An organization is as good as its people

After bagging Master’s degree, she joined the Indian Army (Short Service Commission). Post completion of her tenure in Indian Army, she worked with a couple of schools as a Teacher. Later, she moved on to work as a Profit Center Head with training institutes and also worked with a few Management Institutes, such as IILM and Amity University, in the Leadership roles. She is, Captain Smita Ranjan Keron, our guest for today . Her professional journey is filled with inspirational and motivational anecdotes. Thank you, Smita, for agreeing to share your experiences and insights with us.

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. 

Hi! Thank you for this lovely opportunity to interact with young leaders. My professional journey embarked with the "INDIAN ARMY". I hail from a hardcore Army Family; my Father, Brother, uncles were all officers of the parachute Regiment. When in college, I was a good student and a national level kayaking champion, and just about then the Indian Army opened its hallowed gates for the women. It was a natural choice for me. I stood first in Merit for the Army during the selection process after my SSB interview. I had also cleared the SSB for the Airforce. SSB holds the selection process for 5 days which encompasses screening tests, psychological tests, group tests, physical tests and the final interview, and if selected Medical tests. I believe if one clears the SSB, he or she is already a winner and if one tops the list, as I did, one must be really good. Army has no reservation quotas for anyone at all and no influences can get you in, it is just your personal merit.    

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

Here I will talk about two interviews. First is when I appeared for during SSB. I was young and very apprehensive, and I had already been tested for the past five days so, this was more of a culmination and summation. The environment was very army like and while the senior officer continuously threw situations at me and asked about what I would do, the psychologist sitting on a side only just observed my movements and reactions. Situations given were picked from my own environment, since I was the President of the college; they spoke about managing groups and Mobs.

The second interesting interview was at AMITY University – again taken by an Army General, who was a seasoned HR Head. He had the Art of Listening and just giving cues, no questions were asked, but I still seemed to have told him everything he wanted to know about me. It felt like a general talk about my work, family and instances. He made me comfortable and just guided the conversation.   

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 expectation? 

My first job remains to be my most coveted memory. I was an officer of the Indian Army, that too, a Woman Officer from the initial few batches; we were a novelty, the pioneers, the path breakers, the iconoclasts; we were always tasked more than the gentlemen officers since we were supposed to prove that we were good enough, if not better. It certainly felt awkward to be the show-horse everywhere; the jawans didn’t know whether to call me, Sir or Ma’am, that question was asked often. We were part of a multitude of surveys being carried out by the army HQ to see if women had it in them. 

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 a really important role in a fresher’s work life. They guide and correct you...nudge you in the right directions, urge you to learn the correct things and act as your sounding board. Yes, I had an awesome mentor, he not only guided me in my profession, but as everything was new for us and I was the only woman officer in about 500 kilometre radius, my conduct had to be above board which my mentor ensured by checking me from time to time. We are very much in touch and are well-wishers for each other.

You have worked in the Armed Forces. Please share with us the primary cultural and work style difference between Armed Forces and Corporate India. What difference do you notice in primary motivators in the workforce of the two?  

Having worked in the Armed forces and Corporate India, I have found that in the Army, it is imperative to have blind faith in your senior and follow orders to the T, because you trust your life in the hands of your commander and believe that you are an important part of a bigger strategy, while most corporate now follow a concept of no hierarchy. Everyone is on the same plain and we are allowed to discuss and ideate and come to a common strategy, ideas are the new currency. Primary motivators in the armed forces are the leaders and the "Junoon" to do something for the motherland; while in the corporate is the organizational and personal goals which motivate you.

What challenges and stereotypes you experienced while transiting from the Armed Forces to Corporate India? 

I transitioned from the Army to corporate almost 19 years ago, but till date, I am first bracketed into a security and administration role, all other qualifications and experience notwithstanding, and then being a woman are first thought of in softer image building roles, only when you insist, someone might think of hiring you in operations or BD. So, even though mindsets are changing and we have come a long way, we are far away from where we should actually be; women still have to prove their worth every single day.

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?

Being from the Army, I believe I am a natural HR manager as in Army, we start with knowing our troops, training ourselves to train them, look after their welfare. This training holds us in good stead when we step into the corporate world. Same was the case with me, as I have always been a people’s person, understanding the workforce, getting the right people for the right job, ensuring that they are trained correctly, their growth in the system became my passion.  

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?

 As is often heard “an organization is as good as its people”...the leadership team in organizations desires that right people are picked for the right roles. They are trained well and looked after within the system, also ensuring least attrition of trained manpower. Organizational behaviour plays an important role here as an overall smooth HR function leads to an overall growth of the organization.

“A sympathetic ear, a kind word and putting a point correctly to both sides is a major trait and requirement”.

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? 

Balance, maturity, and discipline are most important in being a representative of both the employer and employee. A sympathetic ear, a kind word and putting a point correctly to both sides is a major trait and requirement. Having saddled both, the Corporate World and the Army, I have seen that  timely leave and the time spent with family are still the most important factors for the workforce apart from training. Availing leave for troops is succour since they are normally away from families while keeping ungodly hours at the  corporate workplace tires out employees and they start exploring opportunities elsewhere.

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

Discipline, Empathy, Maturity, Training, and Teamwork are the 5 most important points in my view.

What do you like the least about the world of Human Resources?

I think the saddest part of being in HR is to be the person who breaks the news of “Being Laid-Off”.

As an HR Leader with over a decade of work experience, what is your view on job eliminations?

I feel sometimes it does become imperative to eliminate a job, but I would still like to absorb my trained manpower in another role, which as an HR leader, I should be able to pinpoint and suggest to the management so the job may get eliminated and not the manpower.

“Skill yourself" and then “UPSKILL” from time to time

Finally, the 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?  

My message to young leaders would be to "Skill Yourself" and then “UPSKILL” from time to time, be very passionate about what you do, your personal conduct and behaviour should be an example and always hear both sides of the story before making any conclusion.

Thank you!  Jai Hind!

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 30th April 2019]

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