Covid-2019 will trigger paradigm shift in workplace dynamics and importance of leadership in times of crisis

Shiilpi Singh is a management graduate with 16+ years’ work experience across industries ranging from Telecom, Insurance & Accounting ITES, Consulting, IT, in managing talent functions. She is an HR Lead by profession and artist at heart. Shiilpi is passionate about linking organization psychology & human behaviors with business challenges. She loves traveling and exploring places and is an avid fan of artifacts, whenever the opportunity arises can be found exploring it across various streets. Playing with her son is the favorite part of her day apart from chasing deadlines.

Shiilpi is currently associated with Amdocs as HR Business lead. Embarking her professional stint as an executive in Human Resources, Shiilpi crafted her path of success by constantly challenging herself and work in areas of talent management, business partnership in driving strategic initiatives for global geographies, change management, employee engagement, leadership development; reorganization & restructuring, diversity and culture initiations. She worked across different companies, diverse industries and geography with organizations like Airtel, Genpact, McKinsey, Nokia, and Microsoft.

Besides an exemplary experience, Shiilpi is certified coach and holds following certification: MBTI – Myers Briggs Behavioral & personality assessment; TKI Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument; Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Franklin Covey; NEWS Coaching; PAPI 3 Psychometric Assessment coaching

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

Let’s Start.

You have a very inspirational journey. While you were going through transitions, trying to find your passion, what hurdles and challenges did you face? What kept you going?

First of all, Thank you! One of the important things for me is to continue to feel excited about what I am doing and be challenged. Most of my transition points were when I was looking for newer challenges and horizons. At the very early stage of my career, I decided to be a holistic HR professional and explore different aspects of all kinds of business situations. So, every move of mine is triggered by the desire to do something different and develop professionally.

One of the biggest hurdles is to continuously reinvent yourself and be innovative in an ever-changing and demanding business environment. As business goes through different curves, our role as HR professionals also changes. One of the other struggles was to find a balance between the job deliverables and what is fulfilling for me. It meant to create a sense of accomplishment while performing a job and continue to explore untested waters which needs a lot of self-push and risk-taking. Passion to learn, make an impact and succeed in whatever I undertake, keeps me going. I like challenging myself and advancing on a personal level and during the process assisting friends and colleagues to discover their potential and succeed.

In your career span of 15+ years, what was one WOW workplace experience?

While I had fantastic learning experience in all my workplaces, but I would like to share something which stood apart due to the leadership.

Few years back, I was involved in the acquisition project which was very complex. It was quite overwhelming to witness how the employees were attached to the company, despite undergoing the ambiguous times over a few years, the acquisition and multiple rounds of reorganization process; their emotional attachment and connect was still deep, which was worth the applaud. Talking to many people and observing the culture, I realized that the transparency and candid approach in sharing things openly created high level of trust, along with the brand connect and resilience culture, because of which employees continued to stay committed with the company in spite of tough times. What I realized was; when fundamentals are followed like respect, values, communication, and transparency then employees have a commitment in the organization.

Leadership is very critical during times of change and crisis; Sometimes the openness and simplicity of leadership can create a much deeper connection.  It is imperative for the leader to take charge, communicate effectively & more often, enable business with keeping people in center.

Self-awareness is a very critical leadership trait. What you think makes you an amazing team-player and a wonderful team-leader?

“The one constant factor in all your endeavours is you; understanding yourself is therefore paramount.” Being self-aware, a leader can consciously influence the situation and the potential climate of the group. On the other hand, not being self-aware could lead to unwanted or undesirable consequences. It’s about being aware of what you are good at while acknowledging what you must still learn.

Over the years, I have become more mindful about my strengths, weakness, style, preferences, etc. and I keep reminding it to myself in moments of truth. Constantly reflecting upon about What, Where, When, How; brings different insights about your actions and reactions, which creates a deeper understanding and awareness.

There is no recipe or formula to be a good team player or team leader; the only thing which helps you to become one is to be open to different perspectives & styles, clear communication, empathy & trust, share more and care more for the people around you. It is also good to be vulnerable and open about things with your people, you can use each other strengths in achieving the larger results.

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?

It can be overwhelming when you start looking for a job as a fresher and to decode what employers are looking for? The skills you need for a particular job vary from industry to industry and from job to job, but there are skills that are valued by employers across the board.

  • Communication Skills – Next to your job-specific technical knowledge is communication skills which is nothing but the ability to connect and share information in an effective way with ease. This can be a deal-breaker at times.
  • Analytical Thinking - In today’s time of dynamic situations and information, most jobs and employees run into unexpected challenges and situations. It is expected to solve problems by being agile and thinking creatively.  
  • Adaptability & Learning Aptitude - In a fast-changing world, the companies need to be also quick and agile which needs that the employees can adapt to newer ways of working, technology, learn fast and be open.
  • AttitudeAttitude is the tiebreaker. Positive approach, team player, confidence, lively persona, drive to win, enterprising can all be classified as what defines your attitude.
  • Personal Differentiator – it could be the command over the certain languages, the ability to talk on certain topics, know-how on current technology, a skill, something which makes you stand apart from others.

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

A mentor can help you succeed in your first job. She/he is someone who not only has expertise but an understanding of the organization, listens effectively, helps you in navigating the organization, knowledge to perform the job better and provides you with wisdom, a supportive and trusting environment where you can share and learn.

In my first job, one of my senior colleagues was my mentor, though not officially appointed. He was my go-to person for any query or clarification I needed. I reached out to him for all small and big things and he guided me in all the aspects. He is a trusted friend and I still consult him before making some critical decisions in my professional career.

I recommend that everyone should ask or find a mentor in their first job and in all the other jobs as every company has different culture and practices. It helps to have someone to go to when you are in initial days, unlearning and learning things.

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

Talent shortage and war for Talent is for real!! I am seeing this every day that managers are struggling to hire and retain people. Today is the world of the job market and talent is holding the cards. One needs to be attractive and have a compelling brand story as an organization and individually as hiring managers, social media outreach is a very important tool for this.

  • Develop Talent internally for future – for all the key roles, assignments, projects, technology, skills, evaluate the readiness of your good employees and prepare them to take up that job in the future. Not only it helps you retain them but also hire more available skills from the market. Build internal talent and reskilling are some of the other tool organizations are working on, which are proving to be very successful.
  • Create your network – the network formed internally and externally is very useful in hiring good talent. It can generate many referrals and recommendations. Keep interviewing and stay open for hiring even when you don’t have many positions.
  • Hire for potential and not best match – Most of the time due to urgency we end up in a cycle of wanting a perfect candidate, however, the process of hiring takes a much longer time. It’s better to hire for attitude and potential; use the available time to make the individual learn through training and on the job, it will help the longevity of the employee as they see investment in him/her.
  • Have an EVP (employee value proposition) – candidates are looking for organizations that can offer them more than just a job. Inspiring leaders, learning opportunities, culture, policies, flexible workspaces, remote working, growth, and advancement in career, all these together form a very attractive package for an employee to look forward to.

Many fresh graduates and junior level employees as well as non-HRs treat employee engagement equal to Birthday Celebrations, Picnics, Diwali Rangoli, Christmas Celebrations, Cultural Day, etc. Please help us understand what employee engagement is and why it is necessary?  

This is one of the biggest myths, I would say. Celebrations do help create a happy atmosphere and fun moments but that will go away in a day or two, the lasting impact of these events is only when an employee is involved with every aspect of the organization and sees themselves in long term context in the workplace.

Simon Sinek describes employee engagement in the simplest of terms “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” 

Employee engagement is the secret sauce that connects and creates the emotional bond of employees to the organization. They have a clear sense of commitment and are excited to take on bigger challenges, change and evolve along with the organization.

One cannot achieve this level of connection and commitment just by celebrations and parties, you need to invest in the individuals, their learning and development, assigning challenging assignments, workplace culture, listening to them, allowing space for them to share their thoughts and ideas, connect, respect and care during their personal and professional moments. It is the ability to comprehend employee’s present situation vis a vis his / her aspiration and present customized plans which focusses on their ambitions and development. All of this is very intense and focused work by the leaders and HR together in partnership to create an engaged talent pool.

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 is reflected across all levels in the organization. It can be seen in the work styles that define your team's day-to-day approach to projects, and in how management drives the agenda. Culture is not static, it evolves with changing geographic, gender and generation demographics, industry and customer, different styles of leadership. There is a saying ‘as the leader evolves so does the culture’ and hence it’s important that the organization puts in front the values and ethos they want leaders to role model.

HR plays a very critical role and usually a catalyst in driving the change in culture tenets of the organization. They are the ones who have the early warnings about the current state of affairs and whether its working for the organization or not. Culture can be manifested in the form of purpose, which should be steered by the HR by bringing all important elements and leaders together. When an individual receives clarity on his/her purpose and understanding of their role in contributing to the organization, he/ she will more likely make a larger impact.

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? What disruptions do you foresee in HR over the next FIVE years?

Yes, HR is at crossroads yet again and for good. When I started my career, HR was transitioning from administration to people focusing function. We were inching to be on driver’s seat and aligning with the business, I think a lot has been achieved in this direction over years… we have come a long way. Now, we are asking for the seat on board table, we are transitioning to be Value Creators.

Artificial Intelligence is bringing new dimensions to how we have traditionally approached the people issues and problem-solving. For example, you don’t need to be present to resolve an employee issue now, an automated chatbot can help quickly answer this, that too 24X7 as we are a global workforce. All the repetitive and routine tasks can be performed by automated tools, robots while work around predictive analytics and tools, innovative in managing the workforce, strategic partnership and enabling business in achieving results will be of focus. In the time of instant information, we will have to find ways with the help of technology, apps and other means to be able to provide all kinds of information to be available instantly. Virtual and remote working is already a reality now and technology has made it easier, we will have to find means how to keep this workforce engaged, it needs a different approach and thinking.

The corona outbreak has brought collective vulnerability, completely different challenges, unprecedented situations, demand for extraordinary leadership and the global workforce at the same psychological level. One of the important things will be how prepared are the organizations to handle any such crisis of this landscape, how quickly we are able to react and respond to unfamiliar adversity, leadership mindset and behaviours during such a stressful environment. We will be enforced to relook our people and business practices. If there was ever a time to think differently, it’s now. One of the important challenges in the hands of HR will be to manage a multi-generational, multi-cultural and multi-skills diverse workforce in the new world after the COVID 2019 crisis. Remote management, virtual working model, mindfulness & wellbeing practices, engagement at an employee doorstep, situational leadership, social responsibility, and communicating values will become inevitable.

 It will be very exciting times for the HR professionals, and we will become real Value Architects.

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

No matter what profession you work in, it’s important to be an expert in your trade. In order to achieve this success, you must possess a wide variety of job-specific knowledge, technical skills, and workplace professionalism. When you are a Human Resources Professional, you not only need those skills, but also a few others that are niche to the role. Zest, Empathy, Value Architects, Analytics and Business Acumen is what will make you an effective HR professional.

  • Understand the Organization & Business – One can be in any role of HR, but it’s very important that they understand the business, its challenges and drivers, market and customer perspectives, the organization focus areas & strategy. A big part of the role is to enable the business which cannot be achieved in isolation, it’s important to have a holistic view, business acumen, and strategic approach. Partnership with business and influence leaders with focussed agenda is critical to the role.
  • Analytics & Problem Solver –What differentiates one from another is the effective use of analytics and insights from the numbers; draw inferences with trends, inside + outside view enables effective and thoughtful decision making. Even the workforce complex problems can be approached with insights from data and coming up with creative solutions.
  • Empathy and Accountability – Empathetic style is a key differentiator for the HR roles. People want to be heard, understood, feel belonged and focussed by the organization in their professional journey. Along with trust comes accountability, being known as a reliable Human Resources professional gives you great credibility.
  • Value Architects – Passion to develop, coach and counsel for various aspects of professional / career, managerial or leadership aspects. Be the change catalyst, culture agents and create value for business and people. Driving insights from business challenges and enabling effective people solutions which creates positive impact.
  • Zest – HR folks are posed with multi-dimension challenges every day, and because these are related to people and grey areas, they are very difficult to crack. Positive attitude, communication, passion, and emotional intelligence are important for one to be successful. To motivate employees and management teams, to create an engaged and happy atmosphere in the workplace, needs a positive and enthusiastic YOU.

Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to?     

When it comes to starting a career in human resources, no two paths are ever the same. HR as a profession is very diverse and there are multiple opportunities and roles one can look forward to. Challenge and delve yourself into all aspects of the function either through projects, assignment or role movements. Spend considerable time in your first or second job to be able to go through the various business cycles and understand how it impacts HR deliverables, the experience gained is worth it.

I would urge all the young and aspiring HR professionals to come with an open mindset, enjoy the journey, look for a mentor and guide who can help you sail through, be vigilant and observant to everything that’s happening around, and deepen your business knowledge.

Ask Why, be enterprising, take risks, make an impact and make it count. All the Best!!

Thank you very much for sharing the wonderful insight.

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