As a newly commissioned young Lieutenant (People Leader) in the Indian Army, I was taught to spend the maximum possible time with my troops, be it operational tasks, morning PT, evening games, dining in the troops’ mess or meeting their families. During this initial period I wondered whether I would get an office at all, when I would dine in the officers’ mess, when I would get the privileges of being an officer! I soon understood that it had to be earned by knowing and experiencing the ground realities first. I eventually realized that it was indeed the best grooming I had received, something which I follow till date in every organisation I work with. It taught me the most powerful mantra of a good HR professional – ‘Know your people well; Let your people know you well !
“I strongly believe that as an HR professional, operational expertise is a ‘given’ and can be attained through learning, whereas ‘people connect’ is something which needs individual effort and passion to solve people problems.
In my last assignment as Head of HR & Training, I was entrusted with the task to stabilise the people function with the mandate of enabling a complete transformation in HR and Learning & Development for employees spread across a manufacturing plant, retail centres, IT global back office and corporate office spread across 13 locations in India. I worked with a 6-member team and business leaders to create a strong people and performance-driven culture. Some of the achievements were – a substantial upward climb in the Gallup EE score in a time of transformation and chaos, a substantial rise in gender diversity in a year (12 % in a year across all levels and departments), successful completion of the compensation bench-marking exercise which was done for the first time in the organisation, revamped policies and processes which were people friendly, 100% labour compliance score and Social Accountability 8000 Score as per global social standards, an L&D function empowered to acquire and practice leadership skills across all levels, and technology and analytics for continuous improvement.
There was a clear and measured link between these achievements and higher business results. I witnessed individuals grow personally and professionally and that I feel is my biggest achievement.
I was honoured with the award of ‘Top HR Minds’ India at the World HRD Congress, Feb 2020.
“Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” ; a phrase originated by Peter Drucker and made famous by Mark Fields, former CEO, Ford, is an absolute reality.
As an Indian Army officer, I was a part of a strong culture-driven organisation. It is the culture that drives strategy implementation and performance in the toughest of situations in Army operations. The core values of integrity, duty, respect, trust, selfless service and courage bind all Army professionals and drive strategic goals.
As strategic partners to business leaders we can drive employees’ performance and effectiveness by developing capabilities, enhancing diversity and inclusion and thereby innovation, attracting and retaining good talent. HR has a good view of data on talent strengths, weaknesses , opportunities and threats. This information and analytics are useful inputs on talent factors of strategy.
Engaging people around strategy at an early stage, involving people in the change process, capturing thoughts and feelings of people are an important part of implementation of strategies from paper to practice, “in letter and in spirit”.
Letting people know the “Why” has always worked for me. Before implementing any policy, process, training, survey or any practice that affects people, I ensure communication to all those affected. If people know the reasons for doing something , implementation becomes easier, especially while introducing change initiatives.
In my last organisation I had to drive a culture change with a new set of core values. There were many initiatives that we launched like engagement interventions & surveys, compensation bench marking, a new performance management system, training interventions amongst others while expecting high business goals from employees. It was constant and honest communication that worked, that got a buy-in from employees, and that helped in smooth implementation of major changes.
Robots can help in bring in operational efficiencies, but “human touch” which is the strongest aspect of HR and the biggest need from HR can be driven only by passionate HR professionals. Solving people problems need empathy, listening and patience which are strong human qualities; no robot can replace them.
From my experience, Collaboration has been the key. The first step of understanding the problem that needs to be solved through patient conversations, surveys, coaching etc. is the most important step. Having a buy- in for the end goals of training at this stage helps further.
Involving stakeholders at all stages of design and development, customizing solutions as per needs and effective implementation also help create a buy-in. A well-implemented program with measured outcomes speaks for itself later. Using effectiveness measurement tools and well-presented outcomes (tangible and intangible) help in establishing credibility.