An entrepreneurial mindset is the need for the hour for HR of today.

Jaya is an HR professional with 18 years of industry experience working with large enterprises like Accenture, Infosys, and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories. She has extensive experience in the areas of strategic HR business partnering, Employee Relations, HR policy design, and employee experience strategy at scale. She is an accredited life coach from the Neuroleadership Institute of coaching and an MBTI certified practitioner.

She is currently the Chief People Officer and Client lead at Xpand, an HR Digital onboarding product company based in New York, USA. At Xpand, she leads the product evolution journey to further the employee experience in digital onboarding and transition management. She also leads the HR function to drive the people first culture and learning agenda in the organization globally. 

On the personal front, she loves traveling, is a voracious reader and dabbles with travel blogging occasionally. 

Thank you, Jaya, for giving your valuable time to this interview. Your kindness is much appreciated.  We look forward to your candid responses.

Why did you choose HR as a profession? What makes you a successful and inspirational HR leader?

I am an accidental HR professional. A failed attempt to become a doctor and a science graduate isn’t exactly the education lineage one can expect in an HR executive. Exposure during my graduation days to managing, influencing, organizing, and leading my classmates in various college fests, coupled with a nudge from my professor to explore management got me to consider an MBA in HR.

A sustained urge to learn, taking risks to push boundaries have helped me gain wide exposure into all facets of the HR domain – Business partner, Employee relations, & policies Learning and development, Coaching, Employee experience and Talent strategy in the last 18 years. Listening and empathy have been the two mantras that have helped me lead teams, collaborate with peers and be a trusted advisor to my stakeholders and leaders.

Based on your experience, what are the primary expectations of a CEO from the HR Function, in general and HR Head, in particular?

CEOs are predominantly focused on expanding market share, enhancing client value, creating wealth for shareholders, and giving back to the community by being a step ahead as an organization in the competitive marketplace. These external impacts can be attained when the organization is robust internally. Ensuring organizational robustness is the primary partnership that CEOs expect from HR heads and the HR function in my experience.

Attracting top talent through competitive pay & benefits; future readiness of the workforce through talent development; being the employer of choice with a workplace and a culture that promotes innovation, inclusion, safety and personalized employee experience that impacts productivity, retention and organization brand positively are the tenets through which the HR function can ensure organization robustness and partner with CEO and the board impactfully.

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? How does HR develop a culture that ensures employee engagement?

Culture is a sum total of shared experiences. Consider the culture in our homes or society, elders’ model it, they talk about it consistently to the next generation, share stories and also adapt with time.

Organizational culture is built over repeated storytelling, consistent communication, and modelling behaviours by leadership. HR, in my view, is the conscience keeper and influencer that moulds the organization's culture.

At every stage in an employee lifecycle, designing processes, policies and practices that reinforce the culture should be core HR focus. Coaching leaders to model behaviors, communicating consistently the culture tenets of the organization, being bold to call out practices which do not align to the ethos of the company and storytelling are certain key interventions HR can be the custodians of to shape the organizational culture.

Work, workplace, and workforce are three dimensions that impact employee engagement. Nature of work and learning opportunities, workplace that is conducive, safe, inclusive and caring, policies and processes design that keeps the workforce at the center are impactful ways that HR can work with organization leadership to ensure a culture that curates superlative employee experience

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What has been your learnings during this phase? What permanent changes do you foresee at the workplace post-COVID-19?

The COVID 19 “black swan” event has reinforced how resilient we are as a human race. To pick a leaf out of my favourite author- Nassem Taleb’s thought, this is the time to be “antifragile” and rebound from this disruptive change to thrive in the NEW.

This pandemic has busted a lot of myths about productivity, team management, leadership, co-location for efficiency and many more. In the new arena, Leadership competencies will be redefined, the measures for workforce productivity and performance will get restructured, managing a distributed workforce will require reimagining technology, competencies, people process and employee experience. HR has a huge opportunity to take center stage in co-creating this strategy with the business leadership and redefine the future of the workplace and workforce.

Giving negative feedback about job performance to an employee is exceedingly difficult. What methods of giving negative feedback have you used which seem successful?

At the outset, I believe the choice of words is important, we need to reword negative into constructive feedback and that opens up a whole dimension to the way we approach a feedback conversation. That said, what’s in a name? it doesn’t absolve the difficulty involved in sharing constructive inputs. Some conscious practices that have helped me personally are, to state the intent of the conversation and be upfront that the intent of sharing the feedback is to help them to be successful. Be authentic and share that giving this feedback isn’t easy and reiterate that I believe it is in the best interest of the goals we want to achieve together. Lastly, state expectations clearly on what good output looks like and offer support.

It is also important to be aware of your own feelings while sharing constructive feedback, be prepared for disagreements, emotional responses, and demotivation despite best efforts. Be open to change your view, if the person presents data that contradicts your initial view. It is important to remember that the goal of sharing feedback is not to get the other person to agree but share your assessment of contribution.

How would you describe your leadership style? What values are most important to you as a leader?

My leadership style is best described as “situational”, I believe in different strokes for different folks and situations. Authenticity and inclusion are my top values as a leader.  I truly believe being honest with your team, however unpalatable the truth might be, and showing your vulnerable side with dignity is key to build trust and sustainable leadership. Being inclusive of ideas, individual personality quirks and respecting boundaries fosters innovation and has helped me build lasting relationships.

How do you handle disagreements? What do you do when you disagree with others?

“Many roads can lead to the same goal”!

I believe two things help handle disagreements effectively – first, a mindset that differences are an opportunity to learn and second, not carry forward a disagreement into the next conversation or context. Sounds tough? But then what is the fun if it’s easy!

Disagreements arise from the need to control the situation to align with one’s personal point of view or preference. The mindset that I have developed over the years is to view disagreements as an opportunity to explore different points of view to solution for the same problem statement. This has helped me have an open mindset, listen completely before responding, and genuinely consider the other's perspective. This has helped in finding a better solution in most situations.

In situations where despite all efforts, we have a disagreement, the fact that I have listened authentically, has helped me acknowledge and communicate respectfully that I have a different view without impacting the relationship and trust.

If you need to draw a landscape of the future workplace, how will it look like? What disruptions do you foresee in HR over the next FIVE years?

The future brings a Human + economy where workforce and machines will be colleagues, and this will open up completely disruptive ways of working and contributing to serve the needs of people, clients, and community.

HR function also will be reimagined to align to the new workplace, to name a few:

Technologies like VR and AR, digital HR partner (bot) will be integrated with HR processes.

  • Employee experience for the “invisible workforce” will call for innovative HR practices, policies, and processes to attract, retain, manage performance and productivity of distributed, gig and remote workers.
  • The landscape of employee benefits & wellbeing, especially mental wellness will take center stage and need for bespoke HR solutions will see a rise.
  • With access to learning becoming distributed and rapid change in relevant skills, talent acquisition and compensation strategies will see a total revamp with a fit for purpose & potential rather than experience & qualifications being criteria for selection & rewards.

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

Welcome to the most happening career track in the business world! Industrial revolution 4.0 is upon us and the competitive advantage for any organization is its “people”.

Aspiring HR professionals would do well if they adopt a growth mindset to learn- unlearn – relearn constantly throughout their career. An entrepreneurial mindset is the need of the hour for HR of today – being bold, taking risks, learning from failures, and reinventing oneself to add value. This coupled with empathy, compassion and authenticity is the recipe for a successful career in HR.

Thank you very much, Jaya, for sharing wonderful insight. Highly appreciated.

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