HR binds the individuals into an organisation and therefore plays a critical role in success or failure of any enterprise.

Shilpi Verma is an accomplished HR Practitioner and a Talent Strategist with over a decade and half years of experience across the entire spectrum of HR. She is a world traveller and an avid music lover. 

Thank you, Shilpi for agreeing to this interview. We value your time. We are looking forward to your candid and honest response as you always are.

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

I have had a humble professional beginning. Back then (2001), the word ‘start-up’ didn’t exist, but I started with one. Having lost the opportunity for campus placements, due to familial requirements to move to a new city after my PG in HR, I was actively hunting for a job. One morning, a friend came rushing to inform about a walk-in interview in another part of the town. I took only 10 minutes to get ready and accompany her to the destination. It was a training and knowledge management firm that was in the business of creating and selling technical training programs (Finance, HR, IT) to organizations. They wanted to hire people to talk to potential client corporate and sell these training programs. Although not a mainstream HR job, I grabbed the opportunity, as I really wanted to start with my career. A decent starting salary of Rs 7500/-pm was also motivating. I think my communication skills and my 'hunger' for work helped me to get through the interview. Notwithstanding, before joining, I told the founder of the firm, that my aim will be to move into a full time HR role. This firm was a team of 8 to 10 people, with almost all employees were at the beginning of their respective careers. The workplace, with young entrepreneurial minds, was always full of positive energy. Eventually, I worked my way up to the Head of the Office, as the founder moved into a different city.

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

I got a call for a job as the Head of Department for HR for a firm, the head office of which was in a different city. Prior to the interview, I had a detailed chat with the consultant, who played a vital role during the entire hiring process. To prepare for this interview, I read about the specific industry and its business and HR related challenges. I also researched about the company. It was a financial company, primarily into sales of various financial products. On the designated day and time, I was interviewed by the CEO over the phone. Rather than my qualifications, the discussions during this interview were aimed at confirming my fitment into cultural ethos of the organisation. During this interview, it took application of lessons learnt during all preceding assignments to build some practical approaches that could address their extant challenges of a high employee attrition rate, within the bounds of the strict work ethos. What was also rather interesting here was that the interview and succeeding negotiations happened over the phone only without having actually met anyone in the organization. Only after all the negotiations regarding role, responsibilities and remunerations had been concluded, did the actual face-to-face meeting with the CEO and other senior functionaries were scheduled. I believe my conviction and confidence helped me to gain the trust of my would-be CEO and a new job.

3. 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?

Of course, my first job was a significant milestone in my professional life. Even though it was not exactly as per my expectations or the so called ‘dream job’, it had come after a considerable period of job hunt in a new city and I had the urge to prove myself. This job in a way shaped my future professional interactions and it prepared me for my subsequent career contours. And I did land up with my dream job after this assignment.

My first Job:

  1. Taught me to be disciplined and organised
  2. Instigated the hunger in me to outperform others
  3. Survive workplace bullying
  4. Learnt to have meaningful conversation with senior executives of multinational firms, turning it into business for my firm.
  5. Learnt a few nuances of leading a team and running a business and an office (as the founder relocated to another city)

Hunger to perform and eagerness to learn was what my first job was all about.

“Apex management expects that every policy/decision or strategy made by or for HR function should have direct and positive contribution to the core business of the organisation”.

4. 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?

Without a workplace mentor, a new recruit will be lost! While a fresher may technically and theoretically be aware of the deliverables, it’s the mentor who provides the ‘how’ guidance. The Mentor handholds the new team member and walks him/her through the organisation’s values, ethics and culture. Aim should be to stabilize the new joinees, so that the organisation can get a high performance asset as soon as possible. In my first job, it was the founder of the company who assumed the role of my mentor. She taught me my work, shared her learning and experiences, helped me overcome challenges and motivated me through initial setbacks. Her able mentorship shaped me into a result-oriented professional and helped me achieve several milestones for this firm, as also in my further career.

A mentor must guide his/her mentee to overcome challenges and achieve initial goals.

5. 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?

I am very passionate about my field of work and enjoy it immensely. During my first year at Post-Graduation, I found myself drawn to the domain of sales and marketing also, along with HR. However, as we progressed through the PG, I realised and acknowledged that my real forte is in HR. During my career, I have enjoyed and derived enormous satisfaction out of overcoming challenges related to engaging and bringing together different minds, from varied background & with diverse ambitions, and getting these individuals to adopt the team goal, within the ethos of the organisation.

If not an HR professional, I probably would have been a Musician, which still occupies my mind and time as the favourite hobby.

6. 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?

In very few words, it’s 'Business first'. Today’s CEO wants the HR team to play a strategic role in Business – whether it is performance, growth, development or the bottom-line! HR is no more looked upon as a secondary or support function. Apex management expects that every policy/decision or strategy made by or for HR function should have direct and positive contribution to the core business of the organisation.

Therefore, it is critical that the HR Head understands the business strategy and aims of the organisation, so that a suitably tailored HR strategy is crafted and implemented. HR Head has to be proactive, anticipate issues and conflicts; connect the dots and take action. Business & HR Strategies need to be evolved and implemented in tandem for enabling a growth-oriented organisation.

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

Employees expect HR to be their ‘friend at work’. They need HR to stand by them in organisational and personal ups and downs, failures and success, and be sensitive to their requirements and sentiments. A healthy HR-employee relationship can help HR team anticipate and defuse a future problem or conflict. It can help HR to gauge and evade workforce discontent, if any.

“A smart data driven tool can be extremely helpful in activities like Performance Management, employee engagement, payroll management, T&D etc”.

8. 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 challenge is of course obvious, as both employees and management expect HR to stand for and by them. However, the conflict can be effectively managed if the HR team understands the company’s foundational philosophy and bases their strategy on what is the best interest for the business. That, personally, has been the main guiding factor for me during any potential points of clash of interests. It is as important to counsel the perceived aggrieved and be balanced while handling any such conflict scenarios.

9. 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 actually 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 as long as 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!

Use of social media has increased exponentially in last 5 to 8 years. It’s biggest advantage is seen and felt in Recruitment, such that HR recruiters are able to 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.

“HR binds the individuals into an organisation and therefore plays a critical role in success or failure of any enterprise. It is this challenge that attracts talent and places an onerous responsibility on the HR managers”.

10. 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?     

When you are playing a team sport, what are the things you would keep in your mind while taking decisions? That’s how you need to approach the organisation too. The ultimate aim for HR leaders too is to ensure the accomplishment of the organisation’s goals. The decisions that you take as an HR professional should be based on that as the primary factor. Take efforts in understanding the business model, Industry and people. That’s how you will be able to make meaningful and significant contribution to your organisation. Remember that HR binds the individuals into an organisation and therefore, plays a critical role in success or failure of any enterprise. It is this challenge that attracts talent and places an onerous responsibility on the HR managers.  

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

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

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