No matter how SUCCESSFUL and PROFITABLE organizations are, they must be prepared for CONTINGENCIES to ensure BUSINESS CONTINUITY
Meghna Kumbhat is an enterprising young HR professional in a traditionally male-dominated industry. She is a forward-thinking but result-driven leader with a strategic outlook.
She is an HR business partner in Volvo Group India Pvt Ltd and supports Volvo Buses. She has proven inter-personnel skills and the ability to work with different cultures. She is one who constantly seeks challenges and transforms them with innovation to drive business agendas.
As an HR business partner, she has supported diverse and complex business functions through times of significant change. She is also a trusted advisor who consult and coach business leaders. She has led and been part of several cross-functional projects, which has had far-reaching benefits.
She has also worked with General Motors Technical Center India.
Meghna holds an MBA degree in Human Resources from Christ University, Bangalore and a BE degree in Instrumentation Technology from BIT, Bangalore.
Thank you, Meghna, for giving your valuable time to this interview. Your kindness is much appreciated. 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.
I started my journey in HR with General Motors Technical Centre India. I was hired as part of the campus recruitment drive. The organisation had invited eligible students from two colleges and the interview process was very thorough and intensive. As I recollect, there was group discussion, technical discussion, competency-based interview, and last round was an interview with the Head-HR. Every round being an elimination, everyone’s nerves were frazzled. It was a long day and stretched well beyond 10 pm
The most interesting round I thought was the competency-based interview. Being a fresher in the field, you are not used to scenario-based, behavioural question and answer round with a three-member panel probing you.
One question I still remember being asked by my now ex-colleague was about the percentage rate of gratuity. My confidence was a little shaken when he repeatedly kept asking whether it was the right answer. Thankfully, I stuck to my answer and maybe that was a part of the reason in my being selected. Whenever I catch up with my friends, we still talk about that question! It has become part of my General Motors' memory.
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 of your employer and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What did not coincide with your expectations?
The stint in my first organisation is definitely special. It set me up for success by providing me various avenues to learn and opportunities for me to put them into practice. In my first year, I was doing tasks that my college classmates were only partly executing. I was part of the Talent Acquisition team and I, at no time, imagined that I would be part of various campus drives, job fairs, and various other initiatives from the first month of my joining. Even before my probation period was over, I was given the responsibility of driving many such initiatives and tasks.
I was very happy and surprised that the organisation trusted a novice like me with high impact activities. The entire HR team was supportive and motivating. It was fun working with like-minded colleagues, which made brainstorming and ideation very easy. I enjoyed coming to work and looked forward to learning and proving myself every day.
My learning from this experience is that
if you see potential in individuals, entrust them with responsibility, which might be a stretch. Be available as a support in the background but give space to the individual to perform and learn.
Do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience?
Yes, I absolutely agree that mentors can make a difference in a fresh graduate’s mindset and outlook. I had a mentor early in my career who helped me realise my own potential when I could not see it myself. My mentor pushed me to think about my aspirations and guided me to chalk out a career path. Without this support, I do not think I would have thought so clearly about what I wanted or how could I set myself to achieve success.
My recommendation for every young HR professional is to
find yourself a mentor, someone whom you look up to, who is interested in your growth and can contribute to it. It will make a huge difference in your outlook and will open you up to different perspectives.
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?
COVID-19 has changed many things - From how we greet each other to how we conduct business. Before the pandemic, there were many discussions on the implications of technology on the future workplace. With the pandemic, the future workplace is what we make it to be.
We have already witnessed many IT and technology giants announce a high percentage of their workforce to continue to work from home even after the pandemic ends. They have changed their business models. I anticipate that very soon, other industries including traditional and conventional industries like manufacturing will also move most of their support staff to a more flexible working situation.
This will give a boost to the pre-pandemic successful co-working space industry. It will be easier for organisations to opt for a more flexible plug and play option than investing in a real estate where flexibility is limited. Therefore,
HR will have an additional challenge of adapting such sharing spaces to reflect the organisation’s values and culture. HR will also have to keep in mind and balance both the remote working and the in-house working population in all the policies, initiatives, and guidelines. This includes training leaders and managers on how to manage their teams, for whom this scenario could be new. HR will also have to work with other functions like security, administration, and legal to ensure employee health and safety. There is also a renewed focus on mental wellbeing under the health and wellbeing umbrella. Apart from ensuring precautions to safeguard employees physically, HR will also have to develop programs and/or collaborate with specialized external vendors towards this topic.
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?
I believe that culture is the mirror of behaviours accepted by society. Similarly, in an organisation,
culture is the set of behaviours displayed and accepted by the employees and the management. To put it in simple terms, everyone in the organisation is responsible for the culture that the organisation has. It starts with the leadership and percolates to the last individual.
It is extremely difficult to change the culture of any society and it is the same with an organisation. The HR department has an important role to play as we can partner with the leadership and define what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviours. It is also important to clearly state the underlying values of the organisation and reiterate it through the Vision, Mission, and policies of the organisation. Everything must be in tandem with each other. We have to be the flagbearers of the culture along with the management.
When there is a mismatch between the values and culture of individuals and the organisation, disengagement stems. A healthy culture ensures fair and unbiased treatment of employees, transparency, and seamless communication. Therefore, it is directly a contributor to how we can ensure employee engagement. Most employers of choice have culture, as their unique selling proposition.
I have had the good fortune to work on a culture transformation initiative in my organisation, which contributed positively to business results.
What is your take on “Career Gaps”? We come across many people who are forced to hide certain aspects of their employment history because organizations do not shortlist their profiles because of career gaps. How do you address such cases?
In my view, Career Gaps are a concern of the past. There is a generational shift now. With millennials, entering the workforce, their aspirations and ways of working is very different from Gen Y or the Baby Boomer generation. Companies have had to adapt to this change. Employees now are more risk-taking and do not hesitate to try a few roles until they can decide where their interest lies.
Companies who are rated the best organisations to work for are the ones who are progressive and re-define the age-old requisites of an ideal employee.
Today there is a dearth of talent and employers seek skills, competences, and the right attitude more than the traditional criteria of continuity in education and employment. Learning agility is the sought-after capability.
Nevertheless, there are many hiring managers who are of a conventional mindset and we, as HR, should play an active role to sensitize them to the current today’s talent scenario and guide them on how to navigate it.
What do you think 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?
Every industry has their own set of niche skills that are difficult to hire. The active and passive candidates available for hire for such skills would not even be a 60-70% fit. There are two ways on how to handle this. One is to create an internal training program with a customized curriculum to help train external hires for such specialized roles. This is time-consuming and the organisation should be able to budget three-to-six months for the new hire to be trained and start performing as per the expectation.
The second is to build an
internal talent pool. Many organisations today have lean structures with every employee performing specific tasks. The focus here has to be on identifying potential employees who could be trained on niche skills, who already have the pre-requisites. Identify projects they can work on and slowly test them in small assignments. The creation of an internal talent pool will also give the organisations the ability to do job rotations and minimize the dependability on a few employees. Most often, both the options I have mentioned have to be undertaken. It is imperative to create a balance by hiring fresh talent and infusing fresh zeal in the organisation and in parallel develop internal talent, which motivates and engages the existing employees.
How would you describe your leadership style? What values are most important to you as a leader?
I believe in working collaboratively and towards a common goal. Being in HR, most of your stakeholders are the business leaders, therefore one’s
influencing capability should be high. Few key factors to be able to influence is your conviction, belief for what is right, and what the best way forward is. It is also imperative to have business realities as a key consideration. We in HR can only be successful if we partner with the businesses we support and pave the way ahead together. By doing so, we will be able to establish ourselves as a leader.
However, when it comes to the team context, my style varies. It could vary between participative and delegating/directing.
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?
This is a very interesting question and though everyone’s version of the future varies; you will find the common thread is how the advancement of technology will force us to change and keep up. In HR, we have already witnessed this from the usage of bots to analytics to help us make better talent management decisions.
During this pandemic, many organisations have had realizations that
employees are much more productive and efficient when they work from home. I currently work in a manufacturing organisation and I should mention that even I was surprised with the ease of how we all adapted to this new reality of working from home on an extended basis and were still able to deliver results. This was also an opportunity to upskill and train ourselves. .
In my view, the next year will be dedicated to how organisations stabilize themselves. This pandemic has taught us that no matter how successful and profitable we are, we have to be prepared for contingencies. The focus will be on how to keep our fixed and operating costs low, derive maximum efficiency from the workforce, and focus on flexibility. This will put a
new focus on devising new and innovative cost-efficient ways to work and technology will play a huge part in this. We will see many freelancing and gig jobs and the traditional economy will change. As HR leaders, we will have to ensure we help our organisations look ahead, be prepared, and work proactively to ensure business success.
Lastly, what is your message for fresh HR Graduates? How should they prepare themselves for a career in HR?
In my opinion, the preparation should start much before graduating. During their education tenure , I recommend students to look for internship opportunities with organisations to get hands-on experience, even if not mandated by the university. Most business schools and corporates insist on pursuing projects during the internship. This needs to be coupled with a shadowing exercise. This way, the student gets a flavour of working in a corporate environment and can start preparing themselves even before they enter the workforce.
Our university curriculum has not kept up with requirements in the corporate world and we need to urgently bridge the gap. theory is very important; it builds the base but there also is a need for practicality.
I would also urge fresh graduates to have an open mind. Do not restrict yourself in your initial years to certain roles. Explore yourself in various roles,
volunteer, and raise your hand to be in as many additional activities and projects as you can. This will help you gain exposure and an understanding of the reach and importance of HR.
Lastly my parting advice:
- Speak up and seek clarification when required. Do what is right, no matter the resistance.
- To be successful, understand the business (their realities, challenges, objectives, and targets)
- Keep the end-user in mind
Thank you, Meghna, for sharing wonderful insight. Highly appreciated.