Founded in 1999, UST (formerly known as UST Global) is a digital technology products, platforms and services organization built on the strong foundation of value-based culture. Presently, it has over 25000 ‘USsociates’ (how their employees are referred to internally) spread across 25 countries. In the last 20 years, UST has witnessed crises ranging from regional socio-political unrests to natural disasters such as tsunami, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. However, the outbreak of Covid19 posed UST with an unprecedented and unforeseen challenge of transitioning 95% of USsociates across multiple geographies to work from home within 48 hours, as many governments across the globe, imposed lockdowns around the same time.
The backbone of UST’s organizational culture has always been the co-located USsociates. They work together in their custom designed workplaces with the intention to be a successful business that serves the greater good in society. UST culture is built on three core values – humility, humanity and integrity. UST is always aware of the importance of this culture as their founder chairman Mr. G. A. Menon (1931-2003) who repeatedly said that “Our values & culture drive the success of our organization”. During the early stages of lockdown, while the whole world was talking about Business Continuity Plan (BCP), UST was working on ensuring the ‘Values & Culture Continuity’ as well. They had to achieve several goals to ensure the ‘Values & Culture Continuity’. When the USsociates were at their homes adjusting to the ‘new-normal’, the organization had to tackle an array of problems ranging from the job security concerns of the employees to physical and mental well-being and many more.
UST Global has a unique function named Office of Values & Culture (OVC) headed by the Chief Values Officer (CVO), who directly reports to the CEO. This office focuses on the mission to ‘sustain, strengthen and scale the values & culture of the organization’. It has three focus areas – Values & Culture, Employee Engagement and CSR. They realized the importance of focusing on the continuity of values & culture of the organization right from the start of lockdown period. So, during the early days of lockdown the OVC created a detailed Value Continuity Plan (VCP) similar to BCP. The whole approach had two key phases and three focus areas.
The organizational core values, stakeholders and focus areas have always remained sacrosanct, but the initiatives had to be re-adjusted as per the Covid-19 situation.
As the next step, they created a global program calendar with a set of initiatives covering the focus areas, across the two phases.
Phase of Confusion
Humility – Connecting with care for USsociates
- ‘Check-in’ calls were initiated by the Value Partners (handpicked USsociates with exceptional people skills) to check the safety and well-being of USsociates and their loved ones.
- They also reached out to their former USsociates as they are still part of the extended UST Family.
Humanity – Serving the Community with Compassion
- In addition, UST reached out to our CSR partners, NGOs, schools, orphanages, and old age homes with whom they had partnered with to confirm that they are doing well.
- UST’s immediate focus was on ensuring that the essential needs (food supplies, PPE kits, masks, sanitizers, etc.) of their CSR beneficiaries were taken care of across all locations.
Integrity – Commitment to Customers
- All USsociates, support teams, and vendors/partners came together as a team and ensured the transition from 100% Work-From-Office (WFO) mode to 100% Work-From-Home (WFH) mode in less than 48 hours, which, in turn, helped us to meet UST’s delivery commitments to customers.
- Throughout the pandemic, UST kept close contact with all their customers and partners, exchanging best practices and containment strategies.
Phase of Composure
One aspect that UST gave special attention was the impact of these restricted working conditions on the mental health and connectedness of USsociates. So they decided to launch a number of events related to Values & Culture, Employee Engagement, and CSR.
Values & Culture
During the check-in calls with USsociates, one concern that came up repeatedly was their inability to participate in the community initiatives of UST (which had become part of their routine) due to the social distancing norms mandated by the authorities. UST had to identify ways to channel the passion of its employees to serve the community, without risking their health. Within the focus areas of Education, Health and Environment, they donated TVs/Laptops for attending remote classes; Food and Ration Kits to students and sanitization kits, PPE kits and masks to hospitals and frontline workers. There was also additional focus on blood donation. and completed a social afforestation (Miyawaki technique) project was completed during this period adhering to Covid19 protocols.
UST decided to ‘open the floodgates’ of virtual employee engagement initiatives to keep USsociates engaged and excited while they are at home. This is where UST’s proprietary, volunteer driven, time-tested, employee engagement framework ‘Colors of UST’, took over. The Colors’ team rolled out a wide array of initiatives covering almost all facets of work and life such as fun, family, health, upskilling/cross-skilling, innovation, technology, career, social commitment and quality of life. These included: ‘Work Fun Home’ – a Family Tik-tok challenge; online Zumba classes; ‘Quarantine Clicks’ – a photography contest; Tech Guru – a best tech tutorial channel contest; CodeGround – a Hackathon contest; art competitions for USsociate’s Kids; Business Communication Training; Psychological First Aid training; Online Gaming Tournament; Recycle@ Home contest and many more.
During the lockdown period, UST increased its focus on values & culture, with primary focus on health and wellness and to create a greater sense of connectedness to the company.
- Value Partners connected with 4000+ employees through check-in calls and it was extended to clients, partners, and CSR beneficiaries.
- Additionally, 5000+ One-to-one sessions, 15+ global Covid-19 specific webinars/orientation sessions and 330+ Townhalls by HR covering topics ranging from job security related anxieties to remote work best practices.
- Colors of UST executed 241 Events (as of 17th July 2020) with an average of 100 attendees per event which resulted in approximately 47,500+ person-hours of employee engagement in 4 months. Overall participation in this period has increased by 18 times compared to previous year.
Remote working and the social distancing norms mandated by the authorities resulted in the concern that USsociates would not able to participate in the community initiatives of UST. UST found ways by which USsociates could contribute in initiatives to serve the community. With many of the impacted countries deciding to focus more on implementing or enhancing remote online learning at their schools, UST is now working with the schools and the students which it has adopted to provide sufficient support for their remote learning needs.
- During the lockdown period 10000+ lives have been touched through Covid-19 relief work.
- 7000 food ration kits were distributed to families affected by Covid-19 and 1000 sanitization kits were given to medical staff working in Covid-19 treatment centers.
- 200 Student scholarships were offered for economically backward students for higher education.
While UST’s success during the pandemic phase was the result of a strong BCP, at the core of it UST had the underlying value of integrity which encourages every USsociate to step up to the situation and go that extra mile to meet the client commitments. In other words, value continuity leads to business continuity itself. UST has been preparing their customers to respond to this disruption by increasing their adaptiveness and responsiveness through digital transformation. UST believes that this transformation is as much about values and purpose as it is about technology, an aspect which their customers have been appreciative of.
- Though most of the locations were impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown and USsociates had to transition to work from home, ZERO productivity loss was reported across the organization.
UST strongly believes that a values-based culture is their foundation, which must remain unshaken irrespective of the magnitude of the crisis. As Jon Stewart once said, “If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they’re not values; they’re hobbies”. During this unforeseen challenge UST is striving to achieve the ‘values and culture continuity’.
To validate this, UST launched an organization wide anonymous survey in June 2020. The results made them prouder than ever:
- 74.2% agreed that every business decision at UST is taken in alignment with their Values & Culture.
- 89.3 % believed that UST Values & Culture will positively influence the business growth of the organization
- 85.3% said that if all other conditions being equal, they would encourage a family member to join UST, considering its values and culture.
During these unprecedented times, by ensuring the continuity of core values, Humility, Humanity, and Integrity through the three strong pillars, namely, Values & Culture, Colors of UST and CSR, UST has touched many lives across company, community, and customers.
Sooner or later this pandemic will pass. How strong we emerge from this crisis will depend on our values & culture. All of us will come out of this crisis as better human beings, better organizations, with a better appreciation of the ‘value of a values-based culture’!
Read UST’s blog post on “Organizational Value Continuity at the Time of Crisis“
Read more about “UST’s Purpose & Bringing their Values to Life“