HR is not about HR, it is about business

A Human Resources professional with 21+ years of experience, having handled the entire gamut of HR Activities- Talent Acquisition, Organisation Development, Performance Management, Competency Management, Compensation, Training & Employee Development. Experience in MNC’s in the Software IT Industry, Product Company & now the Manufacturing Company for the past close to 4 Yrs. Holding Leadership role of Head HR for the past 11 years and has working experience/exposure in the Global Role in Germany for 5 Years and currently heading the “HR Function” for APAC countries for a German MNC, Lapp Asia Pacific Pte Ltd., based in Singapore.

Apart from experience in specific HR topics, has good exposure leading the IT initiatives and the “Global Role” on Sales Enablement for about 40 countries.

In his, career of 21 Years, has been recognized by the “World HRD Congress” a couple of times as the “50 Most Influential HR Leaders” 2 times, apart from the various recognitions by multiple HR bodies and institutions.

Thank you, Sampatkumar, 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?

Well, I started off with my journey in the “Human Resources” function 21 Years ago, the first job was with a small company & hence has limited scope & learning opportunities. Then, I had a breakthrough & got an opportunity to join Bosch and the journey from there on has been amazing – filled with loads of challenges that have always helped me to learn different things. I have had 16 Managers & Mentors in my career- spanning 4 companies. I grew and thrive under the tutorage of skilled managers & Mentors whom I have the privilege to learn & work with great team of People.

Of the 3 German companies that I have been to date, currently with Lapp, I had numerous opportunities to assume different roles within the HR function, as well as job rotation to a different function. I can’t say enough but to stress that my Managers & Mentors have had a big role to play in my Career Development thus far. It has been a fulfilling journey and in line with my Career aspirations. As the saying goes: “If you do what you love, you will never work for a day in your life” – Marc Anthony

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

Well, as they say – “Every Threat has a hidden Opportunity in it”- but we must be willing to work hard to see that!!!

As Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity”.

Its true that COVID-19 pandemic has a devastating impact for many, some who have lost their loved ones and others their livelihood. Inspite of this, there has been some silver linings that some of them have turned it into Opportunities.

As far as the work scenario is considered, “Hybrid Working” will become a norm for most of us. The pandemic has accelerated the Digital revolution. It has shortened the Digital adoption cycle by at least 10 Years. These represent huge change for our Employees to get accustomed to the new normal. Thus, HR has a pivotal role to facilitate the transition for Organisation success. HR will play a leading role in negotiating the new work environment with the Business Leaders as well as engaging the employees to move them along the transformation in such challenging times.

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?

Layoff is something which nobody likes – more so anyone in the HR team who has the tough task of conveying the sad news to the employees and dealing with such employees. My only view is that “Layoff must be the REAL LAST OPTION” and must be initiated ONLY if the Organisation has ruled out all other options including “Reduction of Salary” or Part time work arrangement.

If cost cutting is inevitable, in my view we have to practise “Responsible Layoff”. As one door closes another window opens, so in order to be responsible layoff, let us be the one to help employees open the window. By Responsible Layoff, we help the impacted employees to acquire necessary skills (Interviews, Resume writing) to secure their next Job, if the budget allows, also provide “Outplacement Services”. It’s the responsibility of HR & the Management to be very fair, transparent and handle the situation in a very “humane manner”. We must always remember that we are dealing with “Human Beings” and hence we must care for their emotions and the parting must be very carefully handled with as much support as possible being provided to the employees who are asked to leave.

I have been fortunate that Lapp is a family-oriented company where family values is one of our key foundation. Therefore, in this pandemic situation, our group CEO said this – “We need to preserve jobs for our employees”. Hence, we have not let go of any employees despite facing uncertainty over our Business.

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?

What’s wrong with Career gaps? We employ for the person’s ability and attitude matching to our job requirements and not based when & where they have been. I feel it is high time that the Organizations accept that “Career Gaps” must not always be seen in a different light. From my experience in European countries- this is a common sight for employees to take breaks in their career for multiple reasons. Apart from a sabbatical for higher studies, it could be even just to experiment with something in their life which they want to try their hands on. Having gaps for parenting reasons is also quite common – even with some men. Once Organisations don’t always see the “Career Gaps” with an eye of suspicion, employees then need not hide anything, but be open about this. So, certainly, there is a change in the mindset needed among HR & the hiring managers. HR can certainly lead the way to change the mindset here.

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?

The CEOs today – in my experience want HR to be more of a “Business Partner” rather than just be “Pro Employee” – come what may. For this, we in HR need to understand Business, know our strategy, know what our competitors are doing differently. So, in short – an HR Head, apart from being an “Employee Champion” needs to align with the Business strategy first.

What are some of the critical 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?

Well, HR can directly have an impact on business growth in various ways. Some practical aspects which I have experienced in my career:

  1. Hiring & Retaining the Right talent and On-time - can certainly be a ‘game changer’ sometimes for retaining or growing the business. HR also has a responsibility to have the Right Fit – who fit into the culture of the Organisation.
  2. Employee Engagement – certainly, we need employees who are engaged with the Organisation and thereby contribute better for the Organization success.
  3. Having the right “C&B” practices– not necessarily paying more than the market, but to retain the good talent we cannot be way below the median of the market.
  4. HR also needs to be a “sounding board” to the business Leaders – on all People related topics- which will allow the Business leaders to focus their mind and energy to look more from getting new Business and nurturing the current customers.
  5. Developing the Talent through Career Development tools and Succession Planning are other critical ways to support Business growth & continuity.

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?

Being a First-time Manager is certainly a great challenge for most of us. My “First Manager” experience is very similar to many others. To name just a couple of the challenges and how I overcame them…

  1. Expecting the Team Members to be my Clone: This is a syndrome many among us have as FTM’s...With the coaching from my Managers, I learned it over time that we need to be more “Open Minded” and in the process – I have learned a lot now- with my team members actually teaching me better ways of handling things/ doing things, which I was not aware of. I would have lost these golden opportunities, if I had not changed my way of managing.
  2. Micromanaging: When I became a manager for the first time, I thought I am helping my team members by “Micromanaging”. Little did I realize that by doing so, I am not only killing the creativity of my team members but also forgot that when I was a team member, it was irritating to me when my manager did the same. Thanks to the openness of my team members, when I asked for feedback from them after 6 months, I got to know that they were not appreciative of the same. Put effort then to overcome that, which freed up a lot of time for me and also made my team feel good.
  3. One of my colleagues told me the story of a Hero & a General – where he nicely explained that a Hero wins a battle & the General wins a war. I have experienced this and have in my career tried to be a General rather than a Hero.
  4. HR also needs to be a “sounding board” to the business Leaders – on all People related topics- which will allow the Business leaders to focus their mind and energy to look more from getting new Business and nurturing the current customers.
  5. Developing the Talent through Career Development tools and Succession Planning are other critical ways to support Business growth & continuity.

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

It is certainly very challenging to give negative feedback (I rather term this as “Areas of Improvement”) about job performance. Few of the below methods have practically been very helpful to me to make these discussions less stressful and more effective. They are:

  1. Use the model of “SBI” – Situation è Behaviourè Impact. By doing this consciously, it helps the receiver to appreciate why the feedback.
  2. Always speak about “Observations” / Behaviour & NOT “Judgement”.
  3. With the above 2 - use a “sandwich approach” of feedback. Start giving whatever strengths/ positives you have seen in the person, then the crux – feedback for Improvement & then end with how you can support.

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

2 things which I am really proud of:

  1. With the help/ mentoring/ support of my Managers (16 of them in 21 Years of my career), I achieved my Goals of a “Global Role” and an “APAC Regional Role now”.
  2. Feels good when some of the team members with whom I have worked call me even now and ask for suggestions.
  3. Happy to be Mentoring some Fresh Grads and young HR professionals – to share my experience and learnings of my 21 Years of experience.

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

Some of the disruptions which I foresee are:

  1. “Work from anywhere” is likely to become a norm.
  2. AI-driven solutions/ process for Recruitment
  3. Bots taking over a lot of administrative jobs of HR.
  4. Virtual Recruitments
  5. All traditional HR set-up will see drastic change, mainly due to Digitalisation.

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

What has HR got to do with Sales & Business? Well, Being in HR does not mean that you need not know Business. Develop business acumen to be a “Business Partner” who can make a difference to the Organisation. Dream BIG and work towards them, taking the help of Managers / Mentors in the Industry. Network and learn from the practicing professionals.

Thank you, Sampat, for sharing your insights. We appreciate it.
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