A happy employee creates a healthy and positive work environment, with ripple effects of benefits.

Kavita Tandon is a Global Human Resources Leader with over 15 years of experience leading HR teams across geographies. She has worked in cross cultural, global, highly matrixed environment in different HR Roles with large well- known Global Organizations. She is a firm believer of data-driven HR consultation to Business Units and HR Management. Her strengths include Conceptualizing and driving people strategies aligned with core Business vision to build the right Culture through strong partnerships.

Kavita is currently associated with Alfa Laval as HR Business Partner. Her prior stint encompasses Amdocs (Pune) as Global HR Business Lead for India, Brazil, Cyprus; WNS Global Services (Pune) as Group Manager Human Resource; IBM (Pune) as Asst. Manager of Human Resource Duration; and Nipuna Satyam Pvt Ltd (Bangalore) as Sr. Executive Human Resources.  

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

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?

A culture of any organisation is like a nervous system that responds to different stimulus learns from experiences, provides a feedback loop and help in evolving and becoming better. It’s a total personality of the organisation encompassing the collective core values & belief system, the norms, rhythm, habits which define the behaviour of its people right from the fresher to the highest echelons of the management. It is not something that gets built in a day surreptitiously and informally, rather it requires its leaders to build it mindfully, with storytelling, with rituals, with positive reinforcements, with walking the talk every time.

HR as a people function play a very crucial and critical role as a consultant, advocate, partner, and gatekeeper to keep reflecting and bringing back the focus of one and all to the essence of organisation culture in every action and step. It is not easy, as more often than not cost and efficiencies of scale start taking precedent, and culture is viewed as soft, but this is exactly where HR must challenge and speak up to steer the importance of cultural aspects. It is a delicate and tactful road and one that must be taken with pride by all HR professionals.

Culture is that the invisible driving force of the organisation that has the power to unite people, to give them a sense of purpose which is bigger than them. And if done right be rest assured you have created a differentiator for success and a way to harness potential into productivity.

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

I believe mentors and coaches are lifelines that we all get at various stages in our professional journey, and if we truly seek, we can find them in our personal lives too. These are individuals who can guide and advise us from their own experiences and knowledge. Shape our thoughts and approaches, open a world of new ideas and paradigms, and make us realise that whatever our dream is, whatever path we set out for our career road map, it is possible to achieve, if only we believe in learning and give our best.

Having said that, if you are a fresher and get the opportunity, by virtue of being a part of a great organisation who gives you a mentor or a coach to settle well in your first professional experience, one must make the best use of this opportunity and soak up all the learnings, as these nuggets of wisdom will define the journey ahead and start shaping you in your professional area of work.

Being in my professional area of Human Resource has provided many occasions for me to be a mentor or a coach, as well as interact and work closely with different Mentors and Coaches across a range of expertise and experience, and I must confess that each time this process drives a unique value.

The hunger and joy to be a lifelong learner will make you see your mentors and coaches as  special celebrity chefs that come to give you those special tips to elevate your dish slightly higher and make it stand out, so relish and savour every interaction and keep revisiting the knowledge gathered.

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?

Perseverance, purpose and fire in the belly are the underlying behaviours that can take someone go as far and long they want to in their career. I like to categorise them as life skills as they matter the most, but if you talk specifically about soft skills for graduates – I would say the ability to present yourself and your thoughts in a coherent, clear and impressive manner will definitely make you stand apart from the rest.

To be successful as a graduate, be open to adapt and learn whatever comes your way. Be flexible and inquisitive to ask and clarify, it only reflects that you are invested in your professional growth and your colleagues and seniors around you will be only too happy to guide you. After all, no one else but you own it to yourself to succeed in your endeavours.

The external skills are easy to acquire and you will be required to do so as you move along in your career, but the most important skill is building your core, if the foundation is right the structure will be strong and steady.

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

According to me and my experience below are some of the essential traits to any HR professional irrespective to the role or level they are at:

Business Partnership and Understanding – no matter which sub-function of HR you belong to, you play a crucial role and that is why you are where you are, so it is imperative that you view and consider yourself as a business partner from HR (not support function but a partnership function), and only then can you change the narrative, and for that to happen, for you to be true and real partner, you must first and foremost understand the business, its vision, strategy, road map, its pain points, and its success stories, and then look at the value you can create. Customer focus should be as much your goal as it is for the rest of the organisation.

Curiosity & Courage – to ask questions, to speak your mind and most importantly to have an ‘Opinion’ and not go by with the majority. Challenge your leaders – within your function or in Business, help them reflect on things from the people point of view, be passionate but with a strong sense of ethics.

Knowledge of HR Function - be invested and interested to know what is happening in your domain and beyond. Be open to being a lifelong learner as this will keep your curiosity bug fed. In HR function itself, there are many domains that can give you opportunities to stretch your knowledge and gain the versatility to become a more holistic and rounded professional. Remember, like any other function, you are an expert in yours and this expertise must come across through your interactions and work and is possible if you keep sharpening the saw and build this muscle.

Decoding Data through storytelling – being in HR gives you access to a plethora of data and information for an entire Lifecycle of employees in your organisation. You must consciously develop the art of storytelling by bringing to the forefront the underlying observations from these data sets. Look at what’s behind the numbers and read in between figures to build initiatives and practices.

Employee centricity – Last but not the least in any way, you must keep employee experience at the core of everything that you do, design or drive - be it practices, policies, processes, innovations, interactions, etc. Never forget the Human in Human Resource, because the only difference between a great organisation and the average one is the people who are there.

Have you ever been involved in the employment termination of your team-member? How did you prepare for the conversation?

Yes, I have been. Though it is never a pleasant situation to be in, sometimes a necessary one to create the right alignment between the organisation and the employee. It is that tough part of a leadership role that one must know how to do it right.

Preparation for this conversation depends on the approach that you want to take, for me I follow certain ground rules like:

  • Always be respectful and approach the discussion in a humane empathetic way
  • The termination could be for different reasons, so be prepared with facts and background.
  • For performance-related termination, be conscious that sometimes organisations expectations and employee’s skill may not be a good match resulting in poor performance, help your team member see this misalignment, and give them hope to look for a role that better suits their skills.
  • Be professional and choose your words carefully and mindfully. These conversations can have a lasting impact on someone’s confidence and morale.

As Maya Angelou said, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’

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?

Before we directly dive into this question, I would like you to take a pause and reflect on both the words, what is the definition of talent for an organisation and then in relation to that definition, how do you define shortage of this talent. It’s easier to get swayed by the buzzwords that float around, but I always take the approach of looking at a situation from all possible viewpoints and then create a strategy to address it jointly along with my business leaders, be a CEO or any other level of hierarchical management.

The good starting point with some tips to address this challenge will be to outline:

  • Hire for potential – identify candidates who not only have done great in their current roles and experience but also come across as future potential talent. Have the drive, attitude, and aptitude to make great leaps. Hiring for potential will ensure that you build a pipeline of talent with every new hire.
  • Define what does talent means for you, what are those core competencies, key skills, and must have behaviour indicators that are necessary for being a talent in your organisation. Once you define that, identify employees who exude these in abundance, go ahead and nurture, reward, and engage them. This will go a long way in building and sustaining a talent-oriented culture
  • Create diversity, and for a moment, let’s look beyond and include more than just gender diversity. Look at creating a diversity of thoughts, experience, generation, seniority, etc. this will help you tap into probable candidates who you did not think of talent before. It’s up to you to expand the talent pool in relation to your talent definition
  • Upskill and reskill! Be proactive and pre-emptive, shape the talent for tomorrow today, by right investment in learning academy’s that are aligned with the organisation vision and need for future skills, as much as they are attuned to developing current ones.

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? 

Employee Engagement is a very wide topic and entails the total engagement of an employee within the organization. It is that one thing that makes you look forward to your work/job. It may mean different things for different employees and as HR is it especially important to understand this underlying driver for the employees without being judgemental.

For some it is the sense of purpose they get in an organisation by virtue of the role they play, or the opportunities they get, the learning and exposure they are provided, sense of pride on being associated with a specific brand, contribution to the top or bottom line, contribution to the community, or even being a part of fun groups, and not to forget that for some it may be a desire of getting more salary (and should not be judged as you don’t know what personal place the employee is at, if it’s a need, it’s a need).  So, an employee engagement definition may cover all of this or some of this related to the culture of the organisation and what it wants to drive as its central core value. Therefore, in order to engage your employees, it is imperative for the managers and management to have a pulse on these factors on an ongoing and real-time basis. As the saying goes – an engaged employee is a happy employee, and a happy employee creates a healthy and positive work environment, with ripple effects of benefits.

Now to answer to the part of fun events, as the name suggested these are fun activities and are conducted by the fun committee and not HR. That it is a responsibility of HR is a perspective that needs changing and this change must be driven as much by the management in an organisation as by the HR leaders.

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

When I look back at the journey of the last 15 years, I get a sense of WOW in general from the road travelled so far. I truly and humbly believe in lifelong learning, and at every step every decision I took contributed to sharpening my saw and adding new skills. Though not all steps were easy and not all decisions simple, then nothing worth having comes easy.

If I have to pick an experience that truly impacted my perspectives and outlook, was the opportunity I got to be the Global HR site leader for multiple countries in one of my previous organisations. Leading a culturally global team of HR professionals (Brazil, Cyprus, India, and Israel), building the people agenda and HR site strategies along with my team, having employee centricity in focus, creating a great workplace, was an enriching and elevating experience. Very early on it helped me build on my managerial skills of leading a virtual team, practicing inclusion, value and respect the cultural and geographical uniqueness that each of my team members brought to make one collaborative and cohesive HR team.

The role gave me the insight that no matter where we belong in this whole wide world, the fundamental make up of our emotions and needs - excitement, motivation, engagement, desire are all the same. Everyone has a beautiful story; we need only listen to it.

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? 

Evolution and transformation is a part of both our professional and personal lives. There is a constant cycle of improving on what we do today to create a better tomorrow. A part of that same evolution is the transition into AI, Robotics, Machine learning, IoT, etc. it will have a lasting impact on all functions in an organisation, and HR is no different.

I’m a big believer of a glass half full, and I view these winds of change as an opportunity for the HR function. True some role may have to undergo a major shift, and some may become redundant with the advent of chat boxes, self-service tools, etc but there will also be many new roles and profiles in HR that will get created, which were never thought of before, HR Data Scientist, Engagement Experts, Digital HR Experience leads to name a few. The game-changer for us will be to proactively understand the shift in the HR function both as individuals and experts in this area, as well as to leverage the impact of it in a positive way for our organisations.

Use of Social media and digitalisation can be embraced as an enabler to create a meaningful and significant impact on the experience of external candidates, stakeholders and employees, in all facets of HR interactions – changing the landscape of hiring by virtue of social sites,  Learnings through gamification, Virtual Interviews, and Onboarding, Real time pulse survey and employee mood study through digital touchpoints, Using Apps and latest technology, simplifications, and automation of processes, etc.

Technology is here to stay and take us on an agile ride, and HR must be at the forefront leading this digital transformation.

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?     

Henry Ford once said, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right’. So, the power lies with you, you are the artist who can choose to paint the canvas of your career with the picture you like with the colours you want.

For me, HR is a profession that gives you an excellent and exciting opportunity and platform to be a part of something meaningful and impactful. It is a profession which comes with a lot of responsibility and must always be borne in mind that every action has a ripple effect.

As a young and aspiring HR practitioner, have a passion for your field and hunger to soak and absorb the immense learning available around you. Try working in the different areas of the HR profession to build your knowledge with a T-Shape model of depth and breath, this will make you a more rounded HR professional, and enable you to create real value for yourself and for the organisation at large.

Be curious, be brave, be comfortable with failure as it always has a lesson in disguise, invest in creating good emotional wellbeing, develop a mindset of looking ahead and trying to do things not done before, and the opportunities will follow you, rather than the other way around.

Thank you, Kavita, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it.  

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