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  • Writer's pictureTharindu Ameresekere

Unravelling the People behind the Crust We Trust with Kaushal Mendis

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

Today on Business Lounge.LK's journey to bring you voices of business professionals in Sri Lanka, we are immensely honored to have Kaushal Mendis, Director of People and culture at Pizza hut and Taco Bell Sri Lanka on our Leadership next-gen segment. He has made a unique name among the hearts of the people at his work place and today let’s talk about the people behind the crust we trust.

In your view, what is the role of HR in modern times ?

Traditional HR has transformed over the years. Now we are dealing with quite a different generation. So, their thinking is also different to how we used to think, maybe a decade or two back. As a result, the role of human resources has evolved significantly from managing personal records and treating people like resources. People are resources, but it is rapidly evolving from a resource perspective where we really try to treat people as people. So, organizations are required to set a background and create an environment and a good culture for people to work in. It is the reason why a lot of organizations move away from traditional HR and, at times, we can call it people and culture. Because what really matters is that you really appreciate and value people for who they are and try to make a good and fostering environment or a conducive environment for them to work in the organization. So that’s how HR is being transformed throughout. Specifically, how they perceive a person as an employee and how they treat them.

People are stressed out because of problems coming from every angle. What are the implications for a HR manager at such a time?

So, people are pretty stressed out. They are mostly stressed for reasons that are beyond their control. Right now, especially in Sri Lanka, there are so many things happening which are beyond their control. Fuel, food, medicine, and transportation are all possibilities that they themselves can’t find a solution for.

On top of that, what happens is when they get work pressure, they get really fed up; they become burn out as they have to manage their personal life as well as their office work. So, in that context, HR professionals need to really empathize with their employees and understand that they go through pressure which they are not vocal about. At times, these pressures are not expressed, and you should be able to have the level of intuition to read them, to feel them, and to go talk to them and see what their issues are. Sometimes you, as an employer, are also struggling in the current context, but helping out a person doesn’t really mean that it’s to with money. At times, a heart-to-heart chat with your people will matter a lot to them. A heart-to-heart chat with an employee can be used to release their pressure. For the HR person, what that person really needs to do is to shape the culture in the organization to appreciate and recognize the issues and stresses that the employees go through. And when they recognize the issues, concerns, and stress, the HR manager automatically has the responsibility to do a transformation of the leadership thinking about the people. It could be processes, practices, or simple benefits that we provide to them. So, the HR manager should be the one who feels the pulse on the ground, and then he will take the lead in changing the other elements of the organization to better suit the requirements.

And it’s all about finally feeling them, empathizing with them, and opening up a dialog; maintaining that dialog; supporting wherever it is needed; keeping the unity and comradery; and ensuring that the organization is resilient during these tough times. Because the tendency of the majority of the organization is to fail during turbulent times, but HR, if we become resilient, if we have the sheer determination and grip, what happens is we will survive during tough times. The person who survives during the tough times will ensure that once everything becomes alright, the people who survived with the bare minimum during the tough times will conquer and they will succeed. It’s all about how to hold on, how to float during tough times, and HR responsibility implies how to keep your people happy, how to keep them engaged, how to keep them as stress-free as possible during times like this.

How do you Train and Develop people when their mind is full with all what is going around ?

So. Training and development should not be something new or something additional to what someone should do in their day-to-day life. Training and development is something where you make it an integral part of your daily routine to make someone better at what they do. So, there could be skill gaps that could limit someone's ability to do their job on a daily basis. If you lack something in your skills, your productivity will come down, your efficiencies will come down, and you will get stressed out.

And so, it builds a lot of additional pressure. So, one way of framing it would be to help someone do better. It is that you give them the required training. But you should be smart enough to do this exercise as an additional task. So, you’ll be building training into their day-to-day lives. 70, 20, and 10 are examples of approaches. You train a person 70% on the job, may be 20% on learning from someone else like mentoring, coaching, talking to someone and maybe very formal training programs for 10% of their time. So then, if you do that, if you make it a part of their job, no one will really feel that as an additional pressure.

Development is an incentive. So, if you've identified a person with potential who wants to take on a future role or a future job, make sure you talk to them about it. Talk about what they’ve been looking for, what they’ve been identified as, and how we’ve seen the potential for those sorts of things in the future, we can give them to him and then make him understand. Certain development requirements must be met in order for him or her to be prepared for future roles. When we're developing someone, we really get his buy-in because it benefits both the organization and the individual's career advancement. We need to get someone to put in an additional effort for them to be ready to take up future roles. We must first take charge of training and development.

The HR leader should be creative enough to invade training in fun ways of doing things, moving away from traditional classroom training. It could be virtual tools and new engagement tools that help you craft your training programs through interactive platforms. You can make your training and development fun so that people will not be pressured to do it, but instead they will look forward to attending the program because it will get them to release their stress.

You have adapted to cycling to work from home. How has that experience been ?

Waiting in queues demoralizes and demotivates you. It would be very nice to have a driver to go sit there, but still, it’s a waste of time, effort, energy, and your thoughts.

What have done is I’ve basically managed to get petrol with a full tank, and I’m preserving my fuel for an emergency, but I do cycle. One way I cycle about 24 kilometers, so it’s about 50 kilometers a day. I don't consider myself a serious fitness fan. I'm really not into exercise much. But this automatically gives me enough exercise with zero gym membership. So, you sweat a lot in the morning and evening, and the organization also has to make it conducive where you have showers and changing facilities. So, anyone who wants to come on a bike has that facility.

So, I’m pretty happy because I can feel the difference in me in a week. The loss of additional fat and being more active during the day and drinking a lot of water; I love it and I encourage everyone to do it because people have different sentiments and there could be haters to say look here that people are getting adjusted. I think we need to get adjusted. That is what resilience is called.

Let's say if I want to stay at home and work from home, it’ll be productive. But being with people and culture is what HR is there for. If I don’t do that, I will lose touch with people. So, I want to come here somehow, but I don’t have fuel. Rather than keep complaining about it, why not use our own energy and do it?

So, the experience has been great thus far, and there’s a social vibe about it. People are starting to cycle, so all that we need is a piece of motivation and stories about it. So, I’m happy to do it and it’s great.

What's your Mantra for driving a positive culture within the company ?

The basic mantra is to keep people happy. Our mantra is that happy employees make happy products, happy customers, and happy shareholders. The fundamental part of it is people. If people are happy, they’ll do everything in a happy manner. The more they’re happier, the better the customer experience is. So, at Pizza Hut, we have something called "your team member experience," which is equal to your customer experience. CX is equal to TX. You can’t expect an unhappy employee to go make someone else happy. Our culture revolves around our people. Our culture is crafted to make our people feel better, to create a conducive environment, and to make a harmonious environment. So, they do work together to create a superior customer experience. So, it’s all about keeping people happy and ensuring that we have an environment for them to feel happy about what they do and how they feel. And by doing that, the culture is also being transformed. If not, unless otherwise, we keep people happy. Your culture is just a document that you will refer to in paper articles or on award certificates, but your culture needs to be a living document. People need to experience your culture. People will willingly live your culture if they are happy about what they do, about the organization, and how they are treated. Happiness is the fundamental part. Keeping people happy, putting people on the front page. Those are the things that we really do to have a happy workforce, which results in great success.

Happiness is hard to come by during these times. But it is tough to get the best from people when they are not happy. Do you take a 1 to 1 approach with the team or is it something else ?

We are the service industry. Our speed matters to people. When a customer comes into an outlet or when the delivery rider goes to deliver a pizza, again it’s a happy thing. You read it on that web page. The question a lot of people do ask me is when there’s no fuel, How do you guys operate? Where do you get fuel from? We don’t have any backup or favored treatment from any fuel station for us to get fuel. It’s all about happy employees who stay in the queues for hours and hours, securing fuel to deliver the orders. Unless otherwise, if they’re happy, they won’t be committed that much. They somehow stay in the queues. and get things sorted. That’s happiness. Now, how we create this happiness is in two ways. is, as I said before, to appreciate how they feel. So, in order to do that, we have our two leadership teams, one of which is with managers. they have every morning their morning team briefing. They talk to the people, they talk about the challenges they go through, they hear and listen to the comments of the people, and they plan things out. So that explains the way they have cheer and that pumps energy. When you build that in the morning, you have a great day.

Beyond that, that area manages the area coaches and general managers when they visit outlets and they talk to people. Sometimes a pat on the back will help to boost their morale, energy, and we have our HR team, people and culture team who are visiting outlets. And so, they ensure the outlet has a proper people-culturing place. There’s a proper format. If there’s a deviation, they will help the outlet managers correct things, and most importantly, these HR team members will have one on with every team. Team members can release their pressure. Perhaps their work is causing them personal problems. So, they have the opportunity to talk to someone and release that so that we’ll take the necessary corrective and preventive actions.

And as a leadership team, we always want to connect to people by making house calls. We talk to people and, during tough times, one of the key things which helps us to keep our morale is recognition. We always talk about recognition, recognition, and recognition again at Pizza Hut. So that’s once again a secret mantra of doing things better. Because a recognized employee for their good work will always be motivated to do better. And if someone else sees that a fellow colleague is being recognized, it drives positive motivation and positive vibes with other people to do better. So, recognition means one of the best things that we do, and we don’t have the time to recognize. If we need to recognize 10 people a day, we need people to do that, and we find reasons to do so, as it’s not that we will wait until someone tells us to. We also have not cut down on any of the welfare activities or engagement activities. We firmly believe that they need to stay happy. This country has problems but still keeps people happy. Giving them what they want and keeping the energy up is all that we can do. So, we always do it.

What would be your message to HR practitioners during these testing times ?

Any HR practitioner needs to be a people leader who is the ambassador for the people. Unless otherwise, you speak on behalf of your people, there’s no one else.

First and foremost, you need to be empathetic towards your people. You need to feel their pulse. As I said before, most things are unsaid. And so, your rules need to feel like people understand them that they can communicate and convey that your leadership teams are under pressure and what they go through. We always seek creative ways of doing things to help our people. It could be their compensation and benefits, flexible benefits, or benefits that will suit the current environment better. So, you need to be creative. People want things to connect to people, to make people stress-free. Their HR leader or the people leader should be the person that connects, should be the live wire of the organization. For example, if your group leader is glum and grumpy, he will not transmit a positive vibe to the rest of the people. It’s like, it’s like the mother at your house. No matter how problems arise, no matter the magnitude of the problems, our mothers never put pressure on the father or the children. Whatever is said and done, they are with a happy smile. HR practitioners, need to be the motherly figure in organizations to absorb pressure and be a sponge and not to show it out.

Have a happy smile, be empathetic, talk to people, take care of them, and finally, connect everything and everyone together to ensure the organization sustains during this time.

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