HR initiatives must be closely tied into the organization-wide business plan and objectives

Snehal has a blend of business, technology and operational HR practices/management skills with an extensive international experience including assignments in India, APAC and strong working exposure with Europe, North America, and the Middle East. 
An experienced HR Executive with a demonstrated history of working in the FMCG, pharma, automotive, manufacturing, engineering services, electrical, research labs, and power management industry, Snehal is a skilled leader in Talent Assessment & Development, Executive Compensation, Organizational Design, Culture, Labour Relations, Performance Development, University relations and Mergers & Acquisitions.

Presently leading HR function for a group of technologists and commercial teams focused on developing futuristic solutions and spearhead business efforts for Cooper Lighting solutions, India. Along with the India portfolio, she also has responsibilities for the China region. Wherein, she interfaces with regional businesses to develop talent strategies and leading HR functions.

Snehal is an accomplished human resources executive with a commerce degree, MBA in HR, study in labor laws, and certified HOGAN executive coach.   

Please tell us a little bit about your own HR Story and how you grew up to be in your current position?

Hahaha, thanks for making me feel special with this question.

My career story is simple and a true reflection of my belief of ‘follow the heart’. I have always followed my heart loud and clear. My belief is, as long as your heartbeats at the right place with the positive beat you are in the game, and the moment you become calculative the doubt creeps in, and you lose your originality which leads to catastrophe sooner or later.

I always believed that no matter how much technology changes the way we act/interact, 

it’s the human touch that will continue to make a difference to everything that we aspire to do.
That’s the greatest asset anyone can have, best of the best machines are worth nothing if the human that operates it is not good enough.  This profession is a perfect destination which allows me to make an impact on not only asset for a corporation, but I touch the life of every human around me, that what fascinates me.

I always approached my job with a passion and keep reminding myself that everything I do is going to impact the number of families, not the individuals.  That keeps me on my toes and inspires me to get up and wear that suit one more time to get back to work.

I have always said YES to every new opportunity, be ita variety of industries   I have served, from fast-moving consumer products to highly engineered industrial products. I have deliberately tried to ensure I get exposed to every aspect of the function from dealing with unionized plant employees to the PhDs and postdocs in the research arena. I have always

tried to align my priorities with the business priorities
and one of the first thing that comes to my the mind is how my business leader will look at it and think about it, that continued to help me with my evolution as an HR leader and I am still trying to be the best student of the function.  I worked with some of the best managers in the industry, had the privilege to know them personally and silently picking up traits. The good part was they believed in me, took chances with me … this something I am trying to practice as well.

Everyone is special if he/she gets the right environment to explore and exploit. The biggest part of my role is to create that environment where my team is fearlessly exploring as well as exploiting at the same time.

COVID-19 has changed workplace dynamics in many ways. What has been your learnings during this phase? What changes do you see happening at the workplace and in HR’s role post-COVID-19?

These are unprecedented times, after the initial anxious moments of the pandemic I started looking at this as a lifetime experience. Our operations are changing forever, and it’s important that we keep ourselves reminding the new normal.  During this phase, we have realized the importance of human touch -

a touch with a little snippet of physical affection that brings a bit of comfort, support, and kindness to each one of us.

It was never more critical than today to stay connected with each other to get the anxiety out OR sometimes just to tell each other ‘we care’. 

Human minds usually imagine things worse than what itis and starts feeling insecure, that when we all start suffering in silence.
I have made it a point to reach out and connect 100% of my team members (one to one) to let them know ‘we care’.

I am a big advocate of ensuring Psychological safety for our employees; it is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. I changed my approach towards counseling and started being more expressive and expose my vulnerability which helped in believing each other and continue to be secure vulnerable.

We usually over-predict what will change in 12 months but underpredict what can change in 12 months. It was amazing to see the speed at which we adopted technology to deal with the new situation arising from the pandemic, I was thrilled with the easy resources that were always at our fingertips and we only saw the value in the crisis.  One of the biggest realization I  saw among the workforces is the

importance of teamwork
  it did not ask for any instructions/rules of engagement, but the crisis has brought our team closer and appreciate the value each one of us brings to the table.  It will be a crime to not to mention how all our families evolved too, especially as we took work to home which has buried the lines between home and office but there is a need to balance out and our families experience that change.

I saw my role as changing 

from board room to drawing room, being more of a facilitator to most of the time be just be a good ear to let people vent out the frustration and then counsel.

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? 

Allow me to reiterate, everyone knows that

human capital is the most difficult capital to build
. It calls for years of investment to hone the gem, and no one likes to see employees going away. Because each one of these employees is part of the chain to keep our businesses running as smoothly as they can. At the same time,
the business environment is not in our control and layoffs are a reality. No one likes doing it but if they are doing it be assured everything else is explored.
 We have commitments towards the long-term viability of the business and these tough decisions are necessary to ensure the same.

I think the threat of change is pretty potent. In humans,

blood pressure doesn't go up when people get laid off: it goes up when they first hear rumors that layoffs are coming which triggers the panic on the floor.
As an HR, the key here is to be transparent with our communication and ensure that our teams are confident of the continuity and viability of our business long term. When I  first executed the plan myself, it was emotionally draining but then I quickly realized that it’s about most of the teams who are in the office and feeling the vacuum of not having a co-worker around. And we need to ensure this team is confident about the future of our company.

Every person who is impacted by the layoff was a value creator for us and I am a strong advocate of providing the necessary support to facilitate not only financial but also emotional needs during this time. I have personally been in touch with a few, to provide my counseling in a personal capacity.

A layoff doesn’t mean ‘end of the road’ but it’s an opportunity to ‘pause and reflect’. 
I have seen talents which completely changed the career path and been highly successful as well. Recently one of my colleagues invests in himself by going back to college and earn his MBA and now serving at an international location. Examples like this need to be heard more often, and as an HR what I have done is connect and communicate to ensure the continuity.

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?

Thanks for the question, this is so important especially for female professionals as they battle out with the personal and professional priorities but it’s unfair to say that only woman deals with it, men also have similar challenges at different intensity level.

I consider a career as a marathon, it’s not about a year or two but it’s all about to keep doing things consistently well over a period. 

Remember, in any average career span of 30+years we are bound to get some dull time and that gap should not be the reason for any one of us to stop OR slow down.
Accepting this and not making this as a mental block for us is a key to deal with these talents.  Mental block not necessarily with HR but also with talents that needs to be addressed here. I endorse transparency, it's important to be up-front and open about the gaps because it’s the talent that matters.

My approach towards talents with career, the gap is not on WHY but HOW…

How the break is utilized to remain contemporary. Like a  rest day in the marathon exercise schedule, wherein you build the muscles, if these gaps are used to build professional muscles by learning new skills and upskilling it tells us about the attitude of the talent and I am all for having a talent like this on the team.  Remember,

time is a scarce commodity, and invested wisely will only yield long term value.

When we speak of the role of HR changing can you share with us based on your experience, what are the primary expectations of a CEO from the HR Function, in general, and HR Head, in particular?

We are all part of the transformation journey, every function is changing, and HR is no exception to it. Every CEO / Business leader likes to see functions wearing a bigger hat and go beyond obvious biases to think as an overall business entity level impacts and long-term sustenance of the business. HR a critical pillar for any organization as we deal with people and people processes that are at the heart of any organization. I see the expectations from HR evolving too -

  • Strategic Partner:
    HR initiatives must be closely tied into the organization-wide business plan and objectives. Talent strategies and growth strategies to be closely tied up together. Maintain the external orientation to keep our organization contemporary
  • Employee advocate:
    It is the role of HR to champion the cause of the employee, including understanding their needs and aspiration to help them be motivated and productive.
  • Performance enhancer
    HR must strive to bring the best out of each employee by creating the right HR processes right from the employee engagement, learning and development, performance management, hiring and retention, compensation and benefits, and soon.
  • Change champion:
    HR’s duty to be the change champion by enabling a smooth and effective change process and continuously driving efficiency of everything that we do.

During our life, at one point or another, we all make mistakes and fail. How do you handle your failures? [Please share an experience when a few critical things didn’t go as per the plan and how you came out of the situation. What lessons did you learn?]

This aspect is so close to my heart, I approach my job without any fear, and I am like to experiment and explore avenues regularly.  Although we all play to win, we all are bound to make mistakes and fail.

Remember, no-one intentionally makes mistakes but isn’t that what we call an ‘experience’.  What we do during and post a mistake is what matters.

I had the privilege to work with a  boss who was a great mentor too, I remember an instance when I was perceived as a mistake and no-one wanted to be associated with the program, at that time my business leader stood by me. He listened to me carefully and told me to be brave and comfortable in your own skin,

don’t come
to the office to be popular but come here to be effective.
In the process if you fail, call it a ‘First Attempt in Learning’ these words stayed with me till today. Firstly, have conscious acceptance of the fact that I can fail and it’s OK to fail. And, with acceptance comes the ownership of the impact it has created on the larger ecosystem.

I am a big advocate of having your trusted shoulders/mentors who are genuinely interested, honest, and direct with you.

Ensure you tap into the wisdom of the mentors to keep identifying blind spot(s) and re-draw your approach as appropriate.
The biggest fear we have is not the failure but the perceived social image we create with it.  It’s the fear of being judged that kills creativity and slows us down. I have made a conscious effort to surround myself with a group of people with a growth mindset and whom I can trust and talk about the mistakes I do. It’s a treasure that we all should possess.

The landscape of HR is changing with COVID, GIG, HR Tech, AI. What disruptions do you foresee in HR over the next 5 years?

You are spot-on, that HR landscape is continuously evolving. We are all witnessing technological transformation around us and this space is changing faster than we think. I have never looked at technology as a disruption but have been a quick adopter of technology. It’s my stint with a research lab that changed my perspective towards technology and what it can do for all of us.  I am fascinated with the AI and what it can do for us, I see it’s changing the  HR operations,  new employee onboarding experience and many of the talent management processes, and our ability to monitor operations in real-time and make data-driven decisions. It’s a fun time…

Most of our new workforce is millennial, and this is the group which has been experiencing the world differently than most of us.
  Access to information and global exposure is building different aspirations and motivations for this group.  As a HR team, it's critical for us to keep the engagement levels high for this group and ensure commitment levels stay high with the time.

Social media is another communication tool that has changed the way we seek and interpret information. It’s amazing to see how quickly you can reach the crowd across the globe, challenge here is -

there are many self-declared experts, and no-one seems to invest time to authenticate information.
 It has become super critical for us to leverage the reach at the same time to be careful with the social profile.

My biggest focus has been to pass on a ‘sense of achievement’ to all my new workforce.

Talent retention will continue to be a strategic challenge in high growth markets like ours, and competition for talent is going to be high.
  I have been thinking of creative ways to appreciate and pass on the sense of achievement, to create long term engagement with the organization.

Having said about all these evolutions there is nothing more soothing than human touch and challenge is to remain in touch and not get distracted …  remember, a phone call is always better that an electronic mail, a handshake is always more soothing than emoji.  Keep doing it!!!

Lastly, what is your message for young aspiring HR professionals & Graduates.

I have following messages for my colleagues who aspire to be an HR professional

  • Follow your heart: It’s the passion that drives us and once you put your heart in it, rest all are easy to follow.
  • Remember‘3S’
    • Show up… when it's needed, the willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time
    • Speak up… for things you see can be done better, the day you don't speak up for the things that matter to you is the day your chance to make an impact truly ends
    • Step up… to take responsibility, hold yourself accountable for the change you want to see/make it happen.
Thank you very much, Snehal. for sharing the wonderful insight. We appreciate it.
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