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TD Magazine

Authorities in Retail and Talent Marketplaces

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Reliance Retail Limited: 2023 BEST Award Winner, #6

Photo of:
Seated: Raktim Dutta, Lead, Central TD; Pratibha Saraswat, Head, L&D, Electronics Business; Mallar Chakrabarti, Head, L&D, Grocery Business

Standing: G.R. Venkatesh, CHRO; V. Subramaniam, Director; Jeeva Balakrishnan, Chief Talent Officer
The TD department meets Reliance Retail's voracious demand for talented and trained employees.


The scale of operations is jaw dropping at Reliance Retail Limited, India's behemoth retail enterprise that is reinventing the concept of the retail marketplace there. Its 380,000 employees work at more than 15,800 company-owned stores throughout the country, serving more than 100,000 customers every hour.

The 17-year-old organization serves a broad range of retailing across grocery, fashion and lifestyle, consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals, jewelry, beauty, home improvement, toys, and more. Its employees include a customer-facing sales and retail workforce, warehouse workforce, as well as corporate support functions such as buying and merchandising (B&M).

The talent development department numbers 408 professionals who train employees at all levels and facets of business, including retail operations, leadership, and support functions. The team delivered almost 15 million learning hours to employees in 2022.

Chief Talent Officer Jeeva Balakrishnan stresses the need for agility and dedication from a growing department that must perpetually onboard new personnel while developing a diverse and agile workforce. His mission underscores the organizational mandate to promote inclusion, growth, and sustainable societal value creation for millions of Indians.

"It is critical that our employees fully understand the various processes, possess keen product knowledge, know how to connect with our customers, and deliver exceptional experiences," he maintains.

Over the years, the TD team has built a pull-based employee-centric model to develop the workforce at every stage of the employee life cycle: Ready to Jumpstart enables new hires to assimilate into the organizational culture and become role ready; Strive to Perform equips the workforce through continuous upskilling and reskilling to perform consistently in their current roles; and Aspire to Grow builds a future talent pipeline through a robust career development program to meet employees' growth aspirations while addressing the organization's constant need for ready talent.

Filling an urgent pipeline

"The organization is growing at an exponential pace, and as a result, one of the biggest challenges is availability of a 'ready-now' talent pipeline," says Chief HR Officer G.R. Venkatesh. "The TD team is entrusted with the responsibility to support this perpetual requirement."

To address that need, the company introduced the Source-Train-Hire model, a talent assurance platform for trained frontline individuals. The model sources candidates through multiple partners and then provides them with on-the-job training on retail fundamentals before signing them on as full-time employees.

Reliance Retail classifies the initiative's impact as "phenomenal," enabling the TD team to train a pool of more than 8,500 candidates from which the company placed 7,373. Of those candidates, 77 percent hailed from rural areas while 24 percent were female, a pool that reflects the program's goal to uplift society's disadvantaged segments.

Another new initiative addressed the continuous need for experienced personnel in the critical B&M function. Company leadership regards that skill set as "the backbone of retail operations." However, there is a dearth of ready talent available for this specialty, according to Balakrishnan, because no schools offer professional courses to develop B&M skills, and hiring personnel from competitors is not a sustainable long-term solution.

Hence, the TD team decided to create and institutionalize a new talent assurance strategy across the organization that would establish a talent marketplace. All TD approaches centered around the proposed agenda. The concept includes a four-pronged TD strategy to build a role-ready B&M talent pool.

Capability certification programs. This furthers the capabilities of existing employees of the B&M function at four levels of hierarchy through a structured development, assessment, and certification journey. Certified employees get opportunities for career progression and help meet the talent needs.

Cross Spring. This program selects, develops, and certifies employees from other functions who seek career growth and have an aspiration to transition their careers into a mainstream B&M role.


L.E.A.D. This is a development and certification program for newly hired management trainees in B&M.

External talent marketplace. This solution identifies, builds, assesses, and certifies a ready, entry-level talent pipeline to support future talent requirements. It includes a program to develop and certify business school students in their final year to be job-ready upon graduation.

Balakrishnan says the Source-Train-Hire model and B&M initiatives further the company's goal of building a truly democratized learning culture with learners at the center of each TD solution. "This has resulted in a pull-based learning environment where the learner decides his or her learning journey based on their career-growth aspirations," he says.

Promoting a leadership culture

The TD model on leadership development centers around the organization's archetypes: agility, human-centricity, inclusive growth, and high performance. It is based on desired values and behaviors such as teamwork, respect, integrity, excellence, ownership mindset, and customer value. Every employee undergoes annual training and certification on the organization's culture-immersion programs.

The Leadership Development Academy offers four levels of programs based on the ideal leader behavior-archetypes. The company believes that leadership is a behavior not a position.

Reliance Retail expects leaders to continuously inspire their teams to learn and apply that learning. They are a large part of learning solutions as subject matter experts, facilitators, coaches, mentors, and even participants to inspire their teams in the company's pull-based mission. The organization heavily promotes nurturing a coaching culture by building leaders and managers as coaches with an aspiration of certifying more than 1,000 internal coaches.

That's another reason why the TD mission has also received a strong endorsement from the director of Reliance Retail, V. Subramaniam: "Keeping pace with the new normal is imperative for us to stay relevant and ahead of time. There is no better way to do it than by investing in people and providing them with time and opportunity to continually upskill and reskill themselves."

View the entire list of 2023 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Paul Harris is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Virginia.

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