There is no substitute for hard work.

“There is no substitute for hard work”, this certainly holds true for Umesh, our guest for today.  An MBA from Gujarat University landing in the city of dreams, Mumbai and making a name and fame for himself through determination and perseverance.  Umesh believes in being the student of life.  Thank you, Umesh for agreeing to do this interview. We are certain that your journey will inspire many youngsters and give them the confidence to follow their dreams. Thank you.

We would be pleased to learn about your journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview.

What a moment that was! I came to Mumbai (A land of opportunity) from Gujarat in July 2000 to try out my luck. It was my passion and desires to do something in life, which I carried with me.

After a ‘no-response’ period of three months from wherever I applied, finally I got an interview call. I had applied to the company directly.

While, I was excited about the opportunity, I was also feeling nervous and tense. I read my MBA notes of the subject. I also collected maximum information about the Company.

I have always been a religious so, before the interview, I also went to the temple to seek blessings of almighty and prayed for success.

I was called for the interview in the late evening and was supposed to meet the Head-HR however, I ended up meeting a junior guy who asked me a number of questions right from “why I came to Mumbai from Gujarat?”, “how I would be able to cope up with fast life of Mumbai?”, “how I would contribute to the Company being a fresher?” (Why should a company invest in me), “how was I keeping myself updated about developments in the field of HR?” etc.

Following a discussion, that lasted for more than an hour with the Executive - HR, finally Head-HR met me to complete the formality and asked some basic questions.

After initial hiccups, I could gain confidence and did better than my expectations. It was my first experience of the corporate interview and I consider myself lucky for getting a first-ever break with a manufacturing company.

Thankfully, before I reached home, there was a call from the Company that I was selected and could join immediately!

I was feeling jubilant like I got everything in the world!

Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail?

Fortunately, I have appeared for very few interviews so far in my career. Each interview has been learning for me as a candidate as well as an HR professional (learning from the interviewer sitting on the other side of the table).

I always remember one interview wherein I got an opportunity to meet President – Human Capital of a very large Corporate. Though the interview started very late in the evening, it lasted for almost two hours.

He had studied my resume thoroughly and made his notes before the interview. He remembered each & every word including some spelling mistakes I made.  As I was meeting a renowned personality, I was a bit nervous; however, he put me at so much of ease in the first five minutes itself. For rest of the time, I experienced the process like a discussion than an interview. I learned this quality and I try to inculcate it in each & every interview I conduct right from an office assistant to someone at CXO level.

The interviewer was very clear about the expectation from this role viz-a-viz my profile.  He started discussing the Recruitment process and grilled me to check my thoroughness and he repeated the same methodology for the Performance Management system.  My answers had been to the point which he liked & appreciated. He also corrected me when he found me going wrong. 

Entire discussion took me back to the theoretical knowledge I gained during my MBA and how I applied my knowledge at the workplace, what is the relevance & importance of each aspect and my personal views/choices. After this, whichever interviews I have appeared so far; have never put me under any kind of pressure as it changed my perspective of looking at the interview process.

The first job is a major milestone for many people. Let’s discuss your first year at the job. How was your experience? What were your expectations for your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation?

Yes, truly it was a major milestone of my career and today whatever success I have achieved I owe to my first job.

Frankly speaking, I had no fancy expectations for the job & role but I was looking for a career break and learning opportunity. I considered each activity, be it filing or taking a photocopy, as learning in my career. There were some issues with Workers Union and I was involved in supporting role. We had to enter office before 6.00 am and carry out many activities silently. I also went to post office and stamped envelopes which were to be delivered to workmen. There were times when I was involved in preparing salary & wages in absence of our payroll person.  A thrilling beginning of my career!

I do cherish those moments even today and I share with my team members with pride.

Fortunately, I did not carry any myths about the workplace during college days hence I went to work with an open slate which resulted in viewing everything as an opportunity.

Our team was like a family, we could share everything with each other. I never felt that I was a junior when I was with them. I stayed with my boss at his home at times (First Corporate experience cannot be better than this). I used to spend more than 12 hours at the office and always willing to take up any work. My boss and other colleagues were very happy and continued to share various activities from the beginning itself remaining unfazed that I was raw or I had no experience.

According to you, do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience?

Yes, workplace mentors, coaches do play a very important role in settling down of fresh graduates. In most of the cases, it is the immediate boss who acts as a mentor. It is said that “You are an average of those five people you spend the most time with”.  The mentee adopts many traits of the boss; like a child who adopts from the parents and teachers.

He used to push me to bring the best out of me which at times for me was too stressing but he never used his positional power. He would always spend time and ensure that I understood everything.

He focused on my strengths & leveraged them and ignored so-called weakness. He developed a very personal rapport with me and he became a sounding board for me to share my personal and professional ups & downs.  

He gave me ample opportunity to lead many projects & always attributed successes to me and took the responsibility of failures.

You are an HR Practitioner for so many years. Could you please tell us why did you choose this profession? If not in HR, what another profession you would have chosen for yourself?

I was not too sure until the first year of my MBA about which option to choose as a specialization. Later on, by taking a deep dive into the options, I realized that the Human Resource profession would provide me maximum opportunity to interact with people and possibly a career option which I would prefer. It also involves dealing with numbers and closely working with business. Finally, I jumped into HR and now I am happy and strongly believe that it was The Right Decision. 

I have always been interested in current affairs, politics hence civil services could have been an alternative if I would not have got into HR.

The management team and Line Manager expect HR Head and team to work like a magic stick and to have a solution to every problem.

Having worked in a leadership role, what do you think are the expectations of a CEO or the Management Team from its HR Function in general and HR Head in particular?

I have worked promoters, CEOs as well as the Management team with different mindset and ideology and as per my experience;

There are many CEOs who want a “Yes Man” and at the same time, there are CEOs who always believe in giving free hands. Some of them consider HR a mere service & support function and want HR to “Do as directed”. Many driven CEOs expect HR to be an enabling function.

To put in a larger perspective, CEOs have been expecting HR Head as an advisor not only in making all critical decisions related to people but also understanding the impact of key business decisions on people. CEOs always expect HR Head to act as their own sounding board many a time (sounds strange but a good HR Head has this power and can play a vital role). 

The management team and Line Manager expect HR Head and team to work like a magic stick and to have a solution to every problem. Most of them expect HR to handle all administrative and painful work which they do not want to do. Their standard comment would be “I have informed HR, it falls in their purview”. 

They also expect HR to improve the performance and engagement of their team members without realizing that major work has to be done by them.

HR Head and the HR team need to strike a proper balance and encourage employees to be independent and sort out issues especially interpersonal issues by talking to each other and not involving HR.

In the same breath, can you also highlight about expectations of employees from the HR Function of an Organization?

Why not!!

Employees expect HR to be available and resolve all their issues. Be it a problem with a boss, colleague, subordinate, performance issues, administrative issues, personal issues, challenges due to their own lack of knowledge, etc.

While it is good to be at the helm of everything, many times it results in non-productive work and creates dependency in the organization. HR Head and the HR team need to strike a proper balance and encourage employees to be independent and sort out issues especially interpersonal issues by talking to each other and not involving HR. This creates a healthy organization structure.

One of the key expectations from HR is transparent and continuous communication on all organizational issues. 

HR Heads must create platforms like Town Hall Communication, Chat with Top Bosses, small group meetings, transparent communication about key decisions/changes in the organization etc

According to you, what are the key challenges of being a representative of employees as well as a representative of company management? What kind of conflicts you have faced and how did you manage to overcome them.

This is one of the major challenges for HR and HR becomes a sandwich between the company management and employees. Sadly, many times neither of them uses direct access between each other/do not talk directly with each other and blame HR to be biased.

To provide an interface between company management and employees, HR Head has to create platforms like Town Hall Communication, Chat with Top Bosses, small group meetings, transparent communication about key decisions/changes in the organization etc.

In one such case, when our company decided to withdraw alternate Saturday off due to business exigencies, all employees have been highly discontented and they kept on complaining to HR department despite initial communication by the CEO. We arranged repeated communication in small groups and finally, all employees understood the need. Similarly, there have been times when few benefits were to be withdrawn and repeated communications have helped.

During those years which have been tough for the organization, Management was not willing to declare any increment. I strongly put forward the need of employees to the management and negotiated with them to successfully come out with annual increments which have been very close to the industry average. 

HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners?   

While AI has taken a huge leap in recent times, I strongly believe that nothing can replace human capability of being sensitive to other individuals, understanding feelings of each other and having a human-centric approach for each & every action/decision. Same is applicable to robots; they may be able to automate many activities, reduce time, reduce human intervention but cannot replace human feelings and the ability to connect.

Social media is an opportunity as well as the threat to the HR function. It makes it easier for HR to reach out to mass for the hiring, creating virtual learning platform as well as branding the organization by highlighting best practices and key achievements from time to time on social media. At the same time, anyone can use social platforms for negative publicity of the organization and it is very difficult to control the damage. Thus, social media keeps HR on its toes. Now, Social media has become a must competence for hiring for HR function.

HR is a function in which the role holder needs to know Marketing/Branding, IT, Finance and overall business in addition to their own function.  No other function provides that opportunity.

Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to? Why should anyone join this profession? And, what are the key competencies one must have to be successful in this profession?     

According to me, HR is a very powerful function and one can play a very vital role in building the future of the organization. I would not hesitate to say that behind every successful organization there is an enabling HR function.  For any function, there is no alternative to hard work.  HR practitioners have to be ahead in terms of thinking and for that, they need to know not only the latest in HR but also what is happening in the global economy, country and the business in which they are into. Young guys need to learn all aspects of HR and not just think about so-called fancy activities. While they would spend time in office, they need to invest in their own learning by participating in various forums, regular reading and developing their own network to keep themselves upbeat about all the developments in the field of HR.

Young guys should look for an opportunity to change the image of HR from just being a service/supporting function to an enabling function. They must make business feel their presence by adding value in key business decisions.

HR is a function in which the role holder needs to know Marketing/Branding, IT, Finance and overall business in addition to their own function.  No other function provides that opportunity and I think that is the major reason for someone to be in HR. Apart from that HR provides an opportunity to deal with different sets of individuals and add value to their life.

Some of the key competencies for being successful in the role of HR are strong internal personal skills, ability to understand human feelings, business acumen, forward-looking and readiness to take a tough stance for what is right.

Thank you very much, yet again, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it.

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 13th August 2018]

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