CEO's of today are open to experimentation, technology and change

A seasoned HR Practitioner with over two decades of experience across industries, Barnali, is an MBA from IIMS. In her career, she has worked with prominent brands in Logistics, Recruitments, Retails, and Hospitals and now, she is heading Talent Management and Talent Acquisition for a leading Auto Component organization. Considering the vastness and depth of her experience, it will be apt to say that Barnali is an “HR Encyclopaedia”. We are thankful to her for taking out time for this interview and enlighten us with her experience and thoughtfulness. Thank you, Barnali.  

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

It was very humble beginning unlike today’s job interviews. Way back in 1998, JOB was more important than a CAREER. I shifted to Pune post MBA due to my marriage so lost the opportunity for campus placements, but I was confident to do the corporate assignment, so I was actively hunting for a job with a great support from my spouse.  One fine morning, had seen a newspaper ad for walk- in HR interview in one of the pioneers’ logistic company (now MNC). I attended the interview with utmost vigour and zeal as I was highly enthusiastic being a fresh MBA graduate. I was competing with 20 more candidates who were mix of fresh management graduates & experienced people. I completed 3 rounds by 3.00 p.m. and returned home with lot of anxiety to wait for the result. I was not very sure as local language was also the issue. But to my surprise I got the offer letter within 7 days with a decent salary which was a good amount way back in 1998.  I have been told by my GM operations post joining that they hired me for attitude and not for my knowledge as I was a fresher.

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

 Once I received an interview call as the Head of Department (TA & TM) for a manufacturing segment. I started preparing for this interview; I read about the specific industry and its business and HR related challenges. I also researched about the company as I never worked in manufacturing set up. It is an auto components organisation, pioneer in various auto components with great product line and good customer base. Post the round of CHRO; I was interviewed by the CFO & the group director. Rather than my qualifications, the discussions during this interview were aimed at cultural fitment to the organisation. During this interview, the discussion was more on practical note to curb attrition rate and TAT for talent acquisition within the bounds of the strict work discipline. Again, there was a detailed interview by COO.  Both the rounds were very crucial and data driven. I believe, my perseverance, stability, confidence & of course again the attitude helped me to get the job in manufacturing segment though my previous background was from service industry.

First job is a major milestone for many people. Let’s discuss about your first year at job. How was your experience? What were your expectations from your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation?

First job is always something you die for as an aspiring professional, once that is achieved it is almost a feeling that you are now in the game ready to win it. Later, all that you worry about is sharpening your armour. Same was the feeling in my case, eagerness and excitement was at another level and I was all prepared to stretch myself and give my best. Gradually I noticed my overall discipline and management towards not only office but my home. With the added advantage of my role, I learnt the nuances of handling people and articulating the thought into verbal communication, I understood dos and don’ts of team management, workplace etiquettes etc. I think that is what is of utmost important and is a lesson if learnt right never lets you fail as you climb up the ladder, that sense of holistic approach towards yourself and surroundings and maturity in thoughts and actions.  

A mentor at workplace guides and helps an employee envisage fitment in the system, a goal that he must attain and sustain. He is someone who helps you filter, mould and adapt.

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

An employee’s perspective about his career and orientation is always a set-in approach which is an amalgamation of what one has seen, experienced, imbibed and learnt in theories. Here is where role of a mentor/coach comes in picture in an organisation, he/she is someone who helps you filter, mould and adapt, a mentor guides and helps an employee envisage fitment in the system, a goal that he must attain and sustain. My first mentor was my GM-Operations who held me strongly in coping up with dynamic nitty-gritty’s of business and function, he was the one who made my understandings of subject versus practical better and clear thus enabled me evolve as a professional.

You are an HR Practitioner for so many years. Could you please tell us why did you choose this profession? If not in HR, what other profession you would have chosen for yourself?

In initial MBA days, I was exposed to domains as marketing, finance, HR etc. I could do justice with all the subjects, but when it came to Human Resources, I felt deeply inclined and interested and would explore more and this interest came out because of my intuitive understanding on human behaviour and people philosophies, and then was the time I had decided I can add value and make a mark in this profession.

If I hadn’t been an HR professional, would have served in civil services as that fervour hasn’t yet faded in me.

CEOs of today are open to experimentation, technology, change and thus want the people function to help them build a motivated, skilled & updated man force.

Having worked in a leadership role, what do you think are the expectations of a CEO or the Management Team from its HR Function in general and HR Head in particular?

CEO’s major focus is his brand’s image. When it comes to HR, today, they understand that business can’t function successfully if the organisation isn’t attractive for the skilled talent available in the market and people aren’t keen and happy enough to do justice to their jobs. Thus, it leads to a requirement of strategic HR enabler, HR function that understands business model as well as pulse of the organisation. A function that will strategies and execute plans, interventions that lead to a meaningful impact, CEOs today are open to experimentation, technology, change thus, want the people function to help them build a motivated, skilled & updated man force.

HR Head that an organisation seeks today has to be someone who understands business, is an expert in human psychology, can think strategically and holistically, someone who can handle situations of pressures, contingency and take risks, a leader who has high integrity and takes ownership, a dynamic personality who is open to exposure to roughest of situations and still can be transparent and liaison between management thoughts and people implications.

In the same breath, can you also highlight about expectations of employees from the HR Function of an Organization?

Employees, now-a-days, expect a human resource function to be approachable, friendly, solution provider and representative of their needs, they have a notion that entire employee development and culture management is HR’s baby thus, they expect the HR function to be dynamic and aligned with changing trends in the industry, they expect responsiveness, fairness and promptness from them.

According to you, what are the key challenges of being a representative of employees as well as a representative of company management? What kind of conflicts you have faced and how did you manage to overcome them.

The key challenge is that employees expect human resources to be their representatives whereas being HR function they have to be aligned with business too, there are decisions that are taken and processes that are made to churn maximum outputs and realign the systems and, in such situations, there is a clash with respect to manpower planning, placements and performances. As an HR professional the SOPs, processes, communication and proactive approach is essential, while keeping the situation across the table as an HR professional one has to see that the ultimate goal is met, it can be a mutual agreement, and has to be careful evaluation and consideration of pros and cons of both the sides. Some routine examples are appraisals and bell curves, employee outplacement on performance concerns, cases of nonaligned subordinate and supervisors, retrenchment, process adherences and TATs versus business routines.

AI is an integral HR tech-trend that needs to be embraced for driving inch-perfect decision making and effective human resource management. Organizations must train HR professionals to work closely with these technologies so as to comprehend the power of AI in HR.

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?

I believe that the concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that one would consider “smart”, has caught up the imagination of the business world in a big way and its impact on HR function cannot be missed. Many big organisations have already leveraged AI and an even bigger percentage is gearing up for the same. AI can replace many routine and mundane parts of business functions, which otherwise are important for the continuance of the business processes. A smart data driven tool can be extremely helpful in activities like Performance Management, employee engagement, payroll management, T&D etc. However, I feel that if we have humans employed, we would require Human Beings to perform the core roles of HR viz., the convergence of personal and organisational ambitions. Artificial Intelligence is a fantastic tool in today’s time, but artificial emotions may not be as wonderful!

 AI is an integral HR tech-trend that needs to be embraced for driving inch-perfect decision making and        effective human resource management. Organizations must train HR professionals to work closely with these technologies so as to comprehend the power of AI in HR.

Use of social media has increased exponentially in last 5 to 8 years. Its biggest advantage is seen and felt in Recruitment, such that HR recruiters can reach out to a much larger talent pool than ever before, by posting requirements on various social network sites.

Today, social media is also being used for effective strategic and organisational communications viz., positive branding, employee incentivisations, etc. A well-thought social media strategy can really help the organisation and its HR function to leverage this amazing tool in promoting the organisational interests.

On the other hand, social media – like any other technology, does have its downsides too. For example, a complaint or grievance getting viral and adversely affecting the brand value. A policy in place can go a long way in containing such potential pitfalls. A direct conversation or Grievance Redressal rather than dependency on escalation matrices via some software will have its own cascading effects in rather negative influence, thus there must be proper reconciliation of such impacts before industry starts replacing the essential gamut of people and the dependence with robots.

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

As an aspiring HR practitioner, they must be ready to accept anything and everything coming their way without any pre-conceived notions or prejudices towards a role/responsibility big /small, because dirtying hands and feet is when you understand things, situations, impacts and consequences. And thus, with time they must start doing their and industry SWOT and mould their personalities for better. The modus operandi shall be clear and ethics need to be intact, they must understand that they are part of a big game called organisation and as leaders they need to see that each team player is placed well and doing good to have impact in the overall result.

Zeal, energy, personal relationships, constant reading and learning - are such tools that can keep them improvising.

Most importantly - Good behaviour, as it does not have monetary value, but it has the power to purchase a million hearts. Also, creativity has no boundaries, barriers, or limitations. The more you create, the more you can.

The success mantra could be:

  1. Don’t look back
  2. Don’t give excuses
  3. Don’t blame others

Thank you very much, Barnali, yet again, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it. 

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 13th August 2018]

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