Choose HR by Choice and not by Chance!

Kavita Ramkumar is a passionate Learning & Development professional with 13 years of rich experience across a gamut of learning solutions and partnering with businesses. Currently, she is associated with A&A Business Consulting Private Ltd. As Group AVP – Learning & Development, where she heads strategy and solutioning on the learning front for the group. This involves capability development and capability assessments across functional and behavioural domains needed to stem a learning culture in the organization. Her previous stint includes about 9 years with KPMG India where she headed the western region for capability development and also managed learning strategy for all the cost centres within the firm. Kavita has been a National lead for coaching needs identification at senior levels and alignment with senior coaches. Her other projects include System Implementation for automation of Coaching, Assessment Tests, Talent Development, Job Roles.

Embarking her career with Diligent Media Corporation Limited as Senior HR Officer in 2007, Kavita moved on to work with The Indian Express Group as Manager HR – West; where she was engaged in end to end human capital management that included manpower Planning and Budgeting, Performance Management, Training, Employee Engagement, People Management and MIS.

Thank you, Kavita, for giving your valuable time to this interview. 

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

I come from a humble and conservative background which emphasized a lot of importance on education. Having completed my Chemical Engineering from Mumbai University, I went on to pursue my Masters in Human Resources from SIES College of Management Studies. I was campus placed with Diligent Media Corporation Ltd. (Was the only HR student to be selected among a group of 30). Worked with the Media Sector in generalist HR roles for 4 years across Diligent Media and The Indian Express Group. An opportunity came knocking with KPMG where I went to pursue an HRBP role for a business vertical within the western region. I am a person who needs a lot of food for thought and hence was looking for something to charge me up. I decided to venture into an alternate role of Learning and Development while I was with KPMG. For HR Professionals, after having gained a few years of experience, there are two roads that manifest itself to choose from – that of a generalist Head, or that of a specialist head. I chose the latter, having found my passion for skill-building and assessments across levels. It’s been an extremely satisfying journey in the learning field so far. And yet again came knocking another urge -  I needed another kick and more autonomy – which made me move ahead from the wonderful firm that KPMG is. I now head the L&D space for a consulting firm called A&A Business Consulting Pvt. Ltd where I spearhead learning strategies building on the learning ecosystem within the firm.

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

I think my most intriguing interview so far was the one that I gave with my current CEO – Mr. Pravin Daryani, who heads the A&A group. All questions put forth were out of the cliché. Every question made me think laterally. And unlike most interview questions, all discussions revolved around the application of concepts to the real business. Experience teaches you a lot that you can bring to the table at this stage during interviews – my preparation was mainly around understanding the business, considering I was a subject matter expert in my domain of L&D. I think HR will eventually move into a paradigm shift from being a cost centre to a revenue centre sooner than later – and nothing works unless you understand the pulse of the business you are catering to.

As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience? What were your expectations about your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

I have always believed in keeping expectations at grassroots levels, and not be very influenced by stereotypes. Irrespective of whether it is my first job or the current one, I only believe “You either win, or you learn”. For E.g. the first job of mine made me file employee dockets for 2 months. One would wonder, what a job to do after an MBA – but I decided to study each document that went into the dockets thus enhancing my knowledge of compliances and records. I am very inspired by people like Narayana Murthy and Bill gates. Accomplished professionals with humility at their core. That’s what defines success to me.

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

I do think it’s an added advantage if you have workplace mentors and coaches that help you settle in, especially with your first job that could leave a very indelible mark on your future journey. However, I think the current times call for everyone to be well-read and self-starters. In the corporate, going by the work expectations, you may not always be privileged to receive one to one, time investment from your seniors – but that shouldn’t stop you from carving your own path. I have always been a self-starter and independent when it comes to doing or learning something new. Your only validation at the end of the day must be YOU!

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?

Our education system currently does not really help one understand their true passion. This evolves with time and experiences. Choosing HR as a career option was because I believed I wanted to become a Comp & Ben specialist because I was very good with numbers. However, once I picked up HR, with experience, my interests moved from HR into human psychology, behaviour and skill-based learnings. If not HR, I would have been a University Professor teaching psychology and psychometrics.

In the corporate world, people have been using “Coaching” and “Mentoring” interchangeably. It is creating confusion. Please help us understand the similarities and differences between Coaching and Mentoring. When do we coach an individual and when do we mentor an individual?

Coaching is used mainly for behaviour change at middle and leadership levels. Coaching doesn’t decide the path for the individual – coaching gives options that enable the individual to choose from. Coaching at corporate levels if more for a specific period to enable behaviour change or mindset change. A Coach could be internal or external to the firm.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is a long-drawn process – a year or two where the mentor is an identified individual – mostly a superior, who works with the individual in knowledge and skill development pertaining to the job/deliverables in hand. A Mentor helps transform individuals by providing the guiding light in terms of what to do and what not to do for individuals to succeed in their professional lives.

Share an experience wherein in your training session you had to deal with a difficult person and how did you handle the situation?

When I conduct workshops on skills and behaviours my methodology is to make it application-oriented to a real context as possible. I generally ensure that every question that comes up is answered with patience and introspection. Unless a trainee experiences fulfilment for the objectives he comes into the workshop seeking, it can’t be a win for the trainer.

What are the critical traits of a successful L&D Expert?

  1. Business Acumen
  2. A keen observer of behaviours
  3. Thinking out of the box and on your feet
  4. Agility and openness to change
  5. Being up to date with technology trends
  6. Understanding Gamification

We hear this statement, “Participants leave their training learning’s in the training room and return to their routine after resuming their work (particularly in cases of behavioural or soft-skill training). What is your take on this? How do you ensure that the training is effective for the employee?

Today an individual’s attention span is extremely limited and diverted.

For training to be successful one must get into newer methodologies, Micro learnings, bite-sized learning, game-based learning, technology-based learning, and learnings that focus on application orientation is the need of the day.

Please share an experience when you acted under pressure from your management or reporting manager even though you knew it was wrong and shouldn’t have been done? 

I haven’t had such an experience so far. I have always stuck to my core values and not supported it if I knew it was wrong.

Can you pick a training session which you consider is the most successful? Please share in detail the noticeable improvements in the person’s/team knowledge or skill post-training session.

I deliver modules on Client Interactions and have had individuals walking up to me reminiscing about a technique I taught them on behaviours and how they were able to successfully use it on the floor while dealing with difficult clients.

Like I have mentioned earlier – training must be application-based – else one can never close the loop on measuring change through a training intervention.

People often assume “Training = Conducting a Training Session or a Workshop”. Training is also considered as a career option for an “extrovert and outspoken people”. Please share with us various career options within the preamble of “Learning & Development”.

Extrovertists and Introverts are base characteristics of an individual that form by the time he/she is 15. I am an ISTJ on the MBTI tool. A core introvert but a selective extrovert when it comes to managing strategy and conducting programs. All humans have the ability to ADAPT to the situation and I don’t believe there is a pre-requisite of being an Extrovert to be a trainer. An effective trainer must be a keen observer of people, think on his feet, an effective storyteller and one who can convert theories into practice.

L&D is a very vast field and one can explore various options within it including a few listed below:

  1. L&D operations – if someone is interested in MIS, Numbers, Dashboards
  2. LMS – If someone is interested in driving systems within L&D
  3. Capability Building – everything to do with Content building for programs, interventions on skill development across levels (This is a very huge field in itself)
  4. Assessments – Assessment Centres, Assessment Tests, Psychometry
  5. Coaching – If someone is keen on pursuing this as a core stream understands people and behaviours well enough and could take a neutral stance on things

“People learn effectively and go beyond their comfort zone when they are taught or trained in their local language”. What is your take on this?

I have always believed Language cannot be a BARRIER – Language is an ENABLER. Once we accept this, all scepticism revolving around language vanishes. People can be challenged whilst remaining within their comfort zones as well. The crux of the matter is people learn the most through experiences, which must be language agnostic whether within or outside of their comfort zones.

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? 

With AI – most of the HR Ops will get automated, so will PMS, parts of Recruitment and a lot of training on Knowledge.

However, any intervention in HR that requires a human touch will continue to evolve.

Social media has brought HR practitioners closer than ever. I can see a lot of ideas exchange happening over LinkedIn. People are now open to experimentation and are thriving on change.

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

My core message to HR aspirants – Choose the profession because you want to, and not by some method of elimination. For being successful in HR – you need not be a “People’s Person” or an Extrovert, all these are cliché.

Some things that could help you thrive in HR – A keen observer of people, thinking out of the box, agility and a constant hunger to keep reinventing yourself will help you succeed.

Thank you very much, Kavita, for sharing a wonderful insight. 

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