The FUTURE of work is about - "TRANSFORMING business by responding FASTER and more ACCURATELY to the UNPREDICTABILITY".

Shikha Sharma is a management graduate and has 12 + years of experience in Business HR Role. With a penchant for thinking out of box solutions and bridging gaps, she loves working on variety of projects. She keeps challenging herself by constantly reinventing and improving the way things are done.

She is a certified PAPI & Thomas International consultant/ practitioner and enjoys facilitating workshops. When she is not thinking of work, she is racing mini cars with her son.

Shikha is currently associated with Amdocs Limited, Pune (India) as HR Regional People Partner, she is also a member of ICC. So far, she has worked with Infosys Pune (India) and a CK Birla group manufacturing company.

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

Let’s start!!!

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 of your employer and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectations? 

Thank you for this question. My first job was with a manufacturing set up. I was expected to support the HR function for their Pune unit. I was one of the few women employees around at the unit. Come to think of it, it could have been quite intimidating. As an Industry, specifically Manufacturing plants, are  evolving to become more women-centric and while it has progressed impressively in the last decade, the ecosystem in and around the work will also need a change to make the real impact.

Meeting deadlines in the initial days was overwhelming, as it would be with most. But overall, things were easier as we were a bunch of MBA grads joining in multiple streams and our daily chats in the cafeteria, corridors and bus drives to home and work helped in the settling in period. The Job was everything one can expect ... it had the leash of organizational constraints and the allowances of going the extra mile in bringing better ideas in doing the nuts and bolts.

The earliest lessons I got from my seniors was to keep your head strong, be adaptable, and being perseverant in your motives. There is no one way of doing things or a specific personality trait which fits in all situation. What may help is having a presence of mind, realising priorities, eye for detail, and a positive mindset.

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

Joining any new place can be unnerving, and if you get a mentor or a coach it helps you to settle faster. A mentor doesn’t have to be officially assigned, a seasoned employee who handholds you through the process and helps you in the journey, can play that role. So, if you don’t get a mentor assigned, that just means you get the liberty of finding one for yourself. For me, my manager was more of a mentor than a coach. Not only did my manager helped me in difficult situations, but he also shared personal experiences which were reflective and were great lessons of how things can be done differently.

The appetite to succeed will eventually lead you to ask questions and filter out positive and supportive resources, in the midst of the chaos where you are overwhelmed by a lot of information and expectations.

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What has been your learnings during this phase? What permanent changes do you foresee at the workplace post-COVID-19?

As the saying goes, ‘Smooth sails do not make skilful sailors’, these turbulent times have taught us the power of being vulnerable together and having a strong emotional connection. COVID-19 has changed the landscapes in which we operate and has brought a paradigm shift in the way we operate.

My quick takeaways for this new normal would be to be more empathetic and sensitive to fellow colleagues, teams, perpetual readiness for crisis management, organisations building flexible working options, investment in technology to do business over IoT. All programs, policies will have to be evaluated for virtual execution. From the employees’ point of view, higher accountability will be the highlight.

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?

We have heard it many times that culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker). When employees find meaning to their work beyond transactions and it resonates with their values and impacts their personal lives, it brews conversations that define the culture of an organization. Organisations which can build an ecosystem of trust, transparency, and team before self, will have a higher propensity to succeed.

The sheer nature of business is fluid hence it is necessary for the culture to be malleable in order to be relevant and successful.

HR has a special role in ensuring that an organization's culture will continue to thrive.

HR co-creates the winning DNA of an organization by staying true to the culture blueprint along with continuously reinventing and staying relevant to the changing environment. 

Based on your experience, what are the primary expectations of a CEO from the HR Function, in general and HR Head, in particular?

Co-creating competitive strategies for the business to be more agile to stay relevant, resilient to internal or external volatilities, and grow with sustainability has become the primary expectation for an HR leader or the HR function. The CEO needs an advisor who can predict on Talent Landscape and offer solutions with the changing times. The credibility of the functions stands at a dynamic intersection of managing employee performance, customer expectation, and business results. HR function and the Leader is also expected to enable the pace of business change with Leadership and Workforce transformation, use of Technology to create break-out performance in Business. 

What is your take on “Career Gaps”? We come across many people who are forced to hide certain aspects of their employment history because organizations do not shortlist their profiles because of career gaps. How do you address such cases?

While the maths of Demand and Supply decides most of the Hiring decisions, I think times have changed now. The war for talent has changed priorities for organisations and Career Gaps cannot and should not be looked at as a rejection reason. Each selection should be based on merit and facts. Sometimes career gaps become a necessity to reinvent ourselves. If career Gaps are taken to add value and meaning to our lives both personal and professional, it should only help in us in the longer run…

A lot of organizations have policies that support sabbatical or breaks for select employees based on a certain criterion to enable talent development or Retention.

Whether willingly or otherwise, all organisations will realise that Career Gaps can no longer be a top criterion in Hiring decisions and adapt to the new Talent Market Behaviour which is paving way for dual engagement, virtual working, shorter and project-based Jobs. More fluid organisations are reinventing themselves and making Career Gaps as a new source of attracting talent who find it difficult to breakthrough in more stereotype environments. 

What values are most important to you as a leader?

Successful leaders have Winning Personalities that lead by example. Organisation led by true leaders are often the ones that stay competitive in the long run, this is because they have strong values and beliefs and can translate them to the larger teams and make everyone see it in their operations. Leadership values, that executives bring to the table every day, set an important precedent. In today’s time, the Client Centricity, Authenticity, Collaboration, and drive for Excellence will become core values for most organisations. This is because the first 2 takes care of how we treat our clients and the next 2 is the grind of being a client's first choice.  Being a life-long learner is very important, you stop growing when you stop learning and hence any leader should embed learning as a core value in everything we do. Living the core Values every moment will keep us humble in good times and give us the courage to strive for a better tomorrow in testing times.

How Social Media has changed workplace dynamics?

Social media has become an integral part of the whole ecosystem. It influences the brand positioning, thus attracting the talent for hiring (active as well as passive). In the current candidate-driven world, decisions are taken and supported by the social media presence, content, and the overall vibe that it creates. It is a great tool for reaching out to a larger pool of audience and creating a stronger brand image.

It is also a quick tool for the organization to understand the pulse of the employees, what clicks, and what does not. Social media also plays a particularly important role in creating your own individual brand.

The organizations can leverage these social media platforms for sharing information with the employees as well as use it to celebrate moments. However, it does come with its own set of risks, if the same is not used consciously it can create misinformation, defamation, and a risk to confidential information. Hence a balance is important.

If you need to draw a landscape of the future workplace, how will it look like? What disruptions do you foresee in HR over the next FIVE years?

We may not be able to accurately predict the exact nature of operating model but one the thing that COVID-19 has demonstrated very clearly is that investment in digital technology will become the key strategy for organisations.

Technology is not only critical to operating during these times, but it requires significant focus and attention post-COVID-19 if organisations are to remain competitive and resilient.

Future of work is about transforming every aspect of the business to stay relevant by responding faster and more accurately to the unpredictability.

The future of work is now, and the transition will be led by AI. Invest massively in automation and create newer ways of doing end-user communication and delivery. Also, the key to survival in the post-COVID era would be how organisation build risk resilience into their structure, communication, services.

Disruption will come in the way we prioritize our responsibilities and respond. HR organizations will need to also invest quickly in AI-enabled services and build quicker response systems in the new WFH model. Restructuring of the HR organisation will need to move away from centralised decision-making to give local teams more autonomy. The focus will move to employee health and safety and how quickly we are able to create a real-time data collection system and identify and foresee potential risk. Invest in learning and enable front line managers to do a better job of Managing Virtual teams and delivery. HR policies which will need attention would be Health & safety,

At a functional level and as a professional, HR needs to realise that the way to stay relevant is to be agile and highly communicative.

Lastly, what is your message for fresh HR Graduates? How should they prepare themselves for a career in HR?

HR is as good a career and a function as you make of it. A few of the competencies which could help an HR professional is to practice adaptability, be a change agent, and facilitate the movement to the future. Have one hand on employees’ pulse and on the other hand, keep the end customer need in mind. Having a high level of emotional connection is of utmost importance. Take end to end ownership of even the smallest task and understand the role that you play in a bigger scheme of things. Keep learning, unlearning, get data-savvy, understand the story that the numbers are sharing.

Good luck!

Thank you, Shikha, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it.  

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