Feedback is a Gift

Komal has spent over a decade in the HR domain is primarily Business Partnering and Employee Relation roles across the Product Technology & FMCG sectors. She enjoys leading business in creating accelerated opportunities, proactively solving business problems using the HR lens for forward-looking solutions, and Coaching leaders towards greater personal effectiveness. She also has a keen interest in the Inclusion & Diversity space with an eye to mapping this to the business objectives.

She started her career in Nokia and was there for ~5yrs in multiple roles before joining Diageo as HR Business Partner for 2.5yrs. Thereafter, she spent 1.5yrs in Intuit as the Employee Relations Head for India & Israel before taking a 2months break to travel South, Central & North America. She has been with Inmobi for a year & a half as the APAC HR Head for business teams.

In her personal time, she enjoys planning her next travel and learning about newer cultures (having been to almost 60 countries to date), writing and listening to music.

"He is passionate about Photography, Hindustani Classical Music & Exploring Places. He continues to be a Nature Enthusiast, Nature & Wildlife Photographer, and a seasonal Bike Rider. Most often he loves enjoying quality time with his spouse, Son (11) & other family members.

Thank you, Komal, for giving your valuable time to this interview. We look forward to your candid responses.
Let’s Start!!!
Please tell us a little bit about your own HR Story and how you grew up to be in your current position?

HR happened to me by chance in some ways. I had joined MBA with the thought that I would major in Finance as I had done my B. Com (Hons) during college and it felt like the next logical step. However, my B-School courses in the 1st year changed my mind and also taught me the lifelong lesson of keeping an open mind to a plethora of opportunities. After I discovered my inspiration to enable people through the HR lens in college, I majored in both HR & Marketing and decided to go with HR for building a career in that area. It’s been 10 years now and the dynamism of the field is what keeps me on my toes and keeps the creative juices flowing.

I started my career as a Global Management Trainee in Nokia and played a multitude of roles over the next 5yrs there from HR Business Partnering with Project Management and Employee Relations Business Partnering. Nokia gave me a strong holding in the basics of the field along with building professional ethos and values through on-the-job learning and experiences. Over the next 5yrs, I worked in organizations like Diageo as HR Business Partner & Intuit as Employee Relations Business Partner before joining Inmobi last year as Sr HR Business Partner for APAC. At Inmobi, I have been focused on leading business priorities through HR lens and people interventions in the area of org design, leadership enablement, talent development and engagement.

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?

COVID-19 has taught all of us the value of kindness, resilience, and gratitude more than anything.

Turning our company completely digital meant re-thinking the basics of how we do business to how we support each other as well.

Some learnings along the way have been letting go of the aspects that may be out of our control to focus on the experiences we can enhance, being resilient and patient in looking at the bigger picture, and being intentional about how to collaborate and grow together. #inittogether is a feeling as well as a mindset.

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 have been on both ends of the spectrum with layoffs, as someone who is a part of the team defining the layoffs as well as the employee being laid off in my career. Having experienced it from both sides, I genuinely feel that what can differentiate the experience of someone who is being impacted is only the

transparency in communication and the handling of conversations when such situations arise.

HR can play the role of keeping leaders honest about the intent of why a layoff is happening. In most cases, this process is the basis of the change in a company’s strategy that makes some function or employee’s roles redundant or basis the financial viability of a situation uncompetitive. Both cases are out of the influence of an employee who will be impacted at the end of the day and hence it is important to bring RESPECT at the center of communication.

HR can play a critical role in ensuring there is transparency and authenticity in the way messages are communicated as well as the actions are taken to support an employee in such a critical and difficult time for them.

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? 

Career Gaps are as natural as breathing. Just as we need sleep to replenish every day, we may also want career gaps

to replenish ourselves more holistically
. Career Gaps may happen for various reasons that could be unique to every individual, and it is not my place to pass a judgment on the reason. What is important to me as an HR professional and a leader is not why a career gap happened but everything that was done apart from the career gap in their professional life, that is the point of focus for me.

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?

I believe leaders irrespective of the level of CEO, Business Unit Leader or a Front-Line Manager have the same expectation from HR - to be a true partner. HR being a partner to accelerate business priorities means having a strong contextual understanding of the priorities and linking it to the most important assets to accelerate their success – PEOPLE!

Creating a people plan that drives success in the business strategy creates a partnership that leaders want.

What are some of the key ways in which HR is driving business growth and success?  Please share some insights and examples from your journey of how really HR can make a direct impact on the business?

HR being a partner to drive business growth needs a strong understanding of the business, its challenges, and opportunities. Customer insights at both the leadership level and the ground level are equally critical in creating the final people plan.

Design Thinking has been a powerful tool
for me to ensure that I am reigning back areas that will create a true difference to the customer and their success.

An example of this would be when I joined Diageo at a time just after they had acquired the India company United Spirits, and hence had multiple types of changes from the leadership level with new leaders to the ground level with a change in the way people experienced the culture of the organization. As an HR Business Partner, therefore, I

took a step back to try and connect the dots on what would help at the center of all of these efforts - TRUST.
Thereafter, I created a people plan that worked to build a culture on both sides of the table. This included efforts at a leadership level to increase communication and transparency with the employees, and at a people, level to build skills for a future-ready org thereby emphasizing the intention of the leadership to invest in the people. All of this needed that moment of taking a step back to connect the dots early on.

Please share your experience of becoming a Team Leader (or a Manager) for the very first time. What challenges you came across and how you overcame those challenges?

While I had played roles that had indirect reportees from an execution point, my first role where I had a direct reportee came earlier this year in my role as APAC HR Leader. My biggest lesson during this time, especially with most of the year has been remote working, has been to try things in a different way than I may have envisaged and to

keep my focus on the outcome than the journey sometimes.

The most critical challenge for me with this transition was

a shift in the mindset to push and sometimes nudge a reportee to take center stage in efforts while I play the role of a Catalyst.
Not being present for some of those efforts was definitely new to me but allowed to build confidence in stakeholders for a new partner too.

In the course of our life, at one point or another, we all make mistakes and fail. How do you handle your failures?

I believe setbacks are a natural part of life, both professionally and personally. These setbacks also allow us to discover things about ourselves and the way we respond to the world that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and sometimes a lot more than the successes. And in that sense, I would call mistakes or failures as almost educational to a degree as long as it does not create obstacles that we cannot control in the long run.

I remember an experience during the time I was playing a Project Manager role in Nokia when a critical execution element in a project needed a strong timeline orientation. As the execution was in another country where I was not present, it limited my visibility to the kind of challenges a person who had traveled there may be facing, I was unaware of this and pushed for the timeline milestones without taking into account the changed set of circumstances preventing that timeline from being met. My lesson during this time was to

do a more frequent check-in on how the ecosystem related to visible challenges may be changing from time to time, as opposed to assuming the initial set of conditions being the same throughout.

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

I believe Feedback is a Gift, so it is for you to also understand if this gift will help you or not. It is important to differentiate feedback that you want to work on, as not everything may be what you want to focus on immediately.

Feedback about development areas need not be negative but can be thought through to think of things that can be done differently which will either limit the impact of the development area from showing up or even convert it into a strength. What helps when sharing feedback that may be difficult even for me as an evaluator to give, is

to suggest ways in which that area can be turned around.
That also becomes more helpful for the person receiving it and there is an investment from the feedback giver.

What is something you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why?

I had created an initiative towards creating a safe, ethical & inclusive workplace at Intuit called ‘Respect Matters!’ which had multiple positive impacts for employees and leaders, which was also recognized as a best practice internally and externally. It was a multi-pronged the approach of creating awareness on various employee relations’ matters for leaders, followed by building skills on handling such issues for people managers towards then having various interventions for employees to understand company policies towards protecting them in employee relations’ matters and encouraging them to engage in case of such issues in building a ‘see something, say something’ culture in the organization.

The journey of this

initiative started from an approach to the root cause analysis with the intent of changing the kind of issues that employees face and had a strong impact on people feeling more positive about coming forward due to the strong policies the company had to protect employees.

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

All changes like Gig economy, COVID, HR Tech, AI, ML and many more are creating the biggest mindset change in leaders and employees towards flexibility in working. This means that the way HR also partners with various stakeholders will change

to enable that mindset shift to be successful
in the way it powers people interventions critical to business successes from goal planning to performance evaluation and building future leaders and successful organizations.

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

My message to young professionals in HR would be to understand the role they can play in making organizations successful and build their mindset and efforts towards that. Finding a sense of purpose that aligns with the organizational mission will help you in being more effective in your roles.

Thank you very much, Komal, for sharing the wonderful insight. We appreciate it. 
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