Developing Business Acumen is a key for the success of every HR Leader

“One doesn’t need a Degree...or formal education to be a successful HR Professional. One must have a passion...passion to work with people...passion to understand the business...passion to learn and continuously improve self...climbing one step at a time”, that summarizes the journey of Nupur, an HR Leader with over 10 years of professional experience. She started her professional journey as a Client Servicing Executive and went on to become an HR Head for a leading BFSI organization. In her current role, she is spearheading the HR Function for a Travel Tech firm. Thank you, Nupur for giving your valuable time to this interview. Your journey and your experiences will inspire many aspiring HR professionals and help them become successful. Thank you. 

Let’s start.

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

The first job interview was at an advertising firm where I was interviewed for a client servicing role. I had a friend working in the same organization who referred me there. It was a long time ago that I gave my first interview but what I remember is that the questions surrounded various interpersonal skills and my ability to build strong relationships with clients which the job demanded. Initially, it was nerve-wracking considering it was my first interview; however, the interviewer was extremely humble and made the interview experience very pleasant.

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

One of my most intriguing interviews was with i-flex solutions, now Oracle Financial Services Software Limited. I remember I was out on the streets shopping while I got a call from a friend that someone from the HR department was trying to reach me and not getting through my phone. I remember running to a quiet corner to return the call and the next thing I knew was I had landed an interview invitation from them. Not knowing how big i-flex was as an organization, I was very excited that I was going to be interviewed to enter into a job I had dreamt of getting into. Those were the days when we didn’t have Smartphone’s and had limited information on the internet to prepare for interviews on what are the frequently asked questions during an interview. So, I spoke to a few friends who had bagged their dream jobs to help me with what they were asked. I remember making notes in my diary and preparing for answers and rehearsing them with my grandmother. It felt like I was preparing for the most important exam of my life. After a bit of preparation, I remember my grandmother just patting my back and saying “don’t worry so much, you will do well. Just remember to wear that smile and enthusiasm throughout the interview.” I had to give an analytical test to start with, after which I met the managers and head of the department I would be working with. The whole interview process lasted for 2 weeks and 4 rounds which was quite daunting. After I had landed the job, I asked my boss why he chose me and he said I beamed with enthusiasm and positivity and that sort of gave him the confidence that I would be able to do the job well. I never looked back ever since.

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 job role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

I had always imagined myself doing a day job, a responsible job, walking into a multi-storeyed glass building having my own computer in my own cubicle. My first job was far from what I had imagined. The office was in a dilapidated building, we had precisely 4 desks to share amongst 5-6 of us. We were constantly in a race to occupy the seats. It was fun. The job, on the other hand, was quite challenging and was something I expected considering I was taking up something outside my interest. My manager obviously found it challenging to shape me up too and realized that this was genuinely a difficult job for me. However, for the wonderful man that he was, he never gave up on me, ensured he included me in all the meetings, maybe hoping that it would help me. When I decided to move out, he was not surprised.  The job was surely different from what I dreamt of, but trust me the experience taught me a lot. I learned to take the right decisions and appreciated all the experiences thereafter. After moving to i-flex, everything actually changed for me. I enjoyed my work so much so that I started putting in a lot of effort into learning the job well. I had great managers throughout, who not only helped me learn but trusted in me to do the job well. They always offered me the freedom to operate independently and grow. There were constant feedback and recognition for good work. It was a more defined and formal set up compared to my first job. I loved it and I spent close to 10 years in this job.

Mentors and coaches help people shape their careers at the very start and it is so important to have your principles and foundation so strong right in the beginning.

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

Of course they do play an important role. It is a very responsible role. Mentors and coaches help people shape their careers at the very start and it’s so important to have your principles and foundation so strong right in the beginning. I didn’t go through a formal mentoring or coaching program, but I always believe that every person I am/was managed by are/were my mentors. Honestly, you learn a lot and beyond just work from them. While you create your individual style of working or just leading a life of your own, you start incorporating the attributes you see and like in your mentors into your own work life or for that matter life in general which only makes you a richer personality. It has been like that for me so far. That relationship between a mentor and mentee work best when it's a two-way street. You always get to execute what you learn and that’s the greatest thing you can give back to your mentor.

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?

I always wanted to be a scientist or an astronomer as a growing girl. I never got into the science stream, unfortunately, but I knew I wanted to be successful in whatever I do. When the time came to choose what I wanted to do in life, I would speak to influential and successful people within my family circle and outside on and off to decide what I wanted to take up as a profession. In this process, my uncle who at that point was beaming in his career helped me through with various options and stressed upon HR as an upcoming profession to be in. He also felt that my personality suited the profession very well. After a bit of research and thought, I decided to take up HR as a profession. He helped me in creating the first resume that actually got me my first two jobs. If I was not an HR person, I would have probably pursued interior designing.

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?

The HR function, I would believe, is the heart of an organization so to speak. From a CEO’s or Management perspective the HR function, in general, is expected to keep its people in the center of every business decision it makes. Playing the role of an advisor on people decisions, rigorously influencing them with the best solutions in various situations is something that is on top of all expectations.

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 surely differ from organization to organization. In general, I think what has been most challenging is retaining talent. Knowing how to engage with employees, conducting effective, insightful and frequent discussions and feedback sessions during their employment can help identify reasons a business loses employees and lays the groundwork for a plan to help improve retention.

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

I think at the top of the list is being ethical. The HR department of an organization serves as its conscience because of which honesty and discretion are two very important traits HR professional must have. Other important traits would be, being

  1. Self-discipline
  2. Impartial and objective
  3. Affable and have good communication skills.
  4. Good knowledge of the function will be prudent to back up these qualities.

Making decisions on layoffs are always the most difficult.

In your career span of over 10+ years, what was the most difficult decision you ever took? What were the factors that made the decision difficult?

Making decisions on layoffs are always the most difficult. It’s never a fair thing to do from an employee’s perspective. It's emotionally draining considering people’s different reasons for being in a job.

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? 

Most organizations these days undergo a certain degree of digital transformation and highly depend on this type of technology considering the kind of data it produces. HR professionals are recognizing that this data is very valuable and the insights that come out from it play a major role in reducing risk and drives decision-making when it comes to talent management and organizational performance.

Initially, companies considered social media to be a distraction for its employees however that thought process is shifting. Social media and HR are so closely intertwined into the fabric of our digital society and many HR professionals these days take to social media to have an active and engaging corporate presence not only to attract top talent but also to spread its organizational reach.

Your involvement with the business is as important as the business itself.

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 key competencies one must possess to be successful in this profession?     

As an HR professional, one important thing a lot of us fail to understand and learn is the business itself. It’s highly important to know the business you support, to know the numbers, to know what each function in the company contributes to the overall goal of the organization. Your involvement with the business is as important as the business itself. Spreading one’s wings and learning other functions, grabbing opportunities that do not limit you to your scope of work does a great deal in growing in one’s career. Developing business acumen is a key for any aspiring HR professional and that’s what most organizations look for these days. 

Thank you very much.

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 2nd April 2019]

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