HR needs to understand the business language to consult business leaders effectively

“Live and Let others live!!!”, is the motto, Sureeti has been following all through her life. According to her, “Freedom and empowerment in everything one does is the key ingredient to have a successful life :).  

Sureeti is currently working with Amdocs India, Pune, as an HR Business Lead, wherein she is managing HR for India, Israel, and Cyprus regions. Overall, she has over 15 years of experience in various facets of HR, such as HR Partnering, Compensation & Benefits, HR lifecycle management, and HR Analytics in the IT and ITES industries.  

Prior to Amdocs, Sureeti worked with - Mphasis/HP/iseva.  

She is Commerce Graduate from Hansraj College, Delhi and completed her MBA in HR from ICFAI Bangalore.  

She is an avid fiction reader (mostly fond of Indian authors) and like to spend her leisure time with her daughter. She likes to travel and explore the world.  

Thank you, Sureeti, 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. 

My first job was quite enriching and a great learning experience that as a fresher I could have asked for, I was in my final year of MBA and the campus recruitments were on, fortunately/unfortunately I was amongst the last few in the batch of HR who were not yet placed. And as luck would have been, I received two offers in the same day. I opted for iseva (part of Citi Group), predominantly as the role was more lucrative and exposed me to all the HR domains.

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? 

My first job was a great learning experience, I was exposed to all HR functions except recruiting. My manager was a tough one, but her toughness made me stretch and enhanced my capabilities. When I joined, I had no expectations. I just wanted to learn everything that came my way. I learnt onboarding processes/HR consulting/payroll processing/event management/ attrition management/bonus processing etc. My first job helped me carve out my future in HR and am very thankful to Saumya Ramesh (who was my manager) and Mohini (my mentor), without her I would not have sustained the tough hard-working years at iseva.

Why did you choose HR as a profession? What was the motive and what was the motivation?

Frankly speaking I wanted to pursue engineering and become like one of the geeks we have, but as luck would have been, I couldn’t make it to the reputed schools of the country, and then I changed my career path. I started pursuing B.Com (H) and at this stage realized that I have a knack to understand people, lend an empathetic approach and  listen very patiently, this made me realize that I am a peoples person and therefore should try to understand human psychology better and that’s how am here as an HR professional, and am very proud of the decision I took some 18-19 years back.

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

A definite YES!!! As I mentioned Mohini was my mentor/coach/go-to person in my first job. She taught me from the basics /did handholding in my initial days and was a guiding force /coach throughout my journey at iseva. She was a coach, a friend who played a very critical role in my success/my career graph. I believe that with the help of a mentor you can scale much greater heights in your work especially when you are a fresher. Having a buddy/a mentor at work is a win-win for both the individual and the organization.

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?  

COVID has changed the way we are looking at the world, ways of managing workforce/work. It has transformed our lives drastically; the current scenario looks like the oscillating pendulum which is making us create our plans in such a way that the pendulum does not push us away.  We are all aware of the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world we live in, however, COVID just blew us by surprise that none of us had anticipated and we were not ready to face such an impact. Few key differentiators which I learned during this phase and I do believe we will see that these factors will play a major role in the future:

  • Wellness of employees is going to be the topmost priority of every organization
  • Better business continuity planning
  • Getting prepared to the remote way of working including its acceptance in India
  • Introducing remote onboarding/learning platforms
  • Virtual Hire to Retire processes

The above factors will form the backbone of the upcoming changes that we will see going forward.

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?

According to me, organization culture plays an important role in the success of an organization. Culture is the set of values/beliefs that an organization wants to focus on and the way an organization sees its people being transformed into. It’s a continuous journey with a joint effort from HR, management, and the people of the organization. HR, of course, works as a catalyst in driving the org culture where people can grow, develop, and reach their highest potential. Therefore, to enable HR to do this, I think organizations need to upskill their HR teams in order to increase their impact and leverage on the business acumen. Some of the key parameters to be considered while establishing a culture are:

  • Open and transparent communication
  • Constructive feedbacks
  • Data-driven approach
  • Bottoms up approach in taking the opinion of people in establishing some practices
  • Continuous focus on people practices

If an organization focuses on the above, it becomes easier for adaptation of a culture that the organization wants to sustain in the long run.

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

CEOs are mostly business-driven and eventually see the revenue that each function brings to the table, which is very valid and an imperative part of any organization’s growth and sustainability. HR is a people function, it’s important that the HR Head/HR leader bring in the strategically valued decisions regarding people in alignment with the data-driven approach to the CEO. I am a firm believer of HR analytics which helps to really bring in the right value proposition and eases out in taking the right decisions. This is also what the CEOs expect that the HR leader is connected with the business acumen which will enhance and  

  • Will help the HR leader to map the talent base to the company’s strategy and vision
  • Hire /attract and retain the best talent pool which is culturally aligned to the company’s way of working
  • Continuous focus on developing talent
  • Upskilling and devising innovative learning platforms.

Last but not least, CEOs want the HR leader to be the partner, be the enabling function which will help in driving the right mindset and the culture for the organization.

What are your thoughts about layoffs? What is the role of HR in layoffs? According to you, what is the appropriate way of managing layoffs?

One of the most difficult phases for an organization is to undergo the layoff process. HR plays a very crucial role in managing the entire process. HR being a people-centric function needs to ensure that the sensitivity and confidentiality of the process are maintained in the best possible manner. Few key points to keep in our radar while initiating such an exercise:

  • Open communication
  • Transparency
  • Empathy
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Handle personal situation cases very sensitively

I think it’s also important to note that though the process is common for all the employees getting impacted, but as HR professionals we should not forget that “one size does not fit all”. Therefore, each situation needs to be handled very differently, though the broader outlook remains the same.

What do you think about Talent Shortage? What are a few practical tips you want to give to CEOs and Hiring Managers to manage the challenge of Talent Shortage?

I don’t think we are in Talent shortage…rather there is “War for Talent”. The market is flooded with talent and the tables have changed. Organizations of course are recruiting the talent and want to have the best, the candidates/potential employees are also evaluating the organizations. Not all the talent pool that you as an organization want to hire is ready to join you. There are ample opportunities available and it is important that to succeed in this war for talent we are capable enough to create the right strategies for developing and retaining the talent pool. Few focus areas are:

  • You can never have a 100% fitmentskill gap exists, and we should accept it. Look for a talent who can be groomed and upskilled
  • Empower and cross exposure - If you look at the future, the millennials are going to dominate our talent base, and the kind of traits we see in them is that they need an open ground to play and perform. So, give the flexibility to your talent to get exposed on cross applications/cross technologies and this will empower them to go beyond the extra mile
  • Focus on Internal Talent – Organizations should not lose focus on grooming their inhouse talent. Develop them continuously, give them opportunities to upskill and become future-ready
  • Be a coach and not a manager – today’s generation needs a coach/a guide who can share the vision, guide with the direction, and give freedom flexibility to the individual to achieve the goals.

How Social Media has changed the workplace dynamics?

We are living in an era where millennials are ruling, the new generation is so tech-savvy that to function smoothly in this environment being socially active is a prerequisite. Whether it’s about hiring the talent, being a talent magnet, branding your organization, communicating with inhouse talent, driving any employee engagement initiatives, etc; for anything and everything you need to create your social existence. LinkedIn/Instagram/Twitter/etc all these platforms are so frequently being used by today’s generation. WhatsApp and other social media are more popular platforms then the regular email these days. I am not encouraging this because that takes it to a different topic, but yes social media has changed the way workplace functions.

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?

With the changing times, the HR function has also evolved over the years in various facets – be it managing people or with respect to teams.

The future of HR will definitely see a focus on the below:

  • Business acumen will hold more value, and this will be the expectation that HR needs to understand the business language to consult business leaders effectively
  • HR Analytics – this is one of the game changers – bringing in data analytics and taking decisions on this will definitely be a norm
  • Upskilling of HR folks – AI is the norm these days, many jobs are getting redundant due to AI and HR also cannot be ruled out. Some HR functions can be easily replaced with HR bots and other AI tools, and therefore it is necessary that the HR fraternity get upskilled and create a niche for themselves.
  • Reverse Mentoring – Usually the practice follows that you have a senior folk mentoring/coaching a junior person, but with the current generation of millennials I think having “Reverse mentoring” in place will be an important tool going forward were the juniors will coach the seniors and bring in a new perspective.
  • Diversity & Inclusion – I didn’t mention about it enough in any other question, but I think the future trend and focus needs to be more on Diversity and inclusion (of all types)

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

HR is the enabling function and not a supporting function. We work as partners with other functions, with business. To become a successful HR person you need to be passionate in whatever you do, have a sound knowledge of how the business of your organization functions, use data analytics /data-driven approach in your thoughts/ ideas to bring the right focus and your individual value to the management. Lastly but not the least stay grounded, be empathetic, transparent, and give your best to the passion you have for this field.

Thank you very much, Sureeti, for sharing your journey and insight. We appreciate it. 

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