HR Professionals can work with employees to transform them into future leaders

Q. Tips for a budding L&D/ HR professional?

Don’t go into HR because you like to work with people. Don’t look at building a career in HR just because you enjoy helping people or have great service orientation.

Don’t get me wrong – you should enjoy enabling people to grow, develop, find right roles and discover their own potential – All of which you can do as a people’s manager or even as a peer in organisations.

My  belief is that build a career in HR when you believe that talent is a true differentiator in the marketplace and can help businesses succeed, just as much as innovation, financial management and great brand building.

At an early stage of my career, a peer had given me what I believe is invaluable advice – “In HR, chances of failures are greater than chances of successes. Don’t let that get you down!” While that was a bitter pill to swallow then, I do know this to be true now – HR requires a great amount of resilience and grit.  There could be a variety of reasons why things don’t seem to work – speed of change, leadership alignment falling through, a star employee who could not be retained, etc. The resilience and mental strength to bounce back from challenges and failures would hold you through your HR career,   and thus, my other tip for budding HR professionals who may be familiar with this notion that HR is for those who want a “relaxed, relatively stress-free career” – Please do believe that is far from reality and instead, we need to continually work on instilling our resilience   

Q. Your personal achievement as an HR professional?

Several years ago, I worked on a leadership development program for mid management. The program was designed to enable high potential talent to take on assignments/projects that would solve the organisation’s biggest challenges and in turn build their muscles around strategy; leadership and innovation. 

Fast forward to 2019, I was amazed to receive an email from one of the participants to express his gratitude to the team that put the program together – it had enabled him to change his career trajectory from a project manager to lead one of the largest and most innovative businesses of the firm. That stands out as an achievement for me because it validated my belief that there is something truly magical about achieving results through talent – by assessing talent, hiring and developing the right people and building amazing leaders who live the company values and drive the culture.

Q. How can an HR/L&D contribute strategically to the organization?

While I am on the path to understanding this myself, here are my learnings so far:

  • Earn table stakes – Understand the industry you operate in, the consumers’ mindset and products/services that you are delivering to them. With this as a foundation, understanding of the key business priorities (both short term and medium-long term) is critical.
  • Bid on talent – Hone your own framework continuously to hire, place and develop the right talent, keeping the business context in mind.
  • Laser sharp Focus – Keep the talent priorities firmly anchored on business priorities – even choosing out the right things can be a strategic contribution for the teams you work with

Q. One HR/L&D practice that has always worked for you as an HR. (share an example)

This being a behavioural science practice that I believe lends itself heavily to HR and L&D – The Nudge Theory. Made famous by Thaler and Sunstein’s seminal work by the same name, any behavioural change whether at an individual, team or org culture level requires nudges built into daily habits for positive reinforcement.

  • These tiny nudges can yield positive results – A Communication sent on biases to avoid before critical people discussions has shown leaders being more mindful about this leading to better people decisions
  • An online program ending with a “Give Honest feedback” instead of “Give feedback” saw a 10% increase in participation and more comments on specific actions that can be taken to improve the program
  • Use tax return filing time to remind employees to opt-in for Corporate pension scheme that has tax saving benefits, resulting in increased uptake of the pension scheme

Q. Do you think robots can replace HR/L&D professionals in the coming decade?

All of us Marvel comic / Iron Man fans would have imagined a Jarvis one day taking over HR at some point or the other. But just as Jarvis and Tony Stark, co-existence and not replacement, would be the ideal way forward. 

HR is riddled with repeatable transactions and query resolutions which can be easily streamlined via automation and robotics. Another avenue that is already in the horizon is people analytics and insights that can be immensely helpful in larger organizational policies design and implementation. However, I would like to believe that value addition of HR lies in talent spotting, coaching and development of leaders and developing an awesome culture – all of which defies predictability and repeatability, making it tougher for AI to perform.

Q. How do you create a buy-in for training at workplace?

As L&D professionals, we focus on leadership buy-in for trainings but sometimes we forget to do enough for either gaining people manager buy in or the participant buy in.

Gaining reporting manager buy in is challenging but critical for employees to attend and more importantly, benefit from the training. Ensuring that the manager is an active partner by seeking their views or expectations on the content, giving them a program summary to discuss with the participant and content to coach the team on a regular basis are ideal.

Quoting Josh Bersin, gaining participant buy-in requires placing learning in the “flow of work” – this goes beyond accessibility and instead focuses on, on-time prompt to learn using the platform or a device they are already using to perform. As we design training programs we need to think of the experience that the program would give the convenience of accessing the learning to cultivate participant buy-in.

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