Team members need psychological safety to collaborate better!

Sreya is a Global Human Resource Professional with over 12 years of experience in the IT industry. She has worked in different HR functions with global IT organizations over the years. She strives to be a mindful "humane" resource professional and serves as a catalyst between the employees and the organization in realizing their wildest ambitions.

Sreya has completed her Post Graduation in Human Resource Management from the School of Inspired Leadership, Gurgaon (SOIL) and PGCHRM from the XLRI, Jamshedpur. A degree in Computer Science Engineering and exposure to both technical and management roles has helped Sreya to understand and connect with the business stakeholders better. She is currently playing the role of an HR business partner at Volvo Group India, supporting Volvo Group IT. She is also a part of the Young advisory board at NHRD, Bangalore chapter.

Thank you, Sreya, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Kindly be as candid as you can.
Let’s Start!!!
How does the pandemic year affect you? What changes, professional and personal, does it bring into your life?

The year has been quite awakening, both professionally and personally. It made me go back to the roots and question myself on a lot of things I took for granted, for e.g.: taking care of oneself, the importance of mental health, etc. I am still figuring out ways to cope up with the new normal. To start with, I have been mindful of what I do, what kind of things I see and hear, the quality time I spend with my loved ones, and even questioned my purpose at the organization. This has helped me to go back to the basics and make changes to my routine accordingly. This pandemic has been nothing short of an eye-opener.

Learning is a continuous process. What are THREE leadership lessons you learned in the last 12-months?

The last year has been quite a roller coaster ride. Learning has been fluid and on the go for me over the last year. Here are my key takeaways:

  1. Communicating with Impact: Communicating with Impact is about saying what is important when it matters most while building your capacity to listen and integrate under stress. Communicating critical information, difficult messages, unpleasant information is not an easy job. It needs to be done with the utmost empathy and should strike the right chord with the listener. I have learned that the right communication and messaging can make all the difference in the success of any endeavour.
  2. Collaborative and Agile ways of working: Breaking complex tasks into sprints have helped to build workable solutions and reduced complexity. Crowdsourcing ideas, working with cross-functional teams, and agile ways of working have opened up to a world of new possibilities!
  3. Being Vulnerable: Being Vulnerable allows oneself to be open to change. This pandemic has taught me to recognize tough situations and call out for help whenever required. I have realized that it is OK to not be okay! This has helped me to overcome my vulnerability instead of pretending everything is alright, always.
COVID-19 has exposed leadership unpreparedness of a different kind. As an HR Leader, how will you prepare future leaders to manage crises of this magnitude? What NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES will become necessary for the success of a leader?

There is no fixed formula for Leadership, but Covid-19 has given an excellent opportunity for each one of us to be a leader in our own way. There have been multiple opportunities to display our leadership abilities – Be it dealing with this unprecedented crisis, managing work and household, helping near and dear ones, and even getting used to the virtual ways of working. It has all been learning on the job. We have all learned to adapt to the new normal seamlessly. While no amount of preparation is sufficient to deal with such kind of crisis in the future, what has differentiated a leader from the rest is the ability to deal with the situation considering the ambiguity. This is where the Physical, Mental, and Emotional well-being of an individual comes into the picture.

In my view, an essential leadership competency that needs to be evaluated is the ability of an individual to make important decisions during a stressful situation. The speed, agility, and empathy displayed while taking these decisions during a tough situation can be a leadership quality to watch out for. There could also be situations where some of the decisions can fail. The leader must have the courage to learn from the failures, make appropriate changes to the decision and move forward.

As per your experience, in a virtual environment, what are the key elements to ensure meaningful collaboration and accountability among team members?

Managers who have trusted their team members to do the task assigned and empowered their teams have emerged more successful in dealing with this virtual set up when compared to their counter parts. There needs to be a psychologically safe environment that needs to be created for the team members to open up and share. In my experience, frequent connections with the team members, adapting to new collaborative platforms & tools and entrusting the team members have gone a long way in the success of the teams and the organization. We have several activities we do together as a team including, No Agenda meetings, Virtual celebrations, 360 feedback, and fun Friday that has helped the team bond with each other and collaborate in a better way.

We are all still in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, which needs to be acknowledged and not discounted while interacting with the team members. Empathy is the need of the hour!

What do you see HR Leaders doing 10-years hence? How will their role transform? What will they START Doing, STOP Doing, and CONTINUE doing?

With so many changes happening in the last two years, none of which we could foresee, it is difficult to visualize what HR leaders would be doing 10 years hence. However, what is clear is that if we continue to do what we are doing today, we might not find a place in the next 10 years. I see the role of HR evolving to keep pace with the fast-moving technological shift. We need to connect the dots, move closer to business & people, and adapt to the changing ways of working.This would include hiring and nurturing the right set of talent, identify critical competencies that would be the future of the organization and be a part of the value chain through better collaboration with the internal and external stakeholders.

We need to continue to upskill ourselves and focus more on building partnerships and networks. Last but not the least, while the scope of our role may change with times, the essence of the human resource function will always be ‘People’ at the center.

Lastly, what is your message for those students who will be graduating during this difficult time? How should they keep their morale high and stay motivated?

It is indeed a difficult time but there is always a silver lining. With so many platforms to upskill and reskill including online courses, students need to stay relevant to the industry needs, identify the bright spots of opportunity, and leverage them. They should continue to invest in themselves, build their personal brand and sharpen their competencies. Leveraging internal and external networks will help them to stay abreast with the changing needs of the workplace. It is important to have an open mindset and be flexible so that the students can truly embrace the opportunities that come their way.

To keep the morale high, one should also spend more time talking to their family and friends, do things they are passionate about from the comfort of their homes, and even explore new hobbies and interests to keep themselves motivated. It can be quite stressful but always remember that tough times do not last but tough people do!

Thank you, Sreya, for your insights.
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