Artificial intelligence is only a replication of human intelligence. It will never replace emotion and a human connection

Her journey extends from student facilitation through event management and choreography, conducting Chinese Dining Etiquette sessions to having chosen to stay with HR, Aarti is an L&D Leader, who has recently moved from Associate Vice President with a leading BFSI company to focus on digital learning solutions with a content transformation firm Headquartered in the USA. Through her interventions, Aarti is participating in closing the gap between technology and learning. She has worked on developing Mobile Learning Modules, Learning Applications, Virtual Instructor Led Training Programs, eLearning modules, etc. It is a privilege to learn about her journey. Thank you, Aarti, for your time.

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

As a child, I was always an early riser. I would get dressed and be done with breakfast before most of my cousins and then help my mum with daily chores – talk to her today and she’ll be able to share some rather strong examples of how these things have changed. Even as a kid, I’d make sure everyone got a fair chance in the playground, voice my opinion and stand by it when I believed in something. 

And for this trait, when the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN) decided to partner with our school, our principal decided to give me a shot at being a Student Facilitator for India and facilitate an Indo-Pak conversation between 6th graders. Even after my 10th-grade exams, I continued as a student facilitator. That was the very first cheque I received in my name – Rs. 3,500/. And all I needed to do was stay committed, stay true and be compassionate because when you hear what 10-year olds from India and Pakistan have to say to each other, you believe in love and compassion.  

So, when you ask me; how did I prepare for my first job? My answer is, I had been preparing for it my whole life. Being ourselves is the only thing that will ever work because the world needs all kinds of people, all kinds of skill-sets. There’s a place for everyone and there’s a need for everyone. We just have to know which jobs to try for and say yes to.

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

 I’d been working for almost a decade and had attended multiple interviews before I had that one interview I’d never forget. And if you’ve had varied experiences then you wouldn’t find it strange that the job which taught me the most was not the one that I had been aiming for. It just happened because I followed a gut feeling and said yes at the right time. 

In an almost 4-year stint at a content development firm, I had been groomed in content levels and styles that were some of the best in the market, I had worked with a leader who wouldn’t allow misalignment caused by even a tiny line that extended beyond a text box or a double space on my presentation slide...even in internal presentations (can’t thank him enough). As a result it had become mechanical to notice the smallest of improvements that can be made in a presentation. My next employment was a three-month stint, for which when I was in the ‘Train the Trainer’; I couldn’t stop myself from offering to make improvements to a presentation that already contained some of the strongest content.

So here I was fetching additional work for myself amongst a group of 25 trainers trying to memorize faculty guides and clear certification to keep our jobs. Thus, along with preparation, I ended up working till 3am on two out of three nights, straightening borders and aligning images and text in the training content only because I thought it could look better and I wanted to play my part. I must mention that a quote by Michelangelo used in our training content, “I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free”, motivated me the most.

One of the founders of the firm noticed my alterations on the content, which might have exuded my willingness to work, and decided to give me an option of joining the firm full time. And after years of preparation for interviews and being ready with answers about my top 3 strengths and weaknesses, here I was, in an unplanned chat, answering the only question I was asked in my interview – “Do you fight for what you believe in? Can you fight”? And that was the beginning of years of learning to be the best you can for others and not just yourself.   

Well, I guess I was giving my most intrigued interview without even knowing it.

Being ourselves is the only thing that will ever work because the world needs all kinds of people, all kinds of skill-sets. There’s a place for everyone and there’s a need for everyone.

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? 

 While I have spoken about iEARN being my first job, it wasn’t until a few years later that I worked for a corporate set-up in HR. Was it easy? Not even close. It was work I'd never done before. With people I'd never met before, nothing was easy about that. 

I joined the L&D team at Wipro in 2005. I was amongst the youngest trainers. At 20-years old, I had to train batches of 30-people with an average age of 25 to 30, and tell them that I would be evaluating them. I needed them to accept me and agree to learn. Because if they blocked me out, I'd never get them to pass the training test and achieve my target passing percentage. So, I started the training session by acknowledging that each of them in the session knew more than me in their respective fields. And then, I assured them that as far as my subject of training was concerned, I was just aiding them to understand their work, after having invested a lot of time studying it myself. So, they should just view me as a communication medium for what would help them in doing their job effectively. 

Transitioning from college to corporate for me was rather smooth since I started young without any prior assumptions of what to expect. I guess the trick is to just enter your first job with a clean slate and no assumptions. Go with the flow and stay positive.

Workplace mentors play an important role at any stage in one's career. With any new role, we need guidance.

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? 

Workplace mentors play an important role at any stage in one's career. With any new role, we need guidance. I need my mentor as much today as I did at the start. Maybe even more since now I'm allowed lesser mistakes. 

Having said is important to understand that a mentor is only a human being, who has done more in our field than we have; they are not the end of the world. I say this because when someone gives us feedback it can either make or break us. So, if you're lucky you'll get a perfect mentor who'll remind you that you can achieve anything you want as long as you stay dedicated. But if for any reason you receive feedback from someone who may mean well but may not be able to share it appropriately and end up demotivating you... You need to remind yourself it is okay to have a bad day and move on. Don't let anyone tell you there's something you can't do. As long as I'm honest and mean well for others and my organization, I can achieve anything.

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 wanted to be a movie maker or an event manager. I even got opportunities to pursue that. However, for some reasons that didn't work out - partly the universe at play and partly my own decisions. 

What attracted me to HR was the fact that we can influence the lives of others. A correct placement can make a person's career just as much as effective training and feedback can.

Expectations of a CEO - Know the organization’s DNA and culture then find or train the correct people to match that culture.

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?

Knowing the organization’s DNA and culture and finding the correct people to match that culture, and regular interventions to keep its people motivated. The most important requirement to match expectations is to first ‘like your people and like your organization'. If you do that you'll want the best for everyone and then things will just fall into place.

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

Once again, it’s fitment. Pick correct and then train to equip them to do their job. Employees need guidance on how to do their job in addition to being told what to do. So, when you train them, equip them with more than just the instructions. If you're telling them to sell a product or service, train them in selling skills and customer service in addition to teaching them about the product.

The Company and its employees are one. Keep that approach in mind and you will find the best solutions.

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 have you faced and how did you manage to overcome them. 

Challenges arise when you treat both as separate entities. The Company and its employees are one. Keep that approach in mind and you'll find the best solutions.

I once had to train someone from a Marathi medium background and education to work in a British BPO process. It would not be fair to the person or the organization if they couldn't work together. So, I needed to take a call. The employee worked hard so I gave him some additional tips and he worked on it. From the organization, I arranged for him to take a second assessment in 6 months and if he wasn't able to keep up they could let him go. Sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn't. 

Please share an experience when you did something by coming under pressure from your management or reporting manager though you felt it was wrong and shouldn’t have been done?

I gave up on what I believed in. I was creating a curriculum that I knew would work. My manager said I must only focus on the product and I did it after a round of what turned into an argument. I wanted it not to get escalated more than I wanted to push for what I believed was right. It didn't work. And while I wasn't penalized, I will always regret it.

Based on your experience, what are the FIVE essential traits every HR Professional must have?

My FIVE are - Liking people, honesty, humility, loyalty to the organization and discipline.

Artificial intelligence is only a replication of human intelligence. It will never replace emotion and a human connection.

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? 

Artificial intelligence is only a replication of human intelligence. It makes life easier as repetitive questions and tasks can be answered and managed. It will never replace emotion and a human connection. So, as long as we're willing to let go of old ways, make space for AI to work with us... there’s enough and more for everybody...even the artificially intelligent.

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?     

Be Yourself - Exactly who you are! Learn along the way and change what needs to be improved, when you believe it needs to be. Be open to learning because nobody is perfect. Look for the good in others and you will find it. It'll help you create good teams.

For every decision you need to make... follow two things – your belief and your gut feeling. HR is about humans. There's nothing easier. All you need to do is be the Amazing Wonderful You.

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

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 27th August 2018]

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