Mentoring is an effective tool for shaping organizational culture and closing generational gaps

One among the “50 most influential HR Tech Leaders”, Deepti, before embarking her journey in the Indian Corporate arena, has served Indian Armed Forces for FIVE years. Deepti, who has worked extensively across the wide spectrum of HR, has panache for designing and implementing effective HR Interventions and Best Practices that ensure business growth in a diversified and complex cultural setup. For her astuteness and consistent performance, she has been bestowed with “Woman Super Achiever Award”. Thank you, Deepti for agreeing to do this interview with us. We are certain that our readers will be able to learn several things from your inspirational journey. 

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

Well, I recollect my memories of the first interview; this was for SSC, Short Service Commission with Indian Army. 

Every year, Directorate of recruitment notifies for the vacancies in the Army Medical Corps (AMC). Once your profile is shortlisted, you will be called upon for an interview & if you are selected, you have to undergo a medical test. If you clear the medical test and make it to the merit, you will be inducted into Armed forces in the rank equivalent to that of a captain after which you have to undergo a basic military course at the officer’s training academy.

To join Indian ARMY was always my passion. So, I opted and went for my SSC interview.

I was excited and equally nervous. The panel comprised of 10-12 seasoned Brigadiers, Lieutenant Generals from all the three defence forces – Army, Navy, and Air Force.  

My interview lasted for almost half an hour, bombarded with questions and rapid rounds. I was confident all throughout the interview questionnaires. God was kind, and I cleared my interview and joined SSC for 5 years.

Some useful tips I would like to share:

  1. If you aspire to be an officer in the Indian Army or in the corporate world, your attitude should be of a leader. The Army requires thorough professionals. You need to work on your personality, body language, speaking skills, negotiating skills, convincing ability & be a genuine person in your actions.
  2. Update yourself on General Knowledge and awareness of happenings around the world and the country is important. Our core personality already is formed during the initial years of our life however; you can always polish your personality. Inculcate a good reading habit; enrich your mind with diverse thoughts. Read newspapers, make notes.
  3. Exercise every day to stay fit.
  4. Cultivate hobbies that improve your knowledge and make you creative.
  5. Proactively participate and organize various activities to improve organizational skill.
  6. Be truthful in your Interview.
  7. Be positive in your outlook and remember all Group Tasks are to see your team spirit, leadership and decision-making skill.
  8. Remember, the aim of every interview is to find out if you have the qualities to be a good human being or have the potential to develop into one.

Cultivate hobbies that improve your knowledge and make you creative.

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

Yes, mentors play a vital role in guiding and helping in acclimatizing fresh graduates to the new job role. Mentoring is a strategic tool; when done right, can attract and retain high-potential talent and accelerate leadership development and readiness. Mentoring is also an effective tool for shaping organizational culture and closing generational gaps. Employers increasingly recognize the benefits of mentoring in leadership development.

My manager played a key role in my career enhancement as a mentor. My manager helped me in acclimatizing from military culture to corporate culture. Each time my expectation bar was raised and I was compelled to excel in all my assignments. The feedbacks were given instantly while key accomplishments were well rewarded and acknowledged. I quickly learned the tricks of the trade and did well as an HR professional. Through experiential learning along with my mentor, I learned the very important lesson of life on how to manage people.

3. You have worked in the Armed Forces. Please share with us the primary cultural and work style difference in Armed Forces and Corporate India. Additionally, please share with us the challenges you faced, in any, while transiting from one workplace culture to another. 

I would say the culture is different in the Army compared to Corporate. In Armed forces, we have defined a hierarchical structure and clear rules of conduct.

The Army thrives on defined roles, rank & status which are consistent across units with a clearly defined career progression. Army personnel share a bond in beliefs, traditions, values, and the importance of rank and structure, whereas, in Corporate/Non-military culture, we generally have a Collaborative Model.

Corporate structures are considerably less consistent than the military and have implied or "understood" rules of conduct. It has flexible roles & status and less defined career progression/opportunity for lateral assignments. Corporate culture imposes corporate values on the organization, quite different from the military structure. But both cultures bring something to the table. The Indian Armed Forces are synonymous with honour, discipline, integrity, loyalty, courage, duty, respect, sense of sacrifice, patriotism, selfless service, moral values, and ethics. It would not be untrue to say that the expectation level of integrity and moral values of defence personnel is much higher than their civilian counterparts who gladly enjoy the liberty to resign under conditions of stress. ARMY personnel have earned appreciation and respect for their unwavering commitment to these virtues in war as well as in peace, at home and abroad. Analyzing both sides of this coin, I feel that the Indian Armed Forces adhere to the ideals of honour, service, and patriotism which is missing in a corporate culture which is like a rat race, survival instinct without realizing the real impact of your actions on your peers, subordinates, and seniors.

The Indian Armed Forces are synonymous with honour, discipline, integrity, loyalty, courage, duty, respect, sense of sacrifice, patriotism, selfless service, moral values, and ethics.

4. According to you, what are the FIVE critical traits of a successful HR Manager?

I would suggest below traits are essential for a successful HR manager:

  1. HR Management requires a well planned and organized approach. Organized work schedule, strong time management skills, and personal efficiency are key to HR effectiveness. Since the HR manager is dealing with people, it’s essential to have       
  2. Approachability - the ability to be open to listening to the people genuinely.
  3. Ethics & Values – since HR is a custodian of the organization so, ethics and values need to be of the highest order; fair and transparent in all actions.​​​​​​​
  4. Patience - when listening to people to figure out what the real problem is and solve it. Decision Maker - Strategic planning, analyzing and prompt decision making based on the available facts are the skills required in every HR Manager.​​​​​​​
  5. Empathy - To empathize with someone; understand their situation and where they are coming from. HR Management is all about understanding, relating and working with people.

An HR director is expected to take a leadership role in developing a culture that enables employees to perform in accordance with an organizational goal.

5. 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?

Since I have worked with many CEOs, both in the army and corporate world, I would say there is a long list of expectation from the CEO. To start with, strengthening the employer-employee relationship is the prime strategic role expected from Human resources head. HR directors/Heads are responsible for the smooth and profitable operation of a company’s human resources department. Typically, they supervise and provide consultation to management on strategic staffing plans, compensation, benefits, performance management, training and development, budget, and labour relations. An HR director is also expected to take a leadership role in developing a culture that enables employees to perform in accordance with an organizational goal.

6. 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. 

Since HR plays a key role in balancing the management expectations on one hand and employee requirements, on the other hand, it is imperative to make both ends happy and satisfied. At times, due to business ramp down, you have to initiate layoffs. Since letting a worker go is usually an emotionally draining process, this is the most challenging part of the job. Also, the legal issues can be particularly stressful for HR because one misstep in the termination process can lead to a time-consuming and expensive lawsuit for the company.

Recruiting and identifying the right job applicant- An HR needs to be adept at finding and securing the best hires, even when the job market is in the candidates’ favor. They must be resourceful and know how to locate talent, beyond just placing job ads. At the same time, they need to be an expert at marketing their companies to potential employees, so the most skilled applicants are eager to join their team.

7. In your career span of over 10+ years, what was the most difficult decision you ever took? What were the factors that made the decision difficult?

The most difficult decision of my career was to continue as a doctor or get into management stream. I decided and opted for the management stream.

Relying on AI for particular roles will leverage the technology in the most effective manner possible

8. 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 & Human Resource Function:

  1. Today businesses across the globe are leveraging artificial intelligence to optimize their process and reap higher revenues and profits.
  2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a word made up of two words Artificial and Intelligence, AI is a branch of computer science that works to build machines that imitate human intelligence. Applications of artificial intelligence (i.e. machines) are capable of performing tasks previously done by a person but often faster and at a larger scale.
  3. Artificial intelligence is transforming our lives everywhere, be it at home or at work. At home, almost two million people use Amazon's Alexa to control the lights, unlock the car, play music, order food and receive the latest Google updates. In the workplace, artificial intelligence is evolving into an intelligent assistant to help us work smarter. Artificial intelligence is not the future of the workplace; it is the present and happening today.

Ways Artificial Intelligence adding value to Human Resource:

  1. An ongoing debate is whether AI will replace us in the workplace, however, AI will support, rather than replace, HR. You can’t escape it: everywhere you turn, AI is taking over.
  2. Most enterprises are already using AI in their workplace with much more expecting to use it by 2020. Today, most employees expect their jobs will become augmented by AI in the near future.
  3. Recruitment and Selection process: AI is helping recruiters to automate scheduling interviews, provide ongoing feedback to candidates and answer their questions in real time. Generally, human bias factors influence recruitment choices based on gender, body language, and ethnicity and so on. Talent acquisition software can scan, read, and evaluate applicants and quickly eliminate 75% of them from the recruiting process. With the ability to learn, every hiring cycle helps the system develop a better resume-matching capacity.
  4. On boarding experience: Once the candidate is hired, the acclimatization to the new culture and the company environment is another uphill task. New employees demand focused attention and it is often impossible to dedicate enough time to each one of them. That’s where AI provides customized on boarding procedures for every single position and improve upon retention rates than their peers who didn’t have the same opportunity. Intelligent bots will act as virtual assistants in the employee on boarding process, by creating new employee profiles and helping staff answer basic questions about benefits, insurance, and company policies.
  5. Training: From self-driving cars and games to medical diagnosis and stock trading, AI applications are countless. The training industry is not an exception.
  6. Identifying training needs: Businesses often know what they want but not necessarily what they need. AI will be able to provide a huge insight about training need, and make this simpler. That marketplace is having an abundance of data, which will prove to be exceptionally useful in recommending training based on the success of similar companies. Another impact is augmenting coaching via AI, this is a new way to help managers understand their team’s feedback and put it to use immediately. Companies who have employed AI-based learning technology have seen impressive results, such as a 32% increase in employee productivity and a 43% increase in employee retention. Software that incorporates game-based training has made great strides in helping people improve their performance. It turns out that software can learn, too.

Artificial intelligence is playing a more significant role in business than ever before. HR and recruiting, like many areas of business, look set to be transformed by the power of AI. Like most innovations, implementing AI according to its specific strengths will maximize the benefits a company can derive from its use. For HR, relying on AI for particular roles will leverage the technology in the most effective manner possible.

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

Few tips for budding HR professionals:

  1. Deepen Knowledge of Business - The efficient deployment of a company’s human capital cannot be achieved without the understanding of the business that your company is in, and how your specific skill set can help to identify the best way for your company to strategically progress in their business goals.
  2. Leverage Social Media - Social networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have become indispensable tools for growing a person’s professional network, enabling professionals in many industries to organize, grow and maintain contact with their networks much more easily.
  3. Be a Value Contributor and a Game Changer - Effective use of your mental and networking ability can be extremely useful. You will be more valued, and your job will be more interesting – it's a win-win.
  4. Grow Your Thinking, Your Skills and Your Leadership.

Thank you.

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 20th February 2019]

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