a very real time kind of way.

You mentioned earlier about how you started, or how this program started, or the idea around wellbeing, focus on wellbeing started, as very grassroots. What we’re seeing is that most initiatives at organizations now are starting with employees. Are starting with the thoughts and feelings and ideas of employees to build what the future is going to be because you also brought up a really good point of saying, HR, mental health, wellbeing is not the responsibility of just 10 people at an organization. It can’t be anymore.

How do we empower everyone at an organization to be involved in the process moving forward, to have a positive impact, to help drive or shape the future? I think that that has been a really significant shift in the workplace over the past year, particularly the past six months, and how that hopefully will be sustained for the future, because employees have found that they like to have their voice and to be a part of the process, they want to.

Like you said, most employees come to work and want to be the best they can and do the best work that they can. Now there’s the potential, hopefully of them, to be a part of figuring out the solutions for the future. Are you seeing that as well, within your organization?

Anoop: Definitely. Another one of my passion projects is, I believe, connecting the dots here a little bit, Patrick, with what you said is, whenever there are major disruptions in the world, and in our lives, as much as they are disruptions, there are moments of amazing opportunities. The pandemic, as difficult as it has been, has many, and continues to have many silver linings. Going back to the point you just mentioned, is this notion that, again, we all are individuals.

You’re an individual, I’m an individual, people who work are individuals, and then we bring them into a collective, whether it’s a team or a business unit or an organization. I think the pace of work, the pace of the world, prior to the pandemic made us a little bit immune, and less aware of the collective, and even so less aware of the individual. If there’s one big silver lining for me in all of this is that, how might we cater to the fact that everyone has a different need and everyone has a different construct that they are bringing into because of what’s happening in their lives and how they bring into work. How might we create a space to balance that and still achieve an outcome that needs the needs of these tripartite, if you will, the individual, the collective and the organization?

To me, Patrick, I am seeing that in our company. I’m seeing that with other companies, my colleagues I work with or talk to, organizations that are being able to set aside some time to have those conversations, not only are they becoming more aware and having, “Ahas,” but what’s happening as a by-product of that is the leaders and the teams and the individuals are involved in these discussions. A by-product of that is they’re becoming better human beings. They’re becoming more empathetic. They’re becoming more caring.

We just ran recently not across the company, the whole world, listening sessions, where leaders would come and some topics would be arranged but [unintelligible 00:30:01] just open conversation, listening to what people have to say, what’s top of their mind, what are their hopes, dreams and fears?

To me, I think that’s a beautiful space that we have created that has happened as a result of what’s happened in the last, 12, 18 months and how might we capitalize on that and make this organization or whoever it is, a much better place to be, a much better place that everyone enjoys, everyone has the ability to unlock their inner hero, be the best version of themselves and do great work.

Patrick: That is the perfect way to wrap up the conversation because we are coming to the end of the conversation. First off, Anoop thank you for your passion in this area and for sharing with myself and the audience a little bit of a sneak peek into what you’re doing at Ford of Australia and New Zealand, also your personal journey and for sharing your passion around unlocking inner heroes. I think it’s something that we all can focus on and take a look at and if there’s ever been a time when the opportunity to unlock our inner hero is, it’s now for sure as we walk and move into this new phase in so many different parts of the world. We’re all in different phases of whatever the next step of our journey is as societies but also as organizations.

Everybody listening to this is going through some sort of a significant organizational shift or change right now and that’s like you said, that’s life as we know it right now. How we can figure out, how we can understand a bit more about ourselves, unlocking those inner heroes as you say and how that can positively impact our well being and in turn positively impact our experience in the workplace. I think those are really great take aways for the audience. Anoop, thank you so much for joining the conversation today. I really have enjoyed it and again thank you for your passion and sharing with us.

Anoop: Thank you so much Patrick, I really enjoyed it. We could have talked for another few hours, but thank you so much for the opportunity to come and speak with you. I really enjoyed the conversation and thanks again, lovely.

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