Be open and willing to invest in the upskilling of your existing and planned talent

Priyanka has 12+ years of experience in the HR domain and has done extensive work in the field of talent acquisition and employee relations field. Priyanka is a commerce graduate from Delhi University and has completed her MBA in HR field and at the moment is pursuing a professional certification for the title of Senior certified professional from SHRM.

Priyanka is currently managing the responsibilities of Human Resource Business Partner with Good Earth Design Studio Pvt. Ltd. She has extensive experience of managing HR in the Retail industry and really enjoys working with this very vibrant, dynamic, and ever-evolving industry. Having a stronghold & expertise in the area of Employee Relations in the organisation Priyanka has been known as a very intuitive recruiter with an ability to source the exact culture and skill match for profiles she would recruit for.

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

Let’s start!!!

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

To be honest, it started as a whimsical spur of the moment decision. My father actually pushed me to go for a job interview when I could not decide my field of interest even after six months of my graduation. It was an interview for a Packaging Executive job at Yakult, as they were just laying their operations out in India at that moment. The job specifically demanded all the candidates to be females and based on that merit the consultant friend of my father asked him to make me appear for this one. Caught in the situation, I decided to wriggle out of it by giving all twisted answers to the interviewer.

I entered the huge cabin where the HR professional and the Production Head from that unit was seated. After getting to know basics about me, the HR representative asked me what I would like to do in life. On thinking for a second or two, these words came out of my mouth- “I have studied about Human Resource as one of the chapters in my book of Business Studies and felt quite intrigued by it. The power that is vested in an HR Professional of getting the right people for the right job at the right time, is what makes me feel really interested to take that up as a job option for myself. I think I would like to be an HR professional at some point in time.” Having given that answer, I immediately started feeling hopeful that the mission was accomplished here, and this one answer would just topple the boat. Little did I know that this very answer would make them like me and offer me a job in their HR department. Now a regular human being would just jump with joy and take that offer up immediately and try to do their best in this opportunity. But yet again my eccentric side got the better of me and I turned down the offer by saying I was not sure if I would like to come down every day to this very dusty and far off place in the industrial area, didn’t really see myself working here.

Though I did quite successfully screw that interview up that one interview helped me find the answer to my question of a long time, about what exactly I would have liked to do in my career.         

Six months later, I finally began my career as a stockbroker, which only lasted for 4 months, as I realised that probably my calling did lie in HR only and I would like to finally get on the route of- “getting the right people at the right time on the right place”, as I previously heard myself saying in my job interview. I then spoke to the HR department of the organisation to find if there was an opening in the team and as the luck may have it, they were indeed looking for a management trainee in the team to support them for a recruitment assignment for about 3-4 months. It however required me to leave my existing job with the organisation and take it up as an internship at a mere 2k a month stipend money. The internship though offered interesting avenues to learn and to understand the dynamics of HR from up close, it did not offer any guarantee on a job offer post the internship.

The risks were huge, but somehow it felt like just the right thing to do and I went for it, just as I believed my instinct at that time. It felt like a dream that I was chasing, and the dream was coming true for me, and I just could not have been happier.

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What has been your learnings during this phase? How will COVID-19 impact the role of HR in the next 12 months? What will be key challenges? What permanent changes do you foresee at the workplace post-COVID-19?

COVID has not just changed the way workplaces are operating, it has impacted every aspect of our lives. Earlier, for every small decision was preferred being taken in person, most of our meetings, conferences, and everything else has now moved to the virtual medium, which is a huge change. It has become all the more difficult for the millennials to handle the situation who were constantly on the move, meeting new people, seeing new situations every day and have now become confined to the nooks and corners of our own house. A lot of us are still stranded in the city we migrated to for work and are away from the family and those who moved back to their hometowns to be with family, are living with a constant fear that they may lose their jobs. . These situations have increased the stress levels in employees and expectations from HR professionals to keep employees engaged, motivated, and on track with their professional agendas.

Employee wellness has become one of the most talked-about topics of the day and how to increase the engagement levels are what the HR professionals have been grappling with. Most of the organisations only had sales-driven tech modules engrained in their system with absolutely none or extremely basic employee communication platforms that they had subscribed for.

Thus, for me, the biggest learning from the whole COVID era is that regular communication, feedback sharing, collaborating, and most importantly the Human touch has kept the organisations going strong and sane. One of the key challenges for the HR community in times like today is to get the organisation ready and adapted to the new ways of working and being more technology friendly. Another important thing that HR shoulders for the organisation are internal communication. Since employees are only interacting through their phones and laptops today, the way we build and hold communication, making sure the message is well understood by the target audience, is of paramount importance right now.

HR must be there on the forefront acting as the pillar of support for employees, and pillar of strength for the organisation, as times have become increasingly tough for both. For the HR profession, unfortunate but true it has been that it has always been treated as a side-line of the main business. The demeanour has to change, the treatment has to differ, as technically speaking it is only the HR professionals who act as the link between various people employed by the organisation and keep them together. I would also like to highly emphasize on the fact that the change has to be initiated by us, more than the other party. HR professionals will have to work harder to change the perception and break the stereotypes and be more of an integrally weaved link of the chain. Personally, you will have to invest hugely in the ideology of making sure that your end consumer i.e. Employees are happy, peaceful, and content with what you have to offer as a solution, as that speaks volumes for your career graph as well as the organisational performance. You might not have all the answers to the questions posed, but the ability to provide the right guidance and direction to your employees can do the trick, especially now when everything has become so uncertain due to this unforeseen situation. A better understanding of the business processes, structure, the team dynamics, and the culture is what will truly help HR professionals in customising their solutions and approach to become more proactive & communicative in times like these. The more HR will be able to drive the Tech adaptability, the smoother it will be for the organisation.

What are your thoughts about layoffs? What is the role of HR in layoffs? According to you, what is the appropriate way of managing layoffs?

I guess layoffs is one of the most emotional, upsetting, and dismal moments that HR professionals have to handle in their careers.

For me, it has just been quite dreadful sharing the news of layoffs with employees who have worked in the capacity of colleagues, peers even supervisors at times. Another thing to add here is, it is not just a difficult time for the employee who receives the pink slip but also for the employees who get left in the bunch of survived- the- turmoil lot. As the entire atmosphere of the organisation would feel very palpable, uncertain, unnerving, and spooky in times a place goes through layoffs. It literally feels like being under a hanging sword. It is not really a time which is liked by any of the businesses, but sometimes it is an unavoidable circumstance to keep the organisation going.

As an HR professional, I would say the best you can really do in managing layoffs is maybe these few things:

  • Be as transparent and as honest as your organisation may allow you to be with employees. It is not just the employees who will get effected would want to hear from you, the whole organisation may have several questions hammering them. Try and be earnest and your professional best and uphold the integrity for yourself and your employer.
  • Be strategic- Layoffs have to happen with a reason, and the reason that triggered this situation for you should be absolutely clear along with knowing who exactly should be laid off, with an understanding of clear reasons and impact thereof, of that person leaving. The idea is to make the situation more viable, not add to the problem by taking the wrong people off.
  • Time is of the essence when you execute layoffs. The broad-spectrum has to be ready along with ensuring that any and every lay off meeting must be held in a way that causes minimum disruption to the business. You as an HR professional will have to understand what the key hours of business are, so the impact and shock thereby can be minimised.
  • Be your sensitive and understanding best for the person who is being asked out of his/her job and the means of earning. People have their own set of responsibilities to shoulder. Your being empathetic towards their situation will only ease the stress off a little for you and the leaving employee.
  • Act proactive in terms of nicely and respectfully handling their exit process and being fair in calculating and paying off the settlement/severance package.
  • Above all, be as legally compliant as is possible. Layoffs are tricky not just from the perspective of being an emotionally unsettling phase of our career, they also at the same time have a lot of legalities embedded with them. Make sure you understand the laws governing employment in your state/city and your organization abides by them to avoid any legal jeopardies later.

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? 

To be honest, on a personal note I have always been the believer that “Career gaps” are not as bad as the employers perceive them to be. In such a fast-paced life, personal expectations and commitments suffer at least about 80% of the time for all those employed by the private organisations. A constant build-up of expectations, liabilities, commitments, and responsibilities that we all have to shoulder, most of the times end up burning the candle on both sides. Never comes a time in your regular life, when you actually have that spare moment lying around for you to pick up and use it just for your own self, without having to fulfil a need or the expectation of any kind, where you can actually invest in the things that you have wanted to do all your life but never had the opportunity to actually accomplish it.

 I am the one who highly favours the career gaps if they are justified. We all are much more than just our jobs or our professional lives, and anytime an interest that can bring fulfilment to you, must be pursued, a qualification that can bring an edge to your career must be taken up and you should devote to that. To break the monotony is just one of the most difficult challenge we all deal with, and Career Gaps could just be a perfect excuse to take time out and rebuild yourself, to revitalise the energy that you put in and at times also to come out more productive and engaged than you ever were. Loads of people take a sabbatical in their career, at times just to travel and fulfil what their heart desires. I would say why not if that is what reboots your system for the optimal performance, one should go ahead and do it.

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

It indeed is one of the most difficult tasks that the HR professionals have to achieve, and I guess all of us who have worked in HR have at some point or the other struggled with it. As we all would agree it is a stressful event for the person delivering the negative feedback, at times even more than the person who is at the receiving end of such feedbacks.

To prepare for such times, my personal philosophy has always been about working with data-backed feedback, which must constitute specific incidents or situations that raised a red flag for the performance. Also, the important thing to understand is that the manager/supervisor of the employee should also be able to explain to the employee about what exactly went wrong, and what could have been done to better the situation. It is important as an HR professional to hold the vibe and sentiment of the meeting. The negative feedback shared should not really be coming from a place of bias but has to be objective, honest, and of relevance to the organisation. This exactly is the biggest responsibility of the HR professional to make sure that all the above criteria are met.

The platform for feedback sharing also should create the environment for the person to understand the way ahead for him/her for the improvement of the performance and a clear set of guidelines of expectations that the manager may have.

Whenever I was on the other side of the table, providing negative feedbacks I made sure I prepared well in advance, made my notes around the topics/matters that we would like to take up in the discussion. Do a mock session preparing for this meeting, writing down anything or maybe keeping some crisp specific notes handy for the meeting always helped.

Something that I also came to realise was that it is important to build a rapport with the person you are going to be giving feedback to. Think of a situation, where someone out of the blue approached you and told you about a certain habit of yours which according to him/her was not right for the situation. How much would you pay attention to that random strange feedback received, probably none, and do absolutely nothing to take that feedback into account to better your behaviour. The same applies to employment situations too. If you are getting to meet the employee receiving the negative feedback for the first time, the feedback shared probably will have less or no impact at all. In most such situations, if you think it is impossible to have a first-hand rapport with the employee, make sure you at least familiarise yourself well enough for the situation by having a detailed conversation with the manager, peers, subordinates, etc. of the person. It is also important to set the context of the meeting right from the very start and make sure there is no beating around the bush while laying the feedback down. Be as explicit as you can and be empathetic to the person on the receiving end.

To tell you the truth, there is no assured guide around how to deliver the negative feedbacks really. The best advice that I can pass on to all the fellow HR professionals is that get to know your people better, and you will know what the best workable way for your folks is.

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?

The talent shortage is one of the most testing challenges that the global work scenario is facing and the effects of this can be huge on revenues. The talent shortage may be hard to see now with so much buzz around artificial intelligence and introducing robotics in the workplaces into a growing number of industries. But the time of facing an acute shortage of employees to take skilled jobs is not as far as we think.

The most renowned organizations in the world are hugely investing in training talent themselves, with an increased focus on hiring people straight out of school.

Businesses across the globe have started reporting a shortage of skilled staff. The even bigger challenge is attracting the top talent to come and work for you. Employees of today’s time are focusing a lot on career development opportunities, the best in class employer profile to go on their career timeline along with being overtly conscious about work-life balance and a very specific and detailed expectation around the quality of life that the employee would like to maintain.  An employee with so many expectations and asterisk marks while looking for their next career move is not only just going to be difficult to onboard but also shall pose a constant challenge for the employer to lose them to the competition. We all on the recruiting side of the table must have noticed an ongoing and constant increase in the ask of flexible work hours and willingness of the employer to invest in upskilling by employees of almost all domains. The world is changing, the way a generation before us has led their life is a completely forgotten scenario. Life has become extremely fast-paced and demanding for the entire clan of millennials. From outside, the work-situation might still look just the same for so many roles, but the increasing intervention of technology has completely shifted the paradigm of employment.   

Skills development is emerging as an HR priority in 2020.  HR must focus on cultivating an employee base that will seek out learning when they are able. HR leaders will need to make training and upskilling a goal alongside recruiting and hiring to build an effective workforce.    

The most effective steps that HR professional can invest in are:

  • Continuous investment & upkeep of employer brand
  • Keep your grind of recruitment active- Even if there is not an active ongoing requirement, it is important to be in the thick of things and keep exploring all your talent gates for anything relevant that may catch your eye. Build & nurture your talent pool on an ongoing basis.
  • Think hard & long about candidate experience. The whole process of approaching a candidate till the onboarding must be engineered in a way that it leaves a positive impact on the candidate, hence developing them into your ambassadors.
  • Stay abreast and relevant to the market that you hire from. Keep your facts brushed up about the compensation levels, compliances, and other benefits prevalent in your industry and geography.
  • Be open and willing to invest in the upskilling of your existing and planned talent.

These are some on the go tips that may help the recruiters in making a wise choice about their talent shortage situation.  

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

I would like to be known as an Inclusive leader I would say. Being inclusive is one of the key traits any leader could bank upon, a trait that can make you as a leader reach places. Times have evolved, your existing workforce in today’s time is much more culturally enriched, geographically & intellectually diverse, informed, smart, and strong headed as compared to times earlier.

I guess humility and a willingness to commit to the needs of this diverse group of people and an ability to strike the perfect coordination amongst your team is one of the most valued abilities a leader can develop. This is not just a skill that is good to have a thing as a leader, many studies have revealed that an inclusive leader has brought some real positive results for the productivity of the team and benefits of it to the organisation.

Being high on collaboration and creating a platform within your set of people where they can voice out their opinions is something a leader must be truly focused on. Your team should not only be presented with an opportunity to be heard, as a leader you are also responsible for incorporating the right & bright ideas by your team and rewarding and encouraging them for more good work accordingly. Make your people feel valued, provide them with autonomy and give them a chance to run their own races. Micromanaging is a thing of the past and has only brought adverse results for an employee’s productivity. Build more accountability and ownership in your team and let them experience things first-hand. Try and be a guide, mentor, and coach than being a manager. Always keep in mind a leader’s job is to make sure that your team performs to the best of their ability, hence you are accountable for their success and growth in life too.  

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

The HR function in the truest sense felt like a passionate and meaningful profession to me right from the very start even when I knew close to little about it. The responsibility of handling the most important asset of an organisation, recruiting them for the best possible jobs, matching the skills of an existing employee to the job requirements, making sure an employee has the best possible armour for his assignment by investing in his/her professional development, ensuring the right training and L&D options are available, keeping track of performances for people in the organisation and making sure the right feedback has been passed on to them at the right moment, and several such key tasks in an HR professional’s journey are nothing short of fascinating. The ability you will have as an HR professional to help people excel in their careers, do better in lives, secure good job options, have the right pay package for themselves will probably be a major source of satisfaction and a feeling of being content if you truly enjoy being in HR. Human behaviour being one of the most curious things, HR professionals have always had the opportunity to work with it and affect it to bring the good out.   

For me through my entire professional journey, I have always believed in believing in your employee and being with them in their journeys. This is exactly what I would like to say to all those young HR professionals out there. An employee is indeed an end customer for the HR professional. Make sure you invest in your customer wholeheartedly to build the right goodwill for yourself. HR has been responsible for upliftment of the employer and the employee alike and if you are genuinely passionate about committing to that task and invest right in it, that I would say would just be the start of a beautiful journey. What all can be achieved with that will only keep surprising you every step of the way. So, commit to it, give it your 100% and be proud that you of many people have got the opportunity.

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

Previous PostThe hardest part of recruitment is identifying the right candidates from a large applicant pool.
Next PostHR is VALUED only if their STATEMENTS is backed by DATA
Leave a Comment