Successful HR Leaders Understand the Business and Numbers and they are great collaborators

Pavithra Urs is a Performance-driven professional with 12+ years of combined expertise in Human Resources management, Learning and Development and OD practices, Global HR Operations, Change Management, Immigration, Corporate Communications, and Sales HR. Strong communication, interpersonal relations, mentoring, negotiation and organizational skills are what define her best.

Pavithra is currently associated with ArisGlobal Software Pvt. Ltd. as Senior Manager where she heads the Global HR Operations and manages HR budget along with other responsibilities. Some of her achievements include Transforming the global HR team & all facets of HR by creating a Corporate Services group to provide worldwide seamless support, Setup offices in UK, Germany and Hungary, hired resources across all locations, Coached and mentored executive staff. For her indelible performance, Pavithra was awarded the "Best Support Employee of The Year" – Global HR Operations under Individual Performance category in Mar 2019. Before assuming her current role, Pavithra worked with Software Paradigms Pvt Ltd as Associate Lead– HRBP Head Human Resources, and Infosys Limited as HR Executive (HRBP) – Human Resources where she achieved 4+ rating as a soft skills facilitator and trainer along with other accolades.

Pavithra is an MBA (Specialized in Human Resources and Organization Development) from Mysore University. She also holds PGDMM in Marketing Management from Karnataka State Open University, and BBM from SDM College, Mysore.

Thank you, Pavithra, for giving your valuable time to this interview.  We look forward to your candid responses.

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

One of my mentors referred my profile to this prestigious organisation. I was a fresher, but I had a year experience working as an intern in a law firm. I was responsible for drafting and reviewing agreements related to labour laws. So, technically I had prior work experience. I was elated when I got a call for interview. They drilled me for good 3 rounds including a complex written test. Honestly, I did not prepare to face these rounds. I was sure I was going to talk extempore. I knew I had to be honest.

Some of the questions were related to my academics.; on economics, employee relations, labour laws, organizational development, etc.

Some were case study related. Like, how would you handle a complicated exit, what according to you is the best practice in onboarding, how would you handle a dissatisfied employee, etc.

Some were very generic. Like, why this company? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Your strengths? How adaptable are you on relocating, etc.

The overall experience was great. I was nervous all through, I was anxiously waiting for their confirmation call. I still remember when they called me; I was watching TV and they said, you are selected, and we have mailed the offer letter to you. I literally fell down from the chair. It was my dream job with a dream package. Work location in my hometown. I felt extremely lucky at that moment.  

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

The most intriguing interview was when I gave an interview for a start-up. It was e-commerce based MNC who had their 2nd round of funding granted. It was a total of 5 rounds. The final round of interview was taken by the CEO. He was absolutely impressed by my profile and the vast experience I brought to the table. But more interesting was, more than what I could contribute to the organization, he was more concerned on how fast he could provide me a growth path. He thought that their organization wasn’t matured enough to provide a career growth to me, that meets my ambitions. He was an IIT-IIM and had worked in apple for many years. I was awestruck by his way of thinking and wondered if ever any other interviewers thought on those lines about every talent they hired. However, I hadn’t prepared for this interview as well. By now we all know that, when it comes to HR position, most of the questions are case study related, situation based, or resolution centred.

One tip for any interview that I think will make us successful is to be honest. Come on, let’s all agree that when we interview candidates, we obviously will know if someone is lying. Be honest. If you don’t know, say it. Don’t beat around the bush. It’s attitude that finally matters. Not your answers alone.

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 from your first job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

The first job is always special, like the first love. My first job was great. I had a great team and most importantly a wonderful manager to work with. It must be surprising that I first mentioned people and not processes. But please remember, we all work for people and not for organisations. It’s the people who make your job memorable one. It was a beautiful campus. We had international facilities, multi-speciality entertainment centre, gym, lush green campus. It was like as if I was in another country. The team was great to work with. I was HRBP for their 2nd biggest vertical. It was a telecommunication domain. I managed 500 employees and 2 locations. It was all overwhelming and at the same time, I had tremendous thirst for knowledge. One of the workplace myths that people carry from their college days is that theory works. But believe me, 75% of what you study is NOT applicable in your real time job. Our whole fundamental of classroom learning is memorizing, which fails in today’s tech savvy generation.

All that works is how street smart you are. Especially in HR, people matter. It’s important you understand their behaviours, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution.

The integrity of any organization, its effectiveness in achieving its purpose and even its continued existence, all depend entirely on the people that comprise it.

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

Mentors play a great role. I have been fortunate enough to have fantastic managers who were well accomplished in their fields. One of my managers was from ISABS background. She was terrific in her role and had a great career path. She worked in IIM for few years and had got into IT lately. I have learnt a lot from her. She was a go getter and was straight forward in giving her feedback to her teams till the CEO. She knew what was good for people and to the organization. She told me how we need to be assertive and make a point by not sounding aggressive. My next manager/mentor was a great human being. To him, his team always came first. He used to go out of the way to ensure our aspirations were met and our role was proportional to our capabilities.

We learn different things from different people. Everyone has something good in them and we need to identify that. We need to be selective in identifying the good traits in people and take it as a learning. The mentors are a great source of guidance. We need to first suspend the thought that we know it all. Learning never stops. You will always need a guiding source. And believe me, when you meet the right coach, you will know.

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?

Like mentioned before, to me People matters. People are of paramount importance in the organization. Machines and processes are made by people after all. I was always inquisitive of how different people think and act differently. Their psychological patterns made me curious. How so much technologically upgraded we become; we need to remember that it was invented by people. People build organizations, they work for a living, they work for passion, they work for a social cause. We need to take care of their needs.

HRs are the face of an organization. We host people. We build strategies that help retain people. The integrity of any organization, its effectiveness in achieving its purpose and even its continued existence, all depend entirely on the people that comprise it.

If not for HR, I would have probably been a lawyer.

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?

Let’s all first agree to the fact that the HR head is frequently seen as not so important person as compared to the rest of the executive clan. Today, CEOs want HR professionals to enthusiastically work for the business, a strong presence among their peers, professional compatibility with top executives. The CEO requires an adviser who tells him or her what the key people issues are, and who rigorously influences him or her with solutions. They want to see the results that contribute to the “end goals” of an organization. However, this is easier said than done. An HR leader’s responsibility is also to cultivate the company’s culture in a way that serves organizational purposes. For an HR professional, it is difficult enough to meet organization needs because they are usually playing the middle role. While the employees of the organization want consolation and consideration, the CEO might be looking for a more restrictive and strong-willed lot in the HR department.

It takes a strategic mind to balance and meeting the needs of employees’ vs the top executives and CEO. It is for us to make sure we act with conviction without comprising people’s need and ensuring it all finally boils down to the organizational goals. We need to convert targets and revenues to performance and motivation. Finally, we all need to work towards one dream, one destination.

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 role of a HR always conflicts between working for the employees and working for the management. We are both the good cops and the bad cops. Whether laying off employees or downsizing a significant portion of the organization, being the bearer of the bad news is never easy. HR leader understands that the company has hired them to assist in their success. Many times, determining how that success gets achieved goes back to having a deep understating of the company’s culture, values and those who make the company what it is. Empowering them to make decisions on the fly is what ultimately makes it easier for them to gauge and act on prioritizing both the company and its employees.

It is important for this gen HR’s to focus on developing a balance between fiscal responsibility and the employee perks necessary to increase employee retention and productivity. Ensure fair and unbiased treatment of all employees to encourage a positive and diverse workforce that increases employee loyalty. Create and maintain an ethical workplace that is in alignment with the cultural goals of the organization. Finally, we all need to work towards a win-win situation.

How easy or difficult it was for you to make a comeback from sabbatical. What were the challenges you faced? What went in favour and what worked against you?

I took sabbatical twice and both times it was for maternity reasons. Motherhood is a challenge in itself. And getting back to work after maternity is like keeping your heart at home and going to work, at times loaded with working mom guilt. However, I think that there is no manuscript for being a good mother and thus, I told myself to be relieved of working mom guilt and forget those rules. It’s better to tell yourself that you are a great mom and a successful professional.

Even in today’s modern world, mothers re-entering the working world rarely find the logistical or personal support they need to continue to thrive in a career. Companies should have well-defined policies regarding maternity leave. The human-resource leadership must be prepared to work with every woman to help develop a personalized plan.  

AI chatbots can answer repetitive inquiries, freeing up HR personnel to handle tasks like training and campus tours.

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

I simply follow the 5 P’s principal that every HR professional must possess:

P – Perseverance: Continue to act with conviction
P – Passion: Have interest and enthusiasm in what you do
P – Persuasion: Never compromise on your beliefs and ethics
P – People focus: Always remember, People work for People
P – Perfection: Improve processes until it is faultless

According to you, what is the role of HR in Recruitments and Performance Management? How HR can influence the decision of a hiring manager or a reporting manager, as the case maybe, to hire or not to hire someone OR % of increment to be given to a concerned employee?   

On Recruitment: When talking about responsibility in hiring, we refer to the outcome not the entire process. And while the recruiter manages the process, it’s the hiring manager who closes the deal. So, hiring managers are the decision-makers, they have the final say as to who gets hired and who gets rejected. They own the outcome of the recruiting process. And when there’s a bad hire, the hiring manager is the one who should investigate what went wrong. Even if the recruiter has provided a shortlist of very promising candidates, it’s still up to hiring managers to dig into candidates’ abilities and identify who fits the bill. While the hiring manager takes responsibility for the outcome, this by no means implies that the recruiter’s role is minor or simple. Recruiters lay the foundation for hiring the right people. When hiring managers and recruiters understand their roles and work well together, the recruiting process shines.

On Performance Management: HR plays an important role in designing and implementing performance appraisals. In fact, the HR team acts as mediator between the functional heads, reviewing authorities and the employee. It is the human resource team’s responsibility to ensure a smooth implementation of the appraisal process.  We as HR’s need to help and sometimes also guide the managers and supervisors so that a fair increment is given, and no deserving employee is at loss. It is also important that, we give our valuable feedback to the functional heads based on our day to day interaction with the employee concerned. Apart from his/her routine work, how one behaves at the workplace, what is his relationship with superiors/fellow workers, punctuality, and discipline also play an important role in performance appraisal, leading to a fair increment percentage.

It is the responsibility of a HR to hand over the increment letters and make sure the letter is handed only to the employee concerned and not to anyone else. Appraisals and increments ought not to be discussed in public. Our role does not end here. As a HR professional, we need to explain an individual as to why he/she has got or not got a salary hike. Immediately arrange a meeting with his superior if you are not able to handle the situation or find a solution. Many people start looking for a change or quit immediately after the increment process. This happens because either the doubts are not addressed properly or individuals who have got a decent hike look for better opportunities outside. Taking feedback from employees on what went wrong is extremely critical to revisit the process.

The human-resource leadership must be prepared to work with every woman to help develop a personalized plan.

Based on your experience, how social media has impacted the way HR was doing its work and how AI is going to make an impact? What are a few disruptions you are foreseeing?

AI is increasingly being used to automate many HR processes. Let’s consider various ways AI improves efficiency in HR. AI can analyse incoming applications and using sophisticated algorithms to assess and evaluate the applicants’ experience, knowledge, and skills. AI chatbots can answer repetitive inquiries, freeing up HR personnel to handle tasks like training and campus tours. AI can also assist with new hire paperwork, permitting new employees to get to work faster. Finally, not every employee is comfortable adopting unfamiliar technologies. HR can ease the transition to AI, showing employees how using AI in HR can help nearly everyone in the workplace become more productive and efficient.

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

When I ask people Why HR? the common response I get is that, I Love people and like helping them. Is that HR all about? Some of the most important qualities one must possess to become a successful HR and add value to the organisation goals are, to have a vision. Discuss your ideas with your leadership team to get their input and buy-in. Employees at every level need to know and understood their part in supporting the org culture and HR philosophies and HR has a major role to play in imbibing culture in each employee.

Communication is the key. You’re the voice of your organization’s culture, so work to fill that role. Embrace technology.

Using technology to improve the processes and effectiveness of HR in companies is the need of the hour.

Be curious, learn and try new things every day. Introduce change and help employees manage change effectively.

Understand the numbers. It’s all about budgets and savings.

Collaborate with each department head, because collaboration is the best way to get HR ideas and practices accepted and implemented in your organization.

Spend time working in other departments. Conduct focus groups run trial programs to assess acceptance and usability of your ideas. Get out of your office. Employees will appreciate your presence and managers will get more comfortable with your ideas. You’ll soon be seen as part of the team rather than the HR person who hides behind the policies. This gives HR a chance to handle issues before they become major problems.

Take risks. Most HR professionals are risk-averse, probably because they’re not encouraged or trusted to take risks. But successful practitioners understand the need to take chances and the value that can result.

Finally, if you have passion, there will be passion in your corporate culture. If not, it will just be another job for you and those who work for your organization. That’s no fun, and it’s not the kind of leadership needed from HR professionals today.

Thank you.

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