Emotional intelligence is still every bit as valuable as Artificial Intelligence

I have always believed that every story is unique and every story is inspirational. The story of Mukesh is truly inspirational. It is a story of hard work, perseverance, and determination. He is a science graduate who started his career as a Medical Representative. While working in his first job, he understood that just a Graduation Degree will not be sufficient to help him chase his dreams; therefore, he decided to appear for an MBA entrance examination and later completed my MBA in HR from N.L. Dalmia Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai. Currently, he is working as Associate Vice President – HR with a leading NBFC. He has seen everything and done everything that comes under the wide spectrum of HR. It is a privilege to interview him.  Thank you, Mukesh for agreeing to do this interview. We are certain that our readers will get to learn a lot from your experiences. Let’s start.

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

I was frantically searching for a job post my graduation. My parents being unschooled, couldn’t guide me. Hence, with no direction, I used to appear for 2 to 3 interviews daily that too without having any knowledge about the Company and Job role. One fine day in August 2003, tired after attending a couple of interviews, I was on my way back home when I saw a Job vacancy at Mid-day for a Pharmaceutical Company. For a while I thought “Should I go home and take rest or should I give it a try?” Finally, I convinced myself to give it a try; hence, I reached the Interview Venue near Domestic Airport in Vileparle. Since it was pouring heavily, I was completely drenched till the time I reached the spot. I found nobody at the interview location except a few people who were packing, ready to leave. I thought, it was over and started retreating my steps, but then a person came out and asked me to wait. I was called in after 5 min and I remember, the first question asked of me was… “Why was I so late”? To that, I narrated the whole incident. I think they got impressed with my honest and straight answer. The next question was about my knowledge of current affairs and lastly, I was asked to read the newspaper kept on the table. Post 25-30 minutes of the interview, I was asked to wait outside. A person from the same company seating outside told me that they had already selected and filled all the vacancies they had. I got upset but waited. After 5 min, I was called in. I was selected for the post of “Territory Officer” on a condition that I would have to go to Chennai for One Month Training within the next couple of days. Since I was desperately looking for a job, I said yes to them. I was offered Rs. 8500/pm + DA of Rs. 85 per day.

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

I think till now all the interviews I have faced were intriguing. But, I would like to share one of my interviews which were in 2009, with one of the Leading Stock Broking Company. I had to go through a couple of rounds of Interview with the country head, CEO & Managing Director. All the interviews went so well that I didn’t even realize that I had faced an interview. I felt that it was a normal conversation between two people, though I was asked all the questions related to my field, my experience and the role required. Even now when I think about it, I feel that I had never appeared for an interview. I understood from these interviews that any interview should not be a Q & A session rather it should be a 2-way discussion/dialog between Interviewee and Interviewer. We may find a good resource this way.

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

As I said that my first job was with a Pharmaceutical Company as a Territory Officer in Sales wherein I had to meet Doctors, Chemist, Distributors, and Stockist. During my one-month training in Chennai, I was thinking and was pretty sure that this job was going to be quite easy. But the scene was totally different when I finally stepped into the field. For the entire day, I was not able to convince anyone; in fact, I was thrown out or asked to come later from clinics, Hospitals, and Medicals. The first-day response was different and the experience was awful. Life had totally changed. I had started a new journey towards my personal and professional growth. The first day at work post your school/college life can be a huge metamorphosis in anybody’s life. I remember, on the first day of my field job, when I returned back home, I cried on my mother’s lap and told her that I would not be able to do this job. But after a couple of months, I started performing and got promoted during my two years of the stint. However, at a later stage, I realized that this job was not meant for me. I understood that I am a more of the People’s Person, hence decided to change my field.

Employees are more loyal and motivated when their bosses take the time to help them improve their skills.

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? 

Yes, certainly…workplace mentors and coaches play a pivotal role. According to me, Mentors at Workplace help employees do the right things. After learning from shadowing seniors, an employee performs more effectively.

While coaches Strengthen Employees' skills so they can delegate more tasks to them and focus on more important managerial responsibilities—such as planning and Organizing. It also helps in boosting productivity and improves retention by helping your employees work smarter. Employees are more loyal and motivated when their bosses take the time to help them improve their skills.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be blessed with the bosses who have played both the roles in my professional Journey till now. This was the reason, I was able to survive and take promotion during my two years of stint in sales, though I didn’t like the job at all.

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 another profession you would have chosen for yourself?

After working for 2 years in Pharma sales, I realized that I am more of a Peoples’ Person and wanted to do something where I would directly involve with them. According to me, dealing with human beings and understanding human psychology is the toughest job in the world and this is where it clicked me, and I chose the HR field as my career.

Also, if I would not have been into HR, then I would have chosen my career in Architecture or Painting as my career option...

Management wants their HR Heads to understand where the company wants to go and what kinds of resources are required to get there quickly. They want their HR Heads in determining the right number of resources in each area to execute on the strategy and maintain balance.

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?

Those were the days when employees used to think that an HR department is only for completing paperwork for new employees and processing payroll. Today, the entire picture has changed and now CEO/Management want their HR department to be more as a strategic business partner, a champion for change and an advocate for both the Employer and its Employees. Today, the Management wants an HR department to be an integral part and actively involved in the business unit that develops a workforce strategy that meets the needs of the organization.

And in particular, management wants their HR Heads to understand where the company wants to go and what kinds of resources are required to get there quickly. They want their HR Heads in determining the right number of resources in each area to execute on the strategy and maintain balance. Small changes in the number of people in an organization can change a loss into a profit, or vice versa. They want HR Heads to help the Management in hiring Industry stars - not just to put up job posts when a vacancy occurs.

They want HR Head to drive good management practices which will have multiple benefits such as driving high performance, creating a common language across the Company and building a strong culture through shared experiences. Management also wants HR Heads to Focus on employee engagement. This is yet another area where the HR can and should take the lead.

These are the areas where a strong HR leader can provide real business value and reclaim his or her rightful position as a vital advisor to the CEO/Management.

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

Employees’ expectation from their Employer is very high irrespective of whether the company is performing or not. However, their main expectation from Employers is that they should be inducted with Fair and Simple policy. They should be given or shown better opportunity/Career development programme. They want their job stress free and flexible working hours. They want good increments during PMS, Bonus, Incentives and rewards & recognition. They want their Employers to be open and share all the important communication through mail/calls/meetings.

Letting a worker go is usually an emotionally draining process, it's no surprise that about 26 percent of HR professionals claimed this to be the most challenging part of their jobs.

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. 

According to me, the biggest challenge for any HR professional for being representative of Employees or Company are…

1)      Managing benefits and perks programme

2)      Identifying and hiring the right talents

3)      Conducting employee termination or layoffs

4)      Ensuring Internal and External Compensation Equity

For me, the major conflicts occur during employee termination or layoffs. Since letting a worker go is usually an emotionally draining process, it's no surprise that about 26 percent of HR professionals claimed this to be the most challenging part of their jobs. Also, the legal issues to consider can be particularly stressful for HR professional because one misstep in the termination process can lead to a time-consuming and expensive lawsuit for the company.

To avoid this one should know how to conduct effective and insightful exit interviews. HR person should be smart enough to handle the situation by being open, logical and sometimes diplomatic.

Please share an experience when you did something by coming under pressure from your management or reporting manager though you felt it was wrong and shouldn’t have been done?

To be very honest, till now I have never done anything coming under any pressure from Management or my reporting authority. Also, I will try that I should not come/get trapped in that kind of situation in future as well.

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

The Five essential traits that every HR Professional must have are…

1)      That he/she should be a Friendly mentor and training Resource,

2)      Must be adept at employee relations,

3)      Organised and skilled in time Management,

4)      Adapts to Technology and Industry development

5)      And most important, understand what drives the Company.

However, this may be debated by other HR Gurus…

Emotional intelligence is still every bit as valuable as Artificial Intelligence (AI) – no machine can ever account for the complexities of human emotion and behavior at least in HR Functions.

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?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Robotics has impacted almost all Industries.

Recently, I had attended a seminar in Pune wherein vast article was presented on the impact of AI. According to their data, 70% of HR executives feel that AI and adoption of Robotics will result in significant job losses in the next five years. However, HR professionals feel that their roles will evolve into a broader and into a more strategic way. Whereas most professionals believe that their job roles will be altered as a result of AI and Robots taking over lower-skilled jobs. AI and robotics will only complement for the better, and jobs will not be replaced. The rise in AI would only create a seismic shift in processes...

According to me, no machine will ever be able to do as good a job human can do. It is all about developing a relationship which requires a human touch. Emotional intelligence is still every bit as valuable as Artificial Intelligence (AI) – no machine can ever account for the complexities of human emotion and behavior at least in HR Functions.

However, Retail and Healthcare are the two industries that are adopting Robotics at a rapid pace. Take the case of Amazon, they already have drones manning their warehouses and they also plan to do door delivery of goods using drones in the future. Robots are also deployed in production and assembly lines in major factories to reduce dependency on Human Resources. In the case of healthcare, robot-assisted surgeries are highly common these days.

Here, the most important thing to understand is that automation is not really a new term – The era of automation started with the advent of computers and later the Internet where various tools were devised to solve business.

Robotics and AI have existed for a while now and the thrust to use them has increased in the past couple of years due to the enormous growth in business processes due to the scarcity of manpower as well as the ever-increasing cost of skilled and unskilled labour.

Also, unlike AI and Robotics, social media platforms have affected businesses across all Sectors and dramatically changed the way Human Resource professionals do their jobs. Now, Human resource management involves more than just planning a good benefits package for Employees or following laws regarding discrimination and privacy protection.

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

When it comes to starting a career in Human Resources, no two paths are ever the same. There are endless ways to make a difference — from supporting a company's growth to having a valuable impact on the people behind it. But no matter what your experience in the HR profession may entail, there are several key things you should remember.

·         Don't Forget the Human Element

·         Remember to ask "Why" when making decisions     

·         Help others to help yourself 

·         Streamline through Software

·         Listen, Ask Questions and Keep Learning 

·         Have the Mentality of a Start-up Owner

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

*This interview was originally published on www.sanjeevhimachali.org. [Date: 13th August 2018]

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