Engaged employees exert extra effort towards the success of a business.

Meenakshi Kaul has been driving strategic HR initiatives to realize bottom-line results and enhance employee engagement in the pursuit of business objectives across multiple industries and geographies in the capacity of Human Resource Management/ Talent Acquisition. She has been working towards building & motivating large multi-cultural teams exceeding corporate expectations. Meenakshi has been Global HR Leader with 16.5 years of rich combined expertise in establishing & developing HR Departments and contributing to productivity, culture, and cost savings initiatives with a focus on overall organizational development, change management, business excellence, and transformation in a matrix structure.

She is currently associated with Fareportal India, in Pune as Director, People & Culture Team. She earlier worked with Tech Mahindra Business Services as HR Manager; Asian Heart Institute & Research Centre as Asst. Manager; ABN AMRO as Senior Hiring Officer; Genpact as a Hiring Officer; Step A Head Consultancy as Team Lead- TA, and Geoconnect as Quality Leader-OPS & TA.

Meenakshi is a B.Tech. (Electronics & Tele Communication Engineering) from IP University and also has a Diploma in Digital Electronics with a specialization in Microprocessors from Kasturba Polytechnic Delhi. Is currently pursuing her executive MBA (PG) from ISB Hyderabad in general management. Her Training & Certifications include:

  1. CCBP: Compensation & Benefit Certified
  2. Thomas PPA Certified & DISC Profiling
  3. Project Management
  4. Human Resource Business Partnering
  5. Managing Difficult Conversations
  6. Executive Certification in Human Resource Management from XLRI Jamshedpur in 2018
  7. Jack Welch Leadership & Strategic Management Certification in 2018

 Thank you, Meenakshi, 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. 

During my graduation and diploma, I have done quite a few jobs, but my actual break-in Corporate HR was with Genpact. I still remember I had to go through multiple rounds of interviews at a Job Fair at Hyderabad, followed by group discussions, one on ones, and was then showcased for a series of final process interviews. Till today, it is the only company where I have given 15-20 Process interviews. Did I get the offer? Yes, I did. Not for a process in the contact center but to be in HR (Recruitment). Mr. Sai Shetty (Sr. manager Recruitment) came to me and asked me just one question, “Will you like to work in HR?”, I stood there shocked with happy tears in my eyes and no answer (It obviously was a Yes!). (There is a lot more to that story, maybe for some other time). I went home holding that offer letter and cried the whole night, happy that I was where I wanted to be. There were a few things that kind of made a huge impression on me that day:

  1. Never give up on yourself.
  2. There is nothing called difficult questions. If you are honest about what you know and what you don’t, you can answer anything and still leave a great impression.
  3. Tell other people why you are there and what you want.
  4. Everyone will always be interested in knowing what value you will add or what are those new things you will bring to the table.

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

Absolutely, It’s one of the most important parts of your career. A good coach can not only drive a positive change in the employee but also the organization. I have been in both situations where I did have a coach and one where I didn’t.

At my first job, I did my job well and got awards but still had no sense of direction, no purpose. I believe that’s what a mentor/coach does to you. The goal is yours, but they remove all the obstacles and point you in the right direction.

Almost 5 years back when I joined my current organization, I was hired to set up and ramp up the new site, I have always been a person who likes to challenge my own competence to do better. In all honesty, all I knew about the role was that I had to set up and expand the center, and nothing beyond that. Six months in the business my team and I had already set up the entire HR Process and ramped up the center from approximately 40 to a 200-seater. But what next was a constant question I asked myself? Post joining my current organization I have had two great mentors/coaches, my direct reporting manager, and a business head who I met a long time ago. Both the leaders have inspired me and always pointed me in the direction that will help me explore and succeed. I have been lucky enough to have two coaches. There is a stark difference in the way I look at things, my purpose/goals now, as compared to my earlier years without a coach/ mentor.

 What changed for me:

  • Strong Business Acumen and Solution-oriented mindset   
  • Improved listening skills  
  • Ready for difficult conversations with my stakeholders/ business partners.
  • Challenge My Own Potential: I didn’t just achieve my KPI but also set BHAG (big hairy audacious goals) for myself and my team
  • My Vision about what I want to do, where I want to be and how will I get there is now much clearer

We all, as leaders, need to establish a culture where employees/your team members can thrive. One of the most important parts of that culture is assigning coaches or mentors to not only to new but most importantly to people who are your high potential employees.

Coaching Culture helps improve employee engagement, empowers employees and help them excel at their job. When you establish such culture, teams/employees feel and believe that they are important, have a sense of belonging and it also lets them take pride in their responsibilities and the work they do. Most importantly they know the reasons for what they are doing and how it will improve their and organizations' performance.

Coaches and mentors not only give you directions and appreciate you but they also help you identify your strengths, your weaknesses, your opportunity. They help you realize what are the things you could have done differently to achieve your goals or have a different more rewarding outcome of the task.

The biggest challenge being the link between employees and the management is communication GAP.

Organizational Culture is a key differentiator between successful and not so successful organizations? What determines the organizational culture? What is the role of HR in creating organizational culture?

Culture can make or break your employees' trust. The biggest challenge is that most of the time, companies do not walk the talk. What they communicate as their values are not the way their leaders act and that’s what makes or breaks everything  

Leaders need to be culture Ambassadors and “Walk The Talk” as just Talk Is Cheap:

  • Being a role model for the organization's beliefs.
  • Reinforcing organizational values.
  • Ensuring that organizational ethics are defined, understood and practiced.
  • Enabling two-way communication and feedback channels.
  • Defining roles, responsibilities, accountabilities and empowering teams
  • Providing continuous learning and training.
  • Sustaining reward and recognition systems.
  • Promoting a customer-supplier work environment.
  • Being proactive at identifying individual and organizational challenges/ issues and providing prompt solutions

What kind of soft skills does a fresh graduate need to get a career break and to be successful at the beginning of their career?

Should have a very good understanding of managing conflict and strong inclination towards analytics and data, Problem-solving, Risk apatite and should be a Team player.

What manager’s need to do once an employee is on-boarded:

A company’s success is rarely dependent on one person doing something all by himself/herself. Success is the result of many people working toward a common goal. When employees can synthesize their varied talents, everyone wins.  Communication skills boost your performance because they help you to extract clear expectations from your manager so that you can deliver excellent work.

Apart from this, critical observation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, leading the role with confidence, and a clear vision can help influence your co-workers and get them on board with your ideas now and in the future.

It’s important for a leader to know what motivates each individual in their team.

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?

I believe there are no challenges; it’s the shortcoming of certain processes, when not executed well and not well thought through that, both sides are irritable and grouchy.

The biggest challenge being the link between employee and the management is communication GAP.

Organizations are spending billions of dollars on communication tools for their employees (Slack, Yammer, Jive, MS Teams, etc…). It’s a huge bet on collaboration and efficient communication as a means to productivity and economic output. Despite all the talk about the great flattening that has been happening in our modern organizations, traditional power structures still exist (employees still have bosses). There is a disconnect between them and individual contributors that are driving a wedge in our companies and making them increasingly untenable.

What’s missing is a transparent dialogue between leaders and employees about what’s most important to us as individual workers and collectively to our organization and a conversation around the inevitable competing priorities. Current methods for sourcing feedback — annual engagement surveys and survey technologies like SurveyMonkey are great research tools which when combined with employee interactions to understand what people really think and leverage their engagement can move our organizations forward. Feedback is critical to the success of any organization. Employees hold the keys to the next big breakthrough and solutions to what ails our organizations. Leadership has broad market context, relationships and the anointed power to move mountains we NEED TO connect and align the two in a constructive way more regularly.

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

  1. Knowledge and Expertise in HR - An HR Manager must display a willingness to remain abreast of the latest trends, best practices, and ethics in their profession, which requires dedication and discipline.
  2. The Ability to Multitask - In human resources, if it is not one problem, then it is another. Every employee has issues that are important to them. A business’s needs and priorities are constantly shifting and evolving.
  3. Be Able to Deal With “Grey”- Human resource managers are often required to make decisions the “best available” (read: incomplete) information, and they must possess the wisdom to know when they should seek advice from lawyers, experts, or fellow HR professionals.
  4. Strong Sense of Ethics - HR managers often serve as the conscious of an organization. When it comes to following company policies and maintaining confidential information, you must have a strong sense of ethics.
  5. Strong Conflict Management Skills - You must gather all pertinent information, pinpoint the issue, devise possible solutions, and then negotiate a compromise. Although conflicts are natural, you must have the right skills and abilities to ensure that your office runs smoothly.

From profile sourcing to the issuance of the final offer letter, organizations put candidates through multiple filtration processes. What is your take on using “relevant industry experience” and “excellent academic record (first-class and above)” as filtration tools?

Here is what I think about it, people ask you about your work experience to understand if you have the relevant skills to execute the role. I have never seen anyone asking for my mark sheets to go through each score. From the talent availability standpoint, I find marks irrelevant (until you are going to NASA). What matters is what’s the industry experience that you have and what do you have to offer in terms of those learned skills which will give you a competitive advantage. I have met people with great academic records but with a very little aptitude and vice versa. With so many aptitudes, IQ Psychometric assessments that we do before hiring people at any level would be a waste of money if we are filtering people on “what marks they have got in their graduation or PG.”

As an HR Leader with over a decade of work experience, what is your view on job eliminations?

Job elimination can happen for many reasons; budget, behaviour, mergers, competence, etc. Communicating with the eliminated candidate is the hardest part. However, I feel communication and sensitivity play a big role in this delivery. Communicating the alternatives, you considered will also soften the blow of having to lay off employees-when you realize layoffs are your only option. The success of your organization moving forward depends on this thoughtfulness and communication.

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? 

For me personally what defines a good employee, or a good leader is work ethics, this one thing I have always valued more than anything else. I have had situations where I was not in agreement with the decision made, but I have put my thoughts and opinions across to the team/leaders. You should not fear to voice your opinion out if you know that the decision can have a negative impact. As a part of your team/org success, it’s your duty to do so. I have seen people acting under pressure but it’s always due to the “FEAR” of being judged, losing your job, but the real question is if there is a need to fear if you are competent (that’s the only reason you are able to differentiate between what will work and what will not)

What are your thoughts about Talent Shortage? What are a few practical tips you want to give to CEO’s and Hiring Managers to manage the challenge of Talent Shortage?

When there is a talent shortage, you must think about potential. Down the road, your best employees can be the ones you mentor and train now. During a talent shortage, keeping employees can be just as hard as finding new ones. The main reason is that great employees have many options when it comes to employment. One that works well is to build the internal talent pipelines, have shadow roles and backups ready for a critical role. Talent development is of high priority to encounter or at least deal with a short-run talent shortage. Be smart in picking up your Talent Development strategy to be future-ready.

When we talk to fresh graduates and junior level employees as well as non-HRs, they understand Employee Engagement as – Birthday Celebrations, Picnics, Diwali Rangoli, Christmas Celebrations, Cultural Day Celebrations, etc. Please help us understand what employee engagement is and why it is necessary?  

HR is about managing, retaining & developing your Human capital. Fun is one small part of the HRs job description. One should know what motivates your employees, what are their most grave challenges.

Hewitt uses the model that says, stay and strive model which all relates to an employee behaviour pattern. Engaged employees stay within the positive, have an intense desire to be with the organization and exert extra effort towards the success of a business. Employee Engagement eventually and confidently promotes better team working, better performance trends and greater customer satisfaction.

Vroom's expectancy model is a great way to assess your team’s motivation levels. It’s important for a leader to know what motivates each individual in their team (all expect different things). As a manager/ leader, you need to identify and address the needs of the employee which will motivate them to perform and needless to say motivated employees give you more productivity.

When it comes to following company policies and maintaining confidential information, you must have a strong sense of ethics.

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 see AI as a tool that can be used by HR practitioners to evolve and support business, come out of the cliché of being called a logistic function and be a value add. AI is a good change. Had we gone through it sooner, it would have helped us gain that credibility with the business sooner.

Consider the following factors – Use AI for the right implementation methods, Eliminate ALL Bias when working with an AI system, consider all unintended consequences and that’s where our human connects lies with us driving a team and a good AI designer.

AI does what you want it to do.

Determine impact and measure for success, underestimate the importance of using quality data. Use the right tools, intelligent assistants and application program interface (API) Consider a traditional system-implementation approach. Follow a methodology to identify correct data sources, with the help of a domain expert, then gather context and curate solutions. Make sure to establish an appropriate process for regular Content Management and ongoing Governance. Ensure to establish stability and consistency of AI solution with any technological shift. Revisit regularly to make sure the algorithm and logic continue to be accurate to get the best results.

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?    

HR now is recognized as a strategic partner. The focus is more on talent development, talent engagement, talent management, fostering innovation, breaking stereotypes and developing a collaborative culture.

Understanding the strategic definition of your role and then connecting these to the business plan will assist you in planning a strategy that is completely result-driven. Ensure that you are well-organized, good at multitasking, self-disciplined, good at negotiations and dealing with ambiguous problem statements, are an excellent communicator, problem-solver, and above all, transparent. This is the basic checklist that will give you an advantage not just with starting out a new career but will also with every new role.

One very important trait that I look for when I hire is Attitude: curiosity to learn more and have a fair understanding of the business (job/ company they are applying to/for). Great Attitude with aptitude is a good combination.

  • Global Outlook: How Human Capital and HR processes work globally)
  • Explorers mindset: Should know what’s happening/ new trends in TA/TD, TM, TO)
  • Risk Apatite, Critical Thinking & Business acumen
  • Hygiene: Ethical: high on integrity
  • Excellent Comprehension and listening skills

I will also advise people to know a little about the culture of the organization before applying for a job. It’s very important for your values to match the organization's value system for both to succeed.

Thank you!!!

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