HR leaders are accountable for ensuring management of culture.

Siddhartha Srivastava is a hardcore optimist & result-driven professional with expertise in managing large teams globally, developing & administering coherent strategies whilst improving internal processes & procedures within a demanding environment, project deadlines & budgets for domestic & global clients.

Siddhartha is currently associated with Ericsson India Global Ltd as Senior Manager- Support to HR SME’s and HRBP for HR processes in India & South East Asia.

Siddhartha was previously associated with Videocon Telecommunications Limited as Senior Manager –Corporate Customer Service Delivery; Bharti Airtel Limited as Manager – Customer Experience Inbound & Knowledge Management; Genpact as Manager; Reliance ADAG as Cluster Customer Care Lead- Service Delivery & Channel Management for West Delhi & Gurgaon; G.E Capital International Services as Process Developer- Customer Service and Collections for GECIS’s biggest client; and Glaxo Smith Kline as Professional Service Representative Pharmaceutical Sales.

Siddhartha’s Professional Achievements and Accreditations include -

Awarded for highest ever business value creation in HR 45 MINR

ACE award four times by MD Ericsson India

Awarded – Manager with Lowest Annual Attrition – Genpact

Certified People Manager by Great Place to Work USA Inc.

Certified Internal Trainer ISO 9001:2015 IA

Siddhartha’s Academic Qualifications encompass -

MBA (Marketing)- Barkatullah University, Bhopal

Bachelor in Science- Barkatullah University, Bhopal

Thank you, Siddhartha, for giving your valuable time to this interview.  We look forward to your candid responses.

Let’s start!!!

We would be pleased to learn about your professional journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview. 

Soon after completing my MBA, I applied for a position in one of the world’s largest financial services company which came on country’s leading daily. As a fresher I had high hopes and like an archetypal management student, I had been preparing for interviews reading paper, paid subscriptions from management magazines as I knew companies would assess me on my subject knowledge and know-how of the corporate world. I read a lot about this company too.

The assessment process involved 3 rounds of assessment – beginning with group discussion, and series of interview by 1st line recruitment team in presence of corporate trainer. The group discussion was short & aspirants were paired and were asked to speak in defence & against an impromptu topic. I was asked to speak in favour of a high taxation system to boost economy, I completed in 2 minutes using facts (numbers) & was called in for next round. Amongst the few questions that were asked were –

  1. Why should we hire you? – Through this question employers want to know what key skill sets can be of importance to organization & the best way to answer is to not be verbose & speak with facts (personal or professional experiences)
    With my knowledge of this industry I knew employee motivation & high attrition were its challenges
    My answer- I answered that though my job will not be around people engagement I am a born people’s man. I love coaching and can connect well with people to unlock their potential which would be good here considering attrition is X% in this industry. I believe they liked my answer because they smiled at my confidence.
  2. What do people most often criticize about you? –  Through this question employers assess your self-awareness & ability to accept criticism & best way to answer such question to talk about a weakness that is your strength.
    My Answer – I am usually told that I’m too hard on myself – I invest large amount of reviewing and questioning myself could have I done this better. Though I ensure things are delivered on time but mere thought of being the best in class is so irresistible.

It is always good to have your questions for employers & it helps create impression about you & I asked them a question that was answered to my satisfaction.

This was the 2nd interview of my life & I felt confident that I had prepared well, and my answers & candidature would be appealing for the HR team.

Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail? 

Interviewing and giving an interview are an art, for the interviewer it is first about making the interviewee comfortable and then using simple probing skills assess behavioural and domain competence.

My most intriguing interview was with my current employer. This was my first assessment for an HR job role and that’s why it meant that I had to be really smart in corelating my existing behavioural and domain related skill sets with the job description. There were multiple rounds of interviews including company’s APAC Talent Acquisition Head, Head of Regional Shared Services, Head of HR Operations & APAC HR Head.

Here’s my advice to freshers and young professionals that not only going though JD is critical but one should always read in detail about the company, its mission, vision, people practices, its financials, the ecosystem in which it operates, its challenges, competitors, etc. (superficial reading isn’t enough). This helps create a professional image about yourself and helps you crack the assessment. Not only because I have a strong Operations experience, I was able to answer the questions asked by the interview panel.

  1. It was a typical HR Shared Services interview. I prepared myself well by not just understanding the organization (plus its existing setup & challenges of the process- it makes sense to speak to colleagues/references in organization). Since I did not have past HR experience, I prepared myself well by studying topics like current trends & challenges in HR SME areas, HR shared services, HR Shared Services/GBS model, relevant knowledge articles and thankfully it helped me frame and articulate my answers.
  2. I was asked to explain how I would setup a basic HR Shared Services Setup for a 1000 employee head count and then scale it up to 10X the initial HC- I used the board and marker making flow chart and explained relevant project phases, requirements, etc. I believe the panel liked this interview which showcases professionalism and ability to demonstrate which was evident from the smile on their face.
  3. Further assessments by HR Operations and HR Head probed me on my people management and collaboration skills and knowing about this role I gave interesting insights from my experience of managing and working with large, diverse and cross functional teams and off course my exposure to cross cultural competence

When I received a call from the recruiter, he shared the good news with me and also shared that it was the 2nd time only that they hired a person with non-HR experience.

As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience? What were your expectations from your first job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

Joining a reputed multinational firm which is best in class in making business transformations was a good start for my career. The company invests a lot in skill development and my first year was largely spent in various world class process and behavioural trainings. I spent time understanding the organization and I believe the best investment that I did (I recommend you all too) is doing networking and studying various upstream and downstream process to understand e2e process which helped me immensely.

Of course, I had preconceived myths about working in corporates. One of them was one should not cross the boundary in office; however, the company was known to encourage boundaryless behaviour. I was surprised to see this myth getting broken – whether it was addressing people including veterans by their 1st name, elimination of hierarchy and grounded and humble conduct of management. My reporting manager was my colleague and was just promoted as a people manager hence, I had a good rapport with her, however soon she was given another responsibility which gave me an opportunity. I was the youngest in my team however, I took this opportunity positively by getting into governance meetings with senior leadership & client, coaching colleagues, measuring and sharing daily/weekly achievements of the team & I was able to do this solely by adopting walk the talk approach and understanding psyche of people which helped me create one of the mantra’s and which I always tell people – You can’t be a people manager just by job title or experience, it is an art – love, coach and mentor people and they will do it for you. During my 1st year, I got the opportunity to be addressed in person by Jack Welch, Chairman & CEO of General Electric and probably world’s most successful CEO who phenomenally increased profitability & growth and eliminated bureaucracy. In 20 years, he increased market capitalization by 900% from 14 Bn in 1981 (when he took over as CEO) to 140 Bn in 2001 (when retired). I recommend budding professionals to read his book “Straight from the gut” where he surveys the landscape of his career running General Electric, one of the world's largest and most successful corporations. Here he reveals his philosophy and management style.

I really like and still follow the company’s values - Integrity, respect, customer first.

Do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience? 

I firmly believe a good coach and coaching program helps settle freshers as they start their careers. Take an example of a seedling – if sowed properly, growth is checked regularly, provide timely nutrients likewise an effective mentor helps the mentee by familiarizing mentee with organization, process , records performance, corrects and appreciates helping him/her grow and the initial (and biggest) proof is the shortening of mentees learning curve. This relationship is not only for freshers – as long as you work and grow you will always coach or be coached by some, even CXO’s learn.

I was fortunate enough to start my career with an organization which values its people and puts strong on employee competence development plan. It starts with engaging and productive induction program where one learns organizations, mission, vision and values followed by robust and best in class process and behavioural trainings. Though I got good support by my erstwhile manager however since she had to take up new assignment, I was forced to learn on my own wherein I spent extensive time understanding upstream and downstream processes, interacting with my counterparts outside India. Ever since I have always rewarded resources who are able to shorten their learning curve and become productive quickly.

From Sales to Customer Service to HR Global Shared Services, you have a very exciting career graph, please share with us list of competencies and skills which helped you in several transitions through your professional journey.

These are all very different industries, and each require certain unique competencies and skill sets however there are some competencies and skill set which are common across these industries.

While Customer Service Operations requires operations/process management, customer handling, retention, client relationship, Reporting & Analytics, Recruiting & managing large teams Sales includes competencies like Sales & Marketing, Product management, strong distribution management, P&L responsibility. HR (& HR Global Shared Services) requires strong knowledge of HR SME areas, HR delivery, payroll, Project management, HR Strategy & Industry benchmarking, Performance management, Budgeting & Cost Control, Automation.

My transition to HR was facilitated by existing competencies like strong client management, process management and lead large teams including cross functional teams, however I had to understand all HR SME areas which I managed by working with all HR SME’s. I spent some time in understanding Payroll and SOX compliance. By having a focussed approach on my competence development plan, I was able to contribute to HR SME areas like policy creation and updating, industry benchmarking and supporting HR SME’s in important projects related to mergers & acquisition, background verification etc.

What do you consider as your most challenging assignment? Why do you think so?

In life, challenges are temporary when you have a focused approach, observe your mistakes and learn from them without getting impacted from initial failures. I believe my most challenging assignment was initial few months when I was heading Customer Service, Complaints & Self Service for Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand for India’s (then) largest mobile network operator and world’s #3. The challenge was bringing down the customer service OpEx wherein the circles of which was part of alone contributed to 25% pan India Customer Service OpEx. This was driven by mammoth contact center calls for queries & complaints. On my joining I got to know that within 2 years, 3 of my predecessors left the organization. Honestly speaking, I had no clue what was happening in the first few weeks and then all my strategies kept failing however consistency in efforts did not fail me and through effective RCA, working cohesively with Sales & Marketing, Network & Emerging markets team within a year we brought down the service OpEx cost by 35%. During this course I developed a best in class online query handling module for which was replicated nationally and was also one of the top performers of Pan India project on Service OpEx reduction.

I would also quote an example from my existing role where I was responsible for closure of old background verification cases pending for 10 years. Background verification (BGV) is a critical HR process and has an impact on organization/employer branding, compliance and client satisfaction by mitigating any future risks by checking past records of employees. Putting some facts - according to a report published by AuthBridge, one of the background verification companies in India, the discrepancies in BGV increased to a whopping 15.21 percent in FY2017-18 which was quite a jump from 10.29 percent in FY 2014-15. With a database of four thousand employees who had been with organization for 5-8 years, the biggest challenge was in contacting these employees after so many years of service. I had no experience of BGV and struggled for first 3 months wherein I adopted couple of strategies some failed some worked however, I got to know that BGV is a very slow-moving activity. I had no dedicated resource hence used 4 of my existing resources who had no experience in this either. The team focussed on collecting 100% information and data collection from each employee, paid focus on low hanging fruits and then within 6 months was able to resolve 99.24% cases which couldn’t be completed in 10 years earlier.

Organizational Culture is a key differentiator between successful and not so successful organizations? What determines the organizational culture? What is the role of HR in creating organizational culture?

The culture of a workplace decides the way employees behave amongst themselves at workplace as well as with those outside their organization. A healthy culture encourages the employees to stay motivated and loyal towards the management.

Culture and Values is top down approach. There are organizations that are cash rich and may conceptualize great culture but have failed to inculcate it amongst their staff and this had a catastrophic level on the organization. According to me an organizations culture is greatly determined by its goals and objectives, management & its style of handling staff (a management philosophy of boundaryless behaviour and empowerment or speak culture will always help), recruitment & selection strategy (including strong background verification) , company values , HR policies.

I strongly urge Management & HR Leaders to look at the indicators of healthy culture using their employee engagement survey results under indices like culture, collaboration, etc. and then create an action plan. The world now is a global village and as more and more companies go global importance of investing in culture makes more sense. An organization’s culture is developed and institutionalized through communication across subcultures which requires a sustained engagement of organization members in a continuous dialogue whose effectiveness can be measured through deployment of employee engagement surveys.

Companies must invest in building a high-performance culture, such a culture has behaviours and norms that lead an organization to achieve superior results by setting clear business goals, defining employees’ responsibilities, creating a trusting environment and encouraging employees to continuously grow and reinvent themselves. When employees are trusted and valued, they live the cultural values.

You can’t expect high performance culture to be build up by just having it as must have / good to have value in your organization, instead high performance culture needs to be demonstrated and lived by all people managers across junior, middle and senior management. During performance management and annual salary review cycles , managers need to distinguish high performers from those who just meet expectation and that involves taking tough call of effectively remunerating high performers compared to their peers and by giving them outstanding ratings or recognizing them by nominating them in leadership talent planning, awarding eSOPS etc. These all may initially be tough for a people manager but eventually when expectations are set, and people are coached effectively with facts then it is the organization which gets benefited.

Does it cost a fortune to create a great organizational culture? the answer surprisingly is "No". You should look at corporates who feature in Great Place to Work survey, you will be amazed to see how small and mid-size with net sales of 150 Crores make it to top 100.

I have also seen many large companies who fail on external assessment of their Culture Audit which evaluates quality of people practices, covering the entire employee life cycle.

Organizations featuring in Great Place to Work © surveys have one thing in common- "they have created workplaces where the vast majority of employees experience a Great Place to Work – regardless of who they are, or what they do for the organization. In other words, they experience a Great Place to Work FOR ALL" (sic).

Let me put some facts around corporate culture – despite many top companies including many in Fortune 500 list who put investment in setting and driving culture , scored 70 on an average on “culture” and many don’t even measure important indices like “ethics and compliance, change” etc in their employee engagement surveys (survey results of ICT companies globally conducted by Glint in 2020). You can now imagine what would be the situation in companies who don’t focus enough on culture.

Trust is critical and is developed throughout employee life cycle - New hires must feel welcomed and must experience fair and effective people practices throughout their life cycle and for that there needs to be: -   

  1. Effective induction and on-boarding program
  2. Positive Engagement in first few days with their mentors and department leadership
  3. Continuous competence development plan
  4. Transparent & ethical People practices
  5. Effective & time bound HR processes & tools
  6. Robust occupational health & safety program & Meaningful Corporate social responsibility Program
  7. Rewarding and fair RnR program
  8. Best in class Performance management system

Aforesaid, instils a sense of trust and pride by giving an optimistic view of fair people practices and a caring leadership which listens actively.

HR leaders are accountable for ensuring management of culture. To positively impact culture, they need to work with senior leadership by defining how their organizational culture should look like. I have always believed that HR should empower employees by helping them to participate & contribute in this activity and accordingly they should always strive to be role models, work hard in defining and explaining ethics and proactively reinforce values from time to time, provide continuous trainings and workshops and lastly recognize people living company culture and values. It should begin with a robust employee recruitment and background verification strategy.

Perspectives on Purpose by Nina Montgomery is a valuable read on improving company culture.

What kind of soft skills do fresh graduates need to get a career break and to be successful in the beginning of their career?

While the list is endless however in this this fiercely competitive work essential soft skills that fresh graduates must possess include (in order of priority)

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork
  3. Adaptability
  4. Problem solving
  5. Conflict resolution

Other than these corporates now expect freshers to come upskilled with additional behavioural skills like time management & leadership.  As a people manager I expect such skills while hiring freshers. Internship period is the best time to hone such skills.

Based on your experience, what are the FIVE essential traits every HR Professional must have?

People are the most important resources for any organization and no company can function without them; however, managing people is a challenging job simply because every individual is different hence HR professionals must possess both theoretical and practical knowledge in managing people. They should have deep knowledge about industry, understanding of organization and the dynamics that impact each industry. Technical competence around workforce management, shared service/operations, labour laws is preferred. HR professionals are custodians or organization culture and values and people look up to them.

Few important traits that HR professionals must possess include -

  1. Self-disciplined
  2. Change Agents
  3. Business Acumen, ability to comprehend data & Analytical skills
  4. Trust worthiness & time management
  5. Approachability

From profile sourcing to the issuance of the final offer letter, organizations put candidates through multiple filtration processes. What is your take on using “relevant industry experience” and “excellent academic record (first-class and above)” as filtration tools?

Being the person, I am usually following unconventional ways while hiring, including middle level roles and accordingly am not an advocate of always hiring a candidate with relevant industry experience and excellent academia. I will quote my own example. I didn’t have HR experience and joined HR at mid-level of leadership. Industry experience is preferred but not mandatory. Throughout my career, I have had a higher employee retention and highly engaged and motivated employees and behind this, success mantra is my hiring strategy. I would give weightage of 70:30 between relevant experience & academic record while hiring for middle and senior level roles. For middle and senior level roles you look for maturity in managing process, customers, people and budget which (not necessarily but mostly) comes with experience.

Rejecting a high performing and high potential candidate who fits as per your organizational culture because of no/minimum industry experience or average academic scores is a grave recruitment mistake. As per my experience large multinational companies expect you to have a decent CGPA but not extraordinary. Statistically, employers don’t always go 100% for excellent academic record. Let me quote a 2013 Forbes survey of more than 200 employers, ~60% employers said they screened candidates by their GPA, while this is a USA based survey however there’s not much of a difference across geographies.

Modify your talent acquisition strategy and encourage diversity of not just gender, but of varied experience - hire people from different industries, promote internal mobility and hire employees for roles who may not have relevant experience but have the "right" competence. Disrupt hiring and people practices to your advantage.

Have you ever been a part of job termination? How was your experience? What were the circumstances and how did you prepare for it?

Like hiring, leaving is also part of an employee life cycle that HR professionals manage. A voluntary resignation though painful but can be managed however an involuntary movement is tough to manage and needs to be managed professionally especially when it’s a company managed attrition (due to layoff triggered by company slowdown or merger & acquisition). In my 20 years career as a leader and people manager, I have had to face this situation few times driven rarely by non-performance, ethical issues and usually due to layoff. For performance-based terminations the regular coaching and feedback evidences act as evidences which greatly facilitates the discussion as resource is aware that he/she has been given regular feedback. For terminations due to layoffs a people manager generally gets to know off at least a month in advance hence it should be planned well by manager and knowing case history plan your discussions efficiently. Communication should be crisp; you should be empathetic but assertive too else people may not accept. Managed Attrition discussions should not take a shape of performance discussion, a managed attrition is arrived only post doing thorough due diligence. -Thorough due diligence should be done along with meticulous documentation with a presumption that incumbent may go legal in near future. In 99% instances- we get the resignation formalities done rather serving Termination Letters (unless it’s something to do with POSH, CSA, Major Misconduct etc).

It is important that one starts giving hint to the resource so that he/she gets time to look for job internally and externally. It is always good to involve your business HR in all communication and discussions. If your resource has a client (internal/external) facing role, it is good to update them in advance. Having said that, I would say each case is different, hence- same rule can’t be used for all cases in general.

One should ensure all company property is recovered and access revoked before last working day. A professional and smart leader always has a backup plan and accordingly would always have a backup for every or most critical resource to avoid any behavioural issue impacting backup plan. If a resource is contractual then leaders should avoid sending any written communication directly related to termination as they (leaders) are not the principal employers and contractual agency should do all communication.

Irrespective of type of termination I have always been direct & told truth, use empathy (not overdo though), shown respect. One should work with business HR to support the resource with adequate notice period and a severance package if possible and all pre and post exit responsibilities especially in ensuring that their dues are settled timely and accurately. I have referred such people to friends and acquaintances in industry for possible interviews. If the resource is good, I even make it a practice to write a recommendation for them on LinkedIn.

It is always good for a leader to read the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 to be better prepared.

Please share an experience when you acted under pressure from your management or reporting manager even though you knew it was wrong and shouldn’t have been done? 

This is a very unpleasant & problematic situation to be in and I have had one situation like this with my past organization however, I did not bow down under pressure as I was ethically and factually correct. The resource in question did not have a good equation with my predecessor and latter created a negative perception about resource in front of senior leadership and client. He was usually silent and too direct. This and constant harassment changed his behaviour and he usually kept silent or retaliated. On my 1st day my reporting manager briefed me on this giving me a hint that the resource needs to be terminated within a month and I must execute this by gathering facts and evidences. It is only while working with him I was able to unlock his mind and hesitation where he told me truth which contrasted with what was told to me by leadership.

Knowing the reality and being an ethical person it was natural for me to allow my passion and emotions to take over my senses , however in such situations a leader should delve deeper, extract facts and then take action and accordingly I probed extensively and parallelly encouraged him to do his job sincerely and passionately. Additionally, I encouraged him to be cordial to everyone and develop rapport with all cross functional teams as I knew with my experience this would help me and him in near future. I charted his competence development plan and gave him critical projects and assignment. I did not tell this to management, and it is only when we started seeing results in most challenging areas, I shared that this was his work. There was an instant client appreciation which was followed by few kudos’ emails from few cross functional teams which helped change the narrative and was able to reverse the situation for him.

The same resource is now one of the most recognized managers in that organization and is a highly successful people manager.

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about a person or certain group of people that people form outside of their conscious awareness. It usually occurs automatically and is triggered by our brain making a quick judgment. Unconscious bias thrives in our society and workplace. At workplace it may happen during hiring, feedback, performance management, promotions, salary raise and idea generation etc. Wherever there is unconscious bias there will always be a struggle to manage diversity, and efforts to improve workplace inclusion will fail and multinational companies cannot afford such a mistake.

As per my behavioural competence, the aforesaid case was a relevant example of confirmation bias and contrast effect.

For freshers it is important to know what is unconscious bias because it may impact them and here’s a good knowledge article by CipHR.

What are your thoughts about Talent Shortage? What are a few practical tips you want to give to CEO’s and Hiring Managers to manage the challenge of Talent Shortage?

Corporates across the globe are stressed to fill positions in numerous job roles especially in demand skill sets or emerging competence. HR organizations and Companies think that inability to fill vacant positions is talent shortage but it is not and in entirety it is both shortage of candidates with skill sets plus an outcome of poor planning and ignorance of existing employees who may be having desired skill sets but are performing other job roles and are not utilized and ignored or upskilling such existing competent employees. As per “future of work” – most repetitive task will get outsourced, and newer Rare technologies will be in upswing, Future is all about gig economy. We live in a VUCA World” nothing is stable, its dynamic world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complex & Ambiguous).

I would encourage CXO’s and hiring managers a two-pronged strategy

  1. Forecast your short/long term staffing requirements, invest in employer branding, change your traditional hiring techniques & switch to social media and various outreach platforms or create a viable & employee referral program. Additionally, for companies who can invest more, I recommend that they benchmark their benefits package to attract top talent e.g. many multinational companies in the area of R&D and ICT industry have RnR programs like Business Lead generation or Partnership awards. They should invest in industry benchmarking on benefits. With my experience I am confident when I say that such a strategy attracts passive talent extensively and is proven and works for companies growing organically or inorganically or both.
  2. Upskill existing employees to meet demands of emerging technologies.

Hence, I strongly recommend the build (via competence development), buy (hiring) & borrow (via M&A) concept as a trusted approach to overcome talent shortage.

In my current organization we do this by upskilling existing resources to meet demand of emerging technologies and further cross skilling to meet capacity competence demand. Additionally, we identify high performers and key contributors and train them on high demand skill sets via external trainings and get them certified.

As an organization we just do not believe in traditional learning and are trying to utilize other virtual modes of learning to leverage on external integrations available. This is a personal accomplishment for me, and my team and I am pleased to share that through such activities we were able to save 118 Million INR or 1.54 Million USD.

According to a study by Korn/Ferry group there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030 and India alone churns out 5 Million graduates per year (government report 2011-2012).

There are 2 very good scholarly articles on Talent Shortage by Manpower group and Korn/Ferry group that I would encourage you to read.

When we talk to fresh graduates and junior level employees as well as non-HRs, they understand Employee Engagement as – Birthday Celebrations, Picnics, Diwali Rangoli, Christmas Celebrations, Cultural Day Celebrations, etc. Please help us understand what employee engagement is and why it is necessary?  

We have got to correct ourselves by using misnomers like birthday celebrations, picnics, celebrating traditional and cultural festivals as these are traditional activities and are must have. Employee engagement is not employee happiness, your employees must be happy at workplace but that doesn’t mean they are engaged and working hard. Likewise, employee engagement isn’t employee satisfaction as a satisfied employee may show up every day and work for 9 hours, but the same employee may not go extra mile and may leave job for little or no increment – they wouldn’t show symptoms which is dangerous.

Employee engagement is said to be existing in an organization when an employee has an emotional commitment to the organization and its goals i.e., they don’t just work for the salary or promotion or RnR but on behalf of the company’s goals and objectives.

Evidences of employee engagement can be seen when employees put the customer first, goes beyond call of duty without being asked to do so, led by example, etc.

Human resources function can have huge ROI from effective and “relevant” employee engagement practices. An engaged workforce would always deliver higher service, CSAT, sales (especially repeat sales/business) which triggers higher profits and increased returns for shareholders.

Let me share some statistics which endorse this –

  1. As per a recent Gallup survey, teams who score high in top 20% in their various engagement indices of survey have shown ~60% less attrition & 41% reduction in absenteeism. Highly engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales.
  2. For Corporate India, according to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report 2017 only 13% of Indians, (in both organized & unorganized), are engaged at work.
  3. As per a Salesforce report titled “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business”, employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly 5 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work, and employees who say their company provides equal opportunities are nearly 4 times more likely to say they are proud to work for their company.

I am a Great Place to Work certified people manager and I strongly recommend corporates (including mid-size) to partner with organizations like Great Place to Work who have a great employee engagement model & whose Certification is the most definitive ‘Employer-of-Choice’ recognition that organizations aspire to achieve. An engaged workforce in India which is an emerging economy & has been on an upswing for few years can catapult its success to a large extent provided corporate India realizes the importance and investment in effective and relevant employee engagement programme.

Engagement areas amongst employees like employee engagement, Culture, feedback, Career and customer focus are a given however companies must invest in high impact areas like Work life balance, manager effectiveness, values, agility, accountability, ethics & compliance, simplification and innovation.

Once they keep doing this, companies irrespective of their head count, industry in which they operate must invest in rolling out employee engagement activities and surveys. In an employee engagement survey the key driver should not necessarily be a measurement of a particular set of factors, but same factors must be measured repeatedly over time, and interpreted in concurrence with the current and future required culture in the organization. You may get a high engagement score once goal setting has been done, but would it be the same after saying annual salary review or at the end of year hence survey frequency should be at least bi-annual.

Here’s my assessment of how employee engagement in great organizations differs from mediocre organization

I am also enlisting below statistics coming from reputed survey / research organizations on organization culture

  1. Between 2015 and 2018, India reflected a five per cent increase (the maximum in the world) in the number of employees who were fully engaged (ADP)
  2. 61% employees in India were ready to put in extra hours of work without additional remuneration, engagement levels were the highest in the healthcare sector, (Dale Carnegie).
  3. 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs (Gallup 2018)
  4. Only 7% of the world’s 3.3 billion adults who are working or looking for work have a great job (Gallup 2018)
  5. 66% HR employees believe that employee engagement has increased over the past year, yet only 34% of non-HR employees feel more engaged over the same time period. (G2 Crowd)

HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners? 

This is a common myth that AI & robotics will greatly reduce employees including many HR delivery or shared services jobs. It is important to know that deployment of AI and robotics is not to automate jobs, but to automate tasks and supplement human functions to increases performance & productivity. Most organizations and employees are likely to experience positive effects from AI/automation.

HR cannot remain untouched and has realized the importance of optimizing the combination the human mind & machine for a continuous workflow & intuitive work environment. We are already seeing deployment of AI & automation in HR in the areas of recruiting, employee services however the advantages of automation & AI for HR are not realized instantly.

one can see the short-term benefits of this journey in automation, the medium-term benefits in augmentation and finally the long-term benefits in the amplification of human activities or tasks. (AI & Automation in HR: Impact, Adoption, & Future Workforce AIHR)

At the end I would caution HR leaders to first examine the areas where AI and automation can be used before implementing AI & automation to optimize their costs and save time.

In my individual capacity I have leveraged generic automation if not AI by automation of various shared services tasks like payroll adjustments & its communication, RnR budgeting, forecasting, customized RnR congratulatory emails.

  1. TA- Of all the HR functions Talent acquisition has seen many large scale & effective deployments of AI and robotics, right from screening candidate profiles, maintenance of candidate database, scheduling interviews etc. AI enabled processes can help pick out candidate profiles with most relevant skills and experience. We can eliminate unconscious bias in candidate profile selection process. Once recruited, a human interface can be replaced with machine during onboarding process which can cover new employee orientation, job profile, company policies etc via machine learning mode.
  2. L&D - With constant and fast change of skills required for various job roles triggered by new software’s, technologies and innovations it makes more sense to quickly learn and adapt to new technologies to have a competitive edge. Here AI can assist L&D function by assessing skills and recommend existing relevant learning programs or may be create one for them by analysing their activities. AI can better analyse a competence gap compared to humans and once competence gap is met AI can support implementing the technology that employee has learnt.
  3. HR Shared Services & HR Administration-  Automation of HRMS records, C&B processing, As per me, one crucial area and a big ticket item is in the area of administrative HR activities like Real Estate Facilities Management wherein AI can analyse real estate utilization (desk utilization) trends to help forecast , allocate and improve office space.

Social media has the potential to change HR’s perception. Innovative social media hiring techniques can be used to generate applications from passive talent.

For L&D professionals social media plays a prominent role by faster cascading of knowledge, to be in sync with emerging technologies and market trends.

Employees look for solutions that can be customized as per their needs and preferences. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, etc. know what you want  and they do so basis feeds and recommendations and in L&D , Degreed - a quest for easy learning ecosystem and such tools know a learners heart and present a customized content which goes basis the skill sets a learner has chosen for themselves. Amalgamation of external integrated Social Media platforms like Skillsoft, TEDx, Coursera, Pluralsight, YouTube along with an organizations Learning Management System (LMS) increases the content library and accordingly witnessing an increased usage in L&D.

Most of working professionals don’t realize that they are already witnessing AI and automation in HR even when interact with chatbots for their FAQ’s, while finding jobs in internal job postings portal,  using skype translator to bridge the language barrier in our global meetings, getting coaching and feedback online or while using virtual assistants.

According to McKinsey, automation could accelerate the productivity of the global economy by between 0.8 and 1.4 percent of the global GDP annually

What AI cannot replace is Creativity, Imagination & Strategy hence while deploying AI in HR, they strategy should be to use AI to analyse collected data and leave the decision-making to the HR personnel.

Some statistics for you

  1. Nearly 40% of companies are using some form of AI in HR alone (Deloitte).
  2. 38% of enterprises are already using AI in their workplace with 62% expecting to start using it as early as this year (Deloitte).

Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to? And, what are the key competencies one must possess to be successful in this profession?

  1. My first advise to you – People and People management is not a rocket science, don’t be driven by conventional wisdom, hence use unconventional ways.
  2. Job aspirants including freshers must actively browse professional HR & employment-oriented websites like HR tales, LinkedIn,,, Glassdoor,, etc. to gather insights about the industry, interviewers, trends in HR and other functional areas.
  3. Don’t ever forget the human element, as you begin your career you may get busy amidst policies, procedures and strategies but don’t forget it is the employees whom you are supporting. HR function is supposed to improve employer branding and when HR professionals establish connect with employees, they spread the positive words.
  4. Connect with employees often, even for 5 minutes over a coffee to understand the pulse of the employees.
  5. Maintain trust of the employees – a confidential information shared beyond relevant circle, a loose talk can bring trust deficit and distort HR perception.
  6. Deepen Your Knowledge of Your Business – Whether you are in business HR role or not you must know the business. It helps you understand their challenges and preparing solutions for their problems and help develop excellent rapport.

My profound wishes to aspiring HR practitioners, I wish you remain prolific and do wonders in your professional and personal lives.

Thank you, Siddhartha, for sharing your insights. 

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