Timely transformation is inevitable.
An astute & result oriented professional around two decades of overall experience spanning across Human Resource functions, Business, Administration and Operations, Kasturi Cotha is currently associated with Taylor & Francis as Head HR. Embarking her professional stint in HR as HR Executive with MDC Infoway Ltd., Bangalore, Kasturi gradually kept ascending in her role. Her past endeavours encompass Vivasva Software India Pvt Ltd (Indian Offshore for Switched-on Group, Australia) as Country Head - People & Process, Danske IT & Support Services Pvt Ltd as Head –HR, Temenos India Pvt Ltd, Bangalore as Manager – HR & Operations, Everest Management Software Pvt Ltd., Bangalore as HR Generalist and Carbon Accessories Ltd, Bangalore as Assistant Manager-HR. Kasturi is a proud recipient of many reputable awards for her professional excellence which includes “Most Influential 50 HR Tech Leaders” awarded by Asia Pacific HRD Congress in 2015 and “Most Innovative 50 HR Tech Leaders” awarded by World HRD Congress in 2017 and Independent Entrepreneur, Women Leader of the Year 2018 awarded by UBS Transformance.
A Masters in Human Resource Management from Pondicherry University, Kasturi completed her Executive General Management Program from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, adding another feather to her proficiency. Kasturi holds a Post-Graduation Diploma in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from Bangalore University and a Bachelors of Arts – Psychology from Bangalore University. Her prowess in English, Hindi, Kannada and Telugu makes her a versatile HR Professional.
Thank you, Kasturi, for giving your valuable time to this interview.
We would be pleased to learn about your professional journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview.
You are testing my long-term memory retrieval mechanics.
I started my journey in HR at MDC Infoway Ltd; almost two decades ago. Being an Industrial Psychology student, I was always drawn towards being HR professional. All excited to be in that role for an IT company before Dotcom outburst was a dream come true. I was interviewed for HR Executive role by Mrs. Kalpana K Rao, and the first question she posed to me, ‘when is your wedding planned?’...actually she was expecting a before-sought candidate who couldn’t make it due to her wedding plans and I was mistaken for her. Well, the card played in my favour and paved my entry :). The interview lasted for 5 min. She mentioned a couple of times that the answer I had offered showcased my passion towards the profession. I had got my first opportunity to commence my journey.
This entire episode makes a reference to the point, follow your passion, treat your profession just next to your life, working from Heart leads a great path ahead and fills in courage to fight the odds of a profession and life on a large picture.
Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail?
I have had so far two such experiences to share. Chronologically, Financial Objects (acquired by Temenos India Pvt Ltd) comes first. I was interviewed for a position of Sr. HR Professional to spearhead the HR process to be in line with many quality standards that were implemented in the Organization. My boss (then the interviewer) on telephonic screening had asked me to come for the interview with the objective clearly stated as ‘what is that I would get with me should I onboard the company’? I had prepared a slide deck without much jargon that was in vogue then. I clearly bucket each function of entire ‘Employee Life cycle’ into 3 proficiencies - Operational, Functional and Strategic. Defined and derived tasks and actions under each that I would implement. A couple of initiatives under Strategic segment, I clearly defined where I seek industry expert advice and that execution of the same will be my foray. I had to present my plan to the Operation Head and Country Head of Financial Objects. The pragmatic approach that I presented paved my way to secure my selection.
The other best of my interview experience has been with my previous Organization, where the role was discussed with me in several instances both formal and informal. However I had to put forward and present on what the role is all about and that was my interview. It was a fantastic experience as I was getting into altogether a new frame of mind with that role.
As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience? What were your expectations from your first job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectations?
My first job carries a great place in my career for the sheer fact to have set my career in HR profession. This was in the year of 2000, just when the Y2K problem outburst set the IT industry, I had an opportunity to deal with the toughest of times that the industry in total had to witness. I handled more of Retrenchments than Recruitments in that scenario, kept in communication flow going to the extent that employees were in the best capacity to manage situations such as pay cuts, delay in pay-outs, movement of people, etc. Reporting lines moved to Finance with movement of Head HR. However, I had a very humble and learned Finance Head, who mentored me on the professional front from a very practical aspect of business existence.
Do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience?
In my opinion, they play a very crucial role. Our culture has proven it to mankind about the effectiveness of having a mentor and coaches for one's own prosperity and well-being.
With the sheer exposure that one could get to understand the bigger picture on the work front, having accessibility or being appraised on the higher challenges helps to be more informed thus enabling us for future challenges.
In one of the workplaces, I had a mentor outside of my function he enabled me to be prepared to resume higher accountabilities, outside of HR function. This is one such important aspect that paved the way for my career growth not just in the Organization but overall in my career.
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 other profession you would have chosen?
Being into HR profession was a natural choice for me with my Industrial Psychology background. For being a people’s person, what better collaboration could have I sought than for being in this profession. When your profession is complementing your passion, in my opinion that is the best combination. So far, I have seen good returns on my time spent on my career, and I hope it continues the same way too.
Had I not been in the HR profession, I would have been into the teaching profession. I’m complimented by my children several times for being a good teacher. How influencing and enriching is that Career!!
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?
Being able to understand Business is a very essential part. Unless there is no correlation with business and people agenda it is not a complete cycle. HR Head becomes the main facilitator for aligning the people focus with business. He/she drives and upholds the focus such that it is not negotiated on day-to-day affairs. Therefore, HR Head resumes the role as an Influencer to all the key stakeholders to remain focused.
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 question of yours reminds me of a conversation that I had with one of my mentors, in the initial days of my career. For a very good IR person that he is, he had mentioned that HR should know to wear a hat of Arbitrator. Many times, I felt that so much true as you need to mediate, I don’t mean that conflict exists between the two, but each one has their perspective. Being able to understand each other's perspective or expectations and helping in prioritising for both parties is the key element and we ought to live up to this role.
Based on your experience, what are the FIVE essential traits every HR Professional must have?
HR profession is all about making a difference to the People engaged. This is possible only if we are an Influencer, to be supported with very a crucial trait of being Persistent. Being Empathetic is in the core of the function; else people agenda is not met. One should strive to be Innovative, as we move more and more towards times of complexity, being innovative would support in resolving or addressing the complexity in more amicable manner. The other critical trait is to create Equilibrium. This in fact is an essential trait for any senior management role. This helps in being unbiased to the best of one's ability.
What do you like the least about the world of Human Resources?
At times we are far too rigid about our understanding and function. Letting that go can help us align with Business more appropriately. However, it is easier said than done.
As an HR Leader with over two decades of work experience, what is your view on job eliminations?
I guess you are referring to HR Automation or Technology aids for HR function. If so, it is a scale of maturity that each Organization goes through. Many functions of HR or for that matter any support functions which are the need of the hour...transforms to become Enablers. It is a journey and not a destination in itself. Elimination of few Jobs will create newer opportunity. Having said that, let me also mention that HR Function is focusing on people and developments dealing with people, as far as People continue to exist in an Organization, HR function will remain to flourish. However, a timely transformation is inevitable.
What are your thoughts about Talent Shortage? What are a few practical tips you want to give to CEO’s and Hiring Managers to manage the challenge of Talent Shortage?
In my opinion, it is not Talent Shortage., We, in India, currently possess a big dividend on Human Resource. We are witnessing the situation of Talent deficiency; how I define Talent deficiency is relevant skill sets for any particular job is lacking. Blame it on our educational system or lack of awareness on accessibility for advancement to align with the requisite at corporate level. Given this scenario, there is a high need of corporate engagement with Academics that has to enhance further. What we have now is just possible for big corporate who can absorb the cost for such gap filling.
Organizational Culture is a key differentiator between successful and not so successful organizations? What determines the organizational culture? What is the role of HR in creating organizational culture?
Culture as we all know, is the crux of any Organizations’ existence. It defines and refines the DNA of the Organization, therefore, is a key differentiator. How we define and set the culture in tact is so much so depended on the Top Management and flow Top to down. In my opinion there is no way we can determine what the right culture is. What matters and is essential is mutual respect and acknowledgment for contribution and performance. This upholds the very essence of the organization. HR is the custodian of defining the culture and can be an Influencer to refine the culture.
As per your experience, what are the key hurdles on the way of making a succession plan successful?
The very essence of Succession planning is to ensure that we reduce the risk of Talent gaps or absence of the Talent for future needs. This is very crucial for the critical roles. Most often, what I see as the biggest hurdle is not putting this on priority vis-a-vis the business agenda. If we are able to include succession planning to business agenda, acceptance is far more receptive than viewing this with reservations. In this way two big hurdles can be mitigated. Few other hurdles that I can think of and can contribute to ineffective succession planning is evaluation of such an initiative in terms of time and money that is involved. Further, if Organization is small to midsize consideration of SP becomes even more challenging.
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?
We can’t deny the fact that with inclusion of Millennials and Gen-Z into workforce, technology and its advancements are to be embraced, therefore, we are then improvising the effectiveness and efficiencies of processes be it HR or Business. Technology, Data Analytics and social media are redefining the landscape of Business, how can HR be an exception.
Simply put, be a Roman in Rome. Should we not make an impact to influence and be par with the trends, it is evident that we need to embrace decline in the engagement level from the Workforce.
Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to? And, what are the key competencies one must possess to be successful in this profession?
Trends change, demands get different from time to time, what remains universal in the HR profession is all to do with people. In these times of Artificial intelligence, we in the profession of HR have to pick up on Emotional Intelligence. Is technology enabled with emotions in the heart of the profession?
Be data driven, therefore, strengthens HR analytics quotient.
What comes very handy is being adaptable, such that we become change agents therefore able to wear a hat of Influencer. This is how I define the core competencies of our profession. This has paved growth to my career, I'm certain it will for many others too.