Adding More Human Touch to HR

Adding More Human Touch to HR

Adding More Human Touch to HR

Anamika Sahu, Managing Editor, 0

When COVID-19 changed the face of work culture forever, HR department was the first to make the move, experience itself and then implement it across the organization. A people’s department, HRs had to ensure that each employee gets the access to network & infrastructure to work from home while also remain connected with every employee, team and managers. The shift in work culture was the fastest and hence the HR who took this as an opportunity rather than as a challenge were the winners.

I interacted with Kaustubh Sonalkar, President – HR, Essar Group and CEO, Essar Foundation to know more about the yesterday, today and tomorrow of HR. Kaustubh, who spearheads human capital management and nurtures leaders in group companies, which spreads across industry sectors, geographies and cultures, answers elaborately these points.

The HR function has undergone complete transformation since lockdown. How do you see this?
From an HR’s perspective, it is the shift we were waiting for, and COVID just expedited the whole process. On one side, the new generation was to enter the workspace and on the other side, technology was taking the center stage. With this in play, the role of HR becomes extremely critical as it is adaptation of a newer way of life. People have started adapting technology differently while making peace with work-from-home (WFH) culture. Even the way HRs tap talent has undergone a complete shift.

As the WFH has opened up, we now know that productivity actually doesn’t suffer. Especially in India, WFH is equally or more productive than actually working from office. It is all because of a complete change in the mindset and policies. The companies in India is mostly run by people (promoters) who have now realized that this is one way of employing good talent. WFH even allows you to tap talents sitting at home who can deliver more.

On the other hand, contractual employment will see arise. A new concept altogether, people can do three-four different jobs in a day. For example, for a certain number of hours, you can be an employee and for the others, an entrepreneur. With the new generation entering the workforce, their adoption to such changes become far more easier. I think it is a mind-set issue and managing this transition is what HRs need to do. They need to ensure that the employees are not stressed out, keep them engaged whilst making them more productive and adoption of technology a seamless experience. It’s a handholding role, change role, transformation role, and this is the positive side I see COVID brought to India.

Some of the challenges HRs faced during the COVID times? How will an HR’s role transform in the coming days?
The reason of our transition was not that great (pandemic) and that is why it took a toll on people in adjusting. The other thing I guess is that we Indian’s are not used to working on-screen, hence it is more India-based issue when it comes to adoption of WFH. Our thought process is that ‘Ghar pe baithe hai to chutti hai’ (if at home, it’s a holiday). This has been our fabric till now. But as the pandemic grew and over a period of time, as we got the hang of balancing working from home and working for home, people turned towards their screen. Of course, the sudden WFH culture had its own strings tied like employees having no laptop, internet connectivity and others; these are all essential services and HRs dealt with it perfectly.

We made sure that everybody stays connected as the most important thing at these times is to keep your people engaged. We made sure that every individual has their work, roles and expectations clearly defined. We provided them with all the required equipment and even relaxed few IT rules, and made sure they would get seamless connectivity. Initially it took time to streamline the process but we have put things in order.

As the transition is over, what is the new phase of challenge for the HRs and how they will be dealing with it?
It’s not a challenge but an opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, this shift was bound to happen but COVID gave the push to move immediately. HR has been a sleeping function till now. It has only been nice-to-be person who keep writing about taking over the boardroom role. But this was the time that defined the whole of HR in terms of business as usual needs change in the outlook of people. Technology will take precedence, and adaptive people will come on board. It is a good time for HRs to learn and people who cannot manage this transition has no role in the industry.

What is your Mantras for the HRs?
Make sure to be a part of the transformation. Lead the transformation and make sure that people are absolutely connected. Make sure you identify and adapt to this first yourself and if you cannot identify to yourself, you do not have a role in it. HRs need to be the flag bearer of this change, because it is people change and nothing unusual has changed on the business part except the medium of functioning. HRs who are high on EQ, who can manage the transformation, adaptation of technology and the new ways of working will rule the chart.

You as an HR need to create those policies, procedures, the ways and how to keep your people engaged and hence find those new mediums of connect and your policies need to change, and the new generation will adapt to it faster than we think when they come onboard. Not only the grass root employees but also the CEOs are grappling with the new work ethics. Hence now is the time for HRs to support the business and redefine the way HR works. Only such HRs will succeed.

The entire HR process will change now including L&D. Where do you see this moving in the coming days especially with integration of technology?
Let me start with an example. We have hired about 50 senior level people in the last few months and it was the best time to hire. The medium of course was technology like Skype, Zoom, BlueJeans, and others. The speed of hiring has rather increased during the pandemic. One senior level hiring takes about 90-120 days but the time
and cost of hiring has reduced drastically.

The opportunity for you to reach out to the right set of the talent has increased. And these are some big changes which has emerged during the last few months. Going forward when the situation normalizes, you know where to find the new set of candidates. HRs will use more of technology now. Just like we have integrated it in our induction program. We have created it using VR, AR and our walk-ins are now 3D. These provides an exceptional and extraordinary experience to our joineers.

When coming to L&D, the content remains same but the mode of imparting it has again shifted to technology. I think it is the innovative way of interacting with people which will be important. But according to me this shift isn’t creating much of a positive impact as online learning has its own limitations irrespective of what technology you use. It’s not only in the executive learning level, but also at the grass root level learning.

It’s time to return to work. How HRs are planning for this?
I would call it coming ‘back home’. So how do you make sure people return back to the workplace which is equally vibrant and safe in these times and making them feel at home & at ease are few things HRs need to look at. They also need to make sure they take requisite measures to bring life back to as normal as possible at work.

While the hiring will change, even the traits HRs look for will change. What are those traits you are looking for in freshers? What about the internship?
Nothing will change the way I look at people. When the new set of people will come in, the most important is whether these people are ready for tomorrow, possess entrepreneurial ability in terms of decision making, talking, standing by themselves, adaptation, and whether they are risk takers. That is the DNA we look for in our organization. We look for people who are self-starters, self-motivated, while being an expert in jugad is a very important aspect and extremely critical. When we call jugad as design thinking, we love it, but then it is finally jugad – solution orientation. The new generation is ready with technology and bubbling with energy. So people who have got the innovative mindset and think ahead of times are the people who will be most welcomed into the industry.

Coming to internship, for us, we even today have around 23 interns who are all doing great jobs. The only thing is that they are working from home, doing great research, and preparing wonderful reports. Nothing for us has stopped, not even our campus hiring. These times rather has a benefit as the mentors are able to spend far more time with their interns because they have a dedicated one hour for one-on-one, which is not possible when in office as you have people around.

What would be your suggestions for MSMEs and SMBs to survive and grow the pandemic?
From an MSME prospective, the authorities have actually taking several steps to ensure their sustainability. MSME contributes to maximum amount of employment and to the GDP of the country. Hence it is the area of focus. But despite being the area of focus, it is the most underdeveloped – planning, organizing, strategy, technology influx and blue printing. Despite so much contribution to the economy, the focus even in the last three-four months of the government has been on providing as many facilities for them to make sure they come back to normal.

But this doesn’t mean that they will come back to the same old avatar. They also need to go back to the drawing board, look at the blueprint and business strategy, and look at the opportunities sitting in front of them. Because with China taking a backseat especially due to the loss of trust from countries across the world, India becomes an extremely important place where people/businesses will invest. And MSME will be the maximum beneficiary but it will have to come back with a new way of doing business. They also have to evolve and this is the time they need to.

Yes, they are going to be in the tough days and they will take next six months to come back to normal. So they need to use this time to look at their business & strategy and also redefine how they want to do. Also the talent they hire will change. They have to look at a new way of looking at hiring. And there is a huge amount of opportunity. 2021-22 is going to be the year of redefining MSME sector, which will change the entire landscape of India.

Your recently penned book ‘Fetch Your Own Coffee’ is an inspiration for young and potential leaders. How is this book unique?
This book has nothing called ‘Gyan’, but is pure experiences & learning of my life that I experienced firsthand. It is not away from reality. When you relate to a real life story, you learn more than merely reading a book.

What has been your biggest learning of your professional career?
Stay positive in your outlook, be extremely passionate about what you do, and if you have a vision in your life, go perceive, fall and remember that fall will give you some learning. I have always been passionate about what I do. HR is not just a profession to me; I am very passionate about people. The other things I am passionate about are cricket, music, and movies.

If you look at my journey, I have been a professional cricketer & a music composer, I have judged reality shows & Miss India Pageant. I love doing philanthropic work and hence have worked with UN. I have worked with groups of people across all of these and I think that is what gives me kick. Being passionate about it, doing things differently and getting different solutions on table while adapting technology!

What kind of gadgets do you like?
I am a huge Apple fan; so anything gadget is Apple. I like experimenting with all sorts of technology and if I don’t understand, I would want to learn about it from anybody, even children.

Favorite actor & movie?
Amitabh Bachchan is my all-time favorite actor while Chak De movie inspires me at any time.

Anything to do with chicken. I am a big fan of Indian cuisine especially mom-made chicken recipes. Even I love experimenting in the kitchen.

Holiday destination?
I love spending time with my family, and travel to snowy and hills areas far away from the hustle bustle of the cities. Switzerland, London and Australia are some such places.