Redefining Employee Experience will be key to Employer Brands in New Normal

Richa is an enthusiastic and passionate HR professional with experience of around 10 yrs. She is a keen observer of human behavior, and psychology and her expertise lie in Employer Branding and Employee engagement. She believes that happy and positive workplaces cannot be created only with swanky infrastructure or high-tech systems but with the integration of human values in the decision-making structure. In addition to being an HR Professional, Richa is a mother, a passionate dancer (performing on stage since the age of 3) and she loves experimenting with her cooking skills.

Thank you, Richa, 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?

At the outset, I thank you guys for giving me this amazing opportunity and I really appreciate the efforts you have been making to provide Spotlight to the HR perspective of the business.

Since childhood, I have been an outgoing, strong, and ambitious person but inside I was always that sensitive child who demanded attention, empathy, and care. I believe I am blessed with an intuitive ability to connect with people’s unsaid emotions and lead them to their positive brim. These aspects of my nature drove me towards the profession of Human Resource Management, and I can proudly say that I am deeply in love with my profession. I started my professional journey as a Management Trainee with SBI Life Insurance Pvt Ltd and worked in different domains like HR generalist, Regional HR, and Learning & Development. My further development as an HRBP happened at Unicharm India Pvt Ltd where I managed HRBP-Sales profile for some years and now I am managing the Corporate Support functions and the Employee Engagement.

The cultures in the two organizations that I have worked with were quite different from each other and I personally believe that they highly impacted my own development and thought process. This is what intrigued me to observe the nuances of an organization culture more closely and construe its impact on Employer Branding.

I understand that 2020 has paved the way for the adoption of AIs, Technology, and Analytics wider than ever before but it has also taught us the integral value of human life, mental wellbeing, and empathy like never before.
Are you able to work productively in a virtual work environment? How are you keeping the “Human Factor” alive? What challenges are you facing?

Work from Home or Remote Working arrangement was still a theory or one of the low priority future HR agendas for many organizations until March 2020 when all the Corporates across the world were forced to implement this arrangement with no other option left. Many companies faced hiccups and ambiguities regarding the productivity tracking model because there was no preparation or guidelines for employees to follow immediately. However, we were quite agile to come up with the Remote working structure and guidelines that prevented the productivity loss. Gradually as the restrictions were relaxed and people became more aware of the safety measures, we moved to a hybrid working model and paddled together towards the business continuity. While we were making all these changes, getting adapted to the new normal, and simultaneously pushing every effort to keep the business going we ensured to keep the Human factor alive and kept the safety of our employees at the core of our work.

As far as the challenges are concerned, I think the major challenges are to manage the motivation and the rising Covid-19 cases. The former is being managed with continuous efforts and deliberate interventions while for later we are ensuring that all the possible safety awareness and measures are in place.

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?

My personal opinion is that “Career Gaps” should not be a measure to judge someone’s fitment for the job. Life can take many turns and twists forcing someone to choose between his/her job and the other exigencies in their life. Also considering that 34% of Indian population comprises of millennials and we are living in the era of the Startup boom, many get tempted to leave their regular jobs and give themselves a chance to live their dream of starting up something of their own. Thus, the selection process should be more inclusive, unbiased towards any gender, and adept to let the candidate be honest about the Gap and justify the reason for the same.

I personally look at the candidates with a career gap as a resource available to join immediately and someone who would genuinely value the opportunity and would try to prove his/her worth again.

We should never forget the cost of replacing a great talent and implications on the Business, the Solutions, and the Customer Experience when Great Talent leaves the Organization.

HRs play the most important role in these times. They will have to play a true Business Partner role,

by being innovative, designing, and implementing alternate ways of retaining and engaging the talent.

I have seen multiple innovations; HR can work out a combination/modification to some of these Practices that have been implemented:

  • Optimize Operational Costs by letting go of unnecessary Infrastructure
  • Transition to Virtual Organizations to optimize costs, increase agility, and innovate new ways of working
  • Increase Automation & Agility by driving Digital HR Transformation
  • Encouraging Employment Vacation to retain & engage Talent
  • Employees can volunteer to choose percentage cuts in their Salaries
  • Senior Management and above can let go of 50% of Fixed Salaries
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? 

Organizations need to be mindful and respect the fact that -

Every Great Talent emerged as a result of being in right place at the right time.

We have to be empathetic, and we need to be sensitive about the fact that people go through circumstances, to create their unique career journeys. Gaps are inevitable, either due to being in the wrong job, or due to a bad boss, or due to health issues, personal challenges. We do not know what they have been through.

I believe in being in the present.

It is all about how good one is on that day of interacting with a potential, and how well one demonstrates attitude, vision, expertise, and capability for the business in the big picture.

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?

Today a CEO looks at HR Function and the HR Head, in multiple Business enabling Roles:

As Growth Catalysts, As Culture Champions, As Brand Enablers.

As a Leader representing the HR Fraternity, our roles have changed drastically, and I wish to share the levels at which we are “making a difference” to Businesses today:

  • Leading Digital Transformation journey in Our Businesses
  • Building Processes & Systems for Greater Employee Experiences & Customer Experiences,
  • Coaching & Mentoring People to unlearn traditional ways, overcome fixed mindsets and embrace Change
  • Innovating New Compensation Philosophies
  • Build unique ways of engaging Talent in Virtual Organizations
  • Enabling Business Growth by Optimizing P & L through Restructuring, Identification of Operating Cost Overheads.
  • Leading Brand Communication to be Employers of Choice and Partners to work within the Client Ecosystem
What are some of the key methods 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?

You have to walk along with the Business.

A true Business Partner must understand the Strategic Intent, be abreast of Business Challenges, Operational Challenges, and Customer Perceptions of the Brand.

These are some of the insights I wish to share:

  • Design & Implement Hiring & Retention Strategy in line with the Business Strategy
  • Create a Continuous Learning Culture that encourages proactive identification of Learning needs for the Business to stay relevant and competitive to current and future trends
  • Build a Learning & Engagement strategy that inspires Productivity across the level and Consistent Performance from the Talent
  • Innovate Compensation & Rewards Practices to cater to the changing needs of People & Cultures
  • 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?

My transition to Team Leader happened organically as a result of my exposure to multiple cross-functional projects that gave me both visibility as well as established my credibility among the Business Leadership.

During those initial days, I had to work on several areas:

The clarity in Expectations: It’s so important to manage the expectations of the Team. I could do this through informal and formal one-on-one with my Team to set mutual expectations and enable their aspirations.

Driving Performance: I have always been result-oriented. A great way to manage performance is through periodic feedback and offering support.

Building my Own Leadership Capability: I had to sharpen my skills, as I had just begun. I had to develop my people skills, functional know-how and build my Business Acumen & Strategic Thinking to move ahead in the Organization.

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

In the early formative years of our careers, we all take certain

decisions based on our motivational needs at every given stage
. These needs could be sometimes financial, sometimes a tag, and sometimes an affiliation with a brand.

With time and with some great learnings, that come as a result of our decisions & choices, I gradually realized that all these pursuits do not have a genuine meaning, nor do they align to our greater purpose.

I started focusing on simple, little things that give me happiness and peace, and channelizing my energy towards what I am really passionate about.

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 strongly recommend

Sandwich Feedback and SBI Feedback
, and I apply them interchangeably based on the Employee Role and Seniority as it really matters.

Sandwich Technique is useful during one-on-ones, and performance review and development discussions where you interleave the constructive/negative feedback between words of encouragement, positive feedback, and futuristic development conversations.

SBI (Situation – Behaviour – Impact) - The technique is highly necessary when you wish to get to the point of concern immediately, and direct focus on the Business Impact as a result of the Employee’s area of improvement. I have used my discretion in this form of feedback and usually for more seasoned professionals/people who appreciate or have a maturity for direct talks.

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, Richa. for sharing the wonderful insight. We appreciate it.
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