A trusted employee is a productive employee

Nariman is an HR professional with over 15 years of experience in various areas of HR including talent acquisition, business partnering, operations, and talent development. In her current role, she looks after Talent & Development for the Asia region. She has worked across various industries ranging from Telecom, FMCGs, and the development sector and has a wealth of experience. She is known as an inclusive leader who focuses on the development of her team and providing invaluable insight to business leaders. Throughout her career, she has developed her skills as a trainer and speaker and continues to create opportunities to facilitate sessions when she can.

Thank you, Nariman, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Kindly be as candid as you can.
Let’s Start!!!
How does the pandemic year affect you? What changes, professional and personal, does it bring into your life?

I think this past year has been a challenge for everyone. Not being able to interact with people was extremely difficult for me. As a working parent, having to adjust to virtual schooling was probably the most stressful, it often felt like we were working our regular job, then working as teachers, and then of course all the household responsibilities. I know for me I probably have not spent this much time with my family in years, so that was refreshing. With time I think most of us were able to find a routine that worked but we were also dealing with burnout, stress, and anxiety.

On the professional front, I think it’s been surprisingly rewarding. Granted workloads increased significantly but then so did the learning. Adapting to the challenges posed by Covid and helping the business rebuild and recover was overly exciting. The fact that a large part of the team I work with is UK-based meant about half the team was on furlough. As a result, I think we got to work on projects we might not have otherwise, and the exposure was unmatched.

The work-from-home situation I feel in a way brought global teams closer together as the “head office” environment kind of disappeared, everyone was equally accessible and that was something I really enjoyed. The pace of work increased significantly because of the constant changes in the external environment.

Overall, despite its challenges, I did find a lot of positives in the past year, the opportunity to connect with global colleagues in ways I did not before, finding an interesting work-life balance, and probably spending more time with my family than I have done in the past.

COVID-19 exposed the unpreparedness of many in leadership teams. As a Talent Development Leader, how will you prepare future leaders to manage crises of this magnitude? What NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES will become necessary for the success of a leader?

I don’t think I would use incompetency to describe the leadership teams. I think the nature and impact of this pandemic were unprecedented so I can understand teams not being prepared for it. Having said that from a talent perspective I think it did raise a lot of questions in terms of what we define as talent and the competencies we focused on. There was a need to revisit this and look at what skills we need to focus on for recovery and it was interesting because they weren’t necessarily the same as we had focused on the years that passed.

Most organizations focus on crisis management and have business continuity practices/policies in place, but this pandemic has taught us we need to broaden the scope of those policies; we really weren’t as prepared as we like to believe we were.

The importance of leaders being able to deliver candid communication has gone up significantly, it is no longer enough to send out an all-staff email once a month. There is a genuine need for leaders to have open and honest communications with their teams. I think for many organizations we saw an increase in the connection between leadership teams and staff, they were more accessible and also more open to honest and critical feedback. In periods of uncertainty, people turn to leaders for guidance and support and I feel the pandemic has put this front and center, and now people will not be happy with anything less.

Learning to use and leverage technology and the digital space is also a priority now when it comes to competencies for leaders. We saw how many organizations had to speed up their plans for adopting new tech and there is a need for leaders to be able to do this. The way we deliver business, market it, and even connect with teams has all become dependent on technology and the digital space. Knowing how to use this to its maximum will be essential for leaders in the future.

Managing teams virtually will be rated highly in the future (and now). The lack of access to office spaces for so long has a number of organizations reassessing their need for these spaces. With more teams working from home new techniques have to employed to keep delivery on track and leaders need to adapt. Leaders will need to learn to manage virtual and build teams without the option of face-to-face sessions.

All of these skills point to one thing in the end which is Agility. Being able to quickly adapt, modify make changes to strategies and think on their feet are all things that are essential for leaders in a post-Covid world.

The new normal requires a new definition for work-life-balance. In your role, do you think work-from-home is a boon or a bane? What were the new lessons you learned about work-life balance?

I used to work from home a few days a week even before the “new normal” kicked in. I generally enjoy it but obviously, during this last year it was different, we weren’t just working from home; we were working from home during a pandemic. Which meant, everyone else was home, we had virtual schooling to manage, we had to find quiet corners of the house to have meetings, etc.

I think for a lot of people the important lesson learned was around productivity vs presenteeism. We can spend hours sitting in front of our laptop, so we appear online without focusing on the real output. Managers often have that expectation as well, that you should just be available (luckily my manager isn’t like that), and that’s a major shift I have seen.

I also felt having spaces designated for work helped and being better at switching off. Certain parts of the house are my “office spaces” and I consciously try to switch off my laptop and focus on other things to get that balance right.

Lastly, what do you see HR Leaders doing 10-years hence? How will their role transform? What will they START Doing, STOP Doing, and CONTINUE doing?

HR as an industry has made a lot of progress over the years. Sadly, I feel in our part of the world in most sectors there is still a long way to go. While the importance of HR and the strategic role HR can play has improved, I feel in many ways HR is left doing a lot of administrative work and plugging in gaps for poor line management.

I hope to see HR practitioners start having more confidence in their own decisions. Too many times I have seen HR leaders fold in front of the business and give in to the business when push comes to shove. We need to have more faith in our recommendations and fight for them the same way leaders fight for marketing plans etc. There seems to be a lack of faith in the impact HR strategies can make within HR itself, so we tend to hold back, so in the future, I hope we change that.

We need to stop doing the job of line managers. A lot of the administrative work we do now should be what line managers are doing. In the same way, employees need to take ownership of their careers and development. When this starts happening HR can find the mental space to focus on the bigger picture and strategies.

I hope as HR we continue to be the bridge between leaders and employees, the empathetic nature of HR I hope continues in the same way.

Overall, I feel HR will continue its journey of becoming an essential strategic business partner. We will speak the same language as the business and really understand how the business functions and its needs.

Thank you, Nariman, for sharing your insights.
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