IF YOU DON’T HAVE DISCIPLINE AS A CORE ATTRIBUTE OF YOUR PERSONALITY OR COMPETENCE, IT’S HARD IN MOST BUSINESSES, FOR A MANAGER TO BE SUCCESSFUL

In this edition of ‘CEO Insights’, we have Mr. Sandeep Bhargava, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Provana. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his thoughts on organizational vision and competencies of great leaders.

Rahul: How would you describe your leadership style? 

Sandeep: If you combine authentic leadership with an entrepreneurial mindset, I think that combination is what best describes who I am as a leader. I tend to lead with purpose, and my purpose tends to be very aggressive and very large. I percolate that down to my employees. Some employees just want a good job, they don’t want to stretch themselves. I’m very transparent with them when they join the organization. However, for the ones who want to strive to get to the next level, I want them to understand what they can be, and what is the purpose of the company.

In my last venture, when I sold the business of a large company, we came up with this phrase called enabling transformation.

Enabling transformation is about what a company can do to create an ecosystem where an employee can shine, can be empowered with all the tools that they need to be the best of themselves.”

If you talk to any of my former employees, they will describe that I tend to demand a lot, I will push you to do more if that is what you need from me unless you tell me otherwise.

Another part of me sees it as important to be a role model. I’ve seen since the early days of my career, that there are leaders who will preach what they do not practice. Employees can see it. So, you have to be a role model, and a good role model at every level.

The last tenet for me is that life is too short and you have to be bold you have to go after your dreams. I want my company, my employees, even my clients to dream big. So, that is how I would define my leadership style.

Rahul: Who have been some major influencers or mentors in your life?

Sandeep: I’ve had some close professional mentors in my career. One individual, his name is Paul Himes, is probably the best mentor I’ve ever had. I learned a lot from him about how to think big, but also how to make your big thoughts and ideas real. Anybody can say, I want to build a billion-dollar business, right? But where’s the roadmap to build that? He is very good at creating that roadmap and helped me look at ideas from that perspective.

During the early 2000s, at the boom of IT services in India, I got a chance to know Narayana Murthy very well. I was influenced by him, his authenticity, and his principles. Working with him and seeing the culture he was building in the process inspired me.

Basab Pradhan, who is a very good friend of mine, is a big influencer in my life. I saw him evolve at the same time that I was evolving, which made a great impression on me. Lastly, my business partner, Karen, who I have known for the last 23 years has been a mentor to me, in many ways especially in terms of challenging clients and working with them to build a long-term relationship

Rahul: What is the vision of your firm? How do you ensure that everyone in the firm is working towards that vision? 

Sandeep: I have evolved in my thinking in terms of looking at what my purpose is, and what am I trying to do. From a Provana perspective, for the past 9 years, our vision has been to build an India-centric, full solutions company that focuses on small-medium businesses in the US. An added vision for me is how to do that and be profitable. The efficiency of the operating model is very important.

How do we make sure everybody lives this? Firstly, it’s impossible for me, in a 1000 plus employee company to interact with every employee, every day. So, I do town hall meetings every three to four months to make sure that everybody is hearing from me. I call myself a parrot because I repeat myself a lot so that everyone gets the message.

The second important thing is to make sure that my next level, the middle management layer strongly believes in our mission. Many of them have worked for more than 5 years, and I call them the custodians of Provana. If I disappear, I think the company will still run and run very well because of them. I just keep checking with them and making sure that they are doing the same thing and creating the next level.

“In my mind, the middle management level, often becomes the custodian of the vision, because it’s difficult for the executive team to be the only custodian.”

Rahul: What are critical competencies or capabilities, that are required of great managers?

Sandeep: The first competency I look for is what I define as intellectual intensity – or how curious are you? How curious are you about your business mission? About your company? What’s happening in the marketplace? What’s happening in the ecosystem? How are we growing, right? I believe curiosity is a very important competency.

The second competency is problem-solving. As middle management, you’re usually solving problems.

You need to have structure around problem-solving and you need to guide your employees on how to do the same.”

The third one, which is practice really, is intellectual intensity. Is it in your mind? Or are you looking at computers and other sources to retrieve it?

“The mind is a muscle and you can practice making this data storing a natural part of who you are as a manager. It’s important for middle managers also to invest the time in their employees to help them with their career roadmap.” 

Rahul: If you face a situation where and you’re interviewing a candidate for a leadership position, and you only get to ask one question, what would that question be?

Sandeep: I almost always ask this question especially for the leadership position – who do you want to be? I think it’s very important for me to hear from them. Who do you want to be in three to five years? It’s interesting that even though it’s a commonly asked question, and people prepare for it, you can see the authenticity of the individual through how they answer that question. If they answer that, “I want to be a better version of myself”, or “I want to get to the highest level in the organization that is possible for me”, then I know that this is a prepared answer that they read somewhere.

This, versus somebody, says that in five years, “I want to do this specific thing”. The specificity of that answer is very important for me to hear because that tells me this is a leader who is going to understand my pressure. This person will make their ideas instead of just doing without thinking. It helps me understand if this person is intellectually intense or not? Or are they just following a standard career roadmap?

Rahul: What are some of the X-factors that you feel should be developed in your leaders?

Sandeep: “I would say flexibility and how you pivot in a business model and operating model is very important.”

I think one thing the world has taught us in the last two years, is that you have to learn to deal with the unexpected. The only way to do this is to stay still focused on your overall mission or purpose but pivot quickly. Pivot means how do we get work done for clients? How do you make sure that you pivot to a new market? How do you have your operating model designed in a way that you’re using technology much more efficiently? I think that flexibility and the ability to pivot without compromising the objectives that you set for yourself, is the most important attribute for an executive team.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself sharing with this generation?

Sandeep: A very common theme I see in the younger generation is restlessness. I think that they’re distracted and more restless than we were. They tend to be very short term in their thinking. This whole notion of a career roadmap seems to have been lost. They’re not focused on building the core skill set. The first few years in any job are just so important for you to understand and discover who you are; find what you are good at.

If you can introspect and understand yourself better, and use that to build a career roadmap for yourself, they’ll be so much happier in the long term. It’s difficult to convince them to do that because they’re restless. They’re looking for a way to make a little bit more money or be in a cooler job. I feel that if they don’t kill that restlessness there will be a problem. I feel that’s something that overall, this generation has to fight to deal with.

Getting out of the comfort zone & doing the right things: what makes you a great leader

Rahul: Is there anything in particular that you would like to highlight as a part of your  leadership learning this past one year?

Sandeep: As far as my journey is concerned, I would say that as  COVID happened to the ‘outside world’, it simultaneously triggered a lot of changes in the ‘inside world’ as well. This  ‘inside world’, essentially comprises of the thought process and the decision-making process, which witnessed a good reflective pause.

“COVID brought us to a reflective pause that freed us of  our tendencies to operate out of a force of habit.”

Suddenly it’s not just about our reflex actions anymore. Now  we are discovering a ‘new why’ – we are asking ourselves ‘why are we doing this?’

One of the biggest learnings for me has been the blended  model of work and the flexibility it brings along with it. I  have also been hearing from my family that I am now seen  more. Sigh! This pause has led us to a new style of working  with lots of screens in front of us and certainly without  international travel for business meetings, one that is not  impacted anymore by delayed flights or hectic back to back  meetings in different cities on the same work day but now  developing an ability to be impactful in all day virtual  meetings and yet start again the next day and the next!

Also, another very important learning in this time of crisis  has been “Empathy” With so much of suffering and loss  around us globally everyone has a different way of reacting  or responding to uncontrolled crisis of this scale and  magnitude. Working closely with your people, your teams,  is the least one can do to give them hope in such hopeless  and helpless situations.

Rahul: Can you tell us more about your growth  story, and what were some of the big  breaks that you had in your career?

Sandeep: Born and brought up in Delhi, I completed my schooling  from DPS Noida. I joined the school in the year 1984, and I  remember that it was a two-classroom school and I happened to be the 65th admission. By the time my  schooling was over, options seemed limited because that  was a world with no internet, computers, or smartphones.  And, in those times, the most prominent options were  either to be a doctor or an engineer. In fact, I always wanted  to be a doctor, but could not get through the medical  entrance exams. The option was to sit and reappear next year or to do engineering. The idea of wasting one year and study was very unfriendly to me.

As my father encouraged me, I got admission and pursued engineering from Karnataka and I must say, engineering taught me more than just the technical aspects of it, and living away from my family for four years was another good learning experience for me.

My next stop was MBA in Marketing, from Symbiosis, and I also completed an exhaustive course on web technologies simultaneously, because internet was the new buzzword back then while mobile phones were being recognized as the new technological aid. I clearly remember driving a two-wheeler to Noida for a salary of 5000 rupees, and it lasted for 4 months, post which I joined Stanlay as a Marketing Head, where the business required us to deal with a lot of big international corporate brands, including the top-notch players from the telecom industry. During that time, working 15-16 hours a day was normal, and I did not shy away from pushing my boundaries, as I tried to absorb as much learning as possible and steer my life ahead. Working for 3-4 years in this company gave me an excellent foundation & early global exposure.

Post that, I took my first break and joined one of the tops.

U.S. based trampoline companies at that time, called ‘Fun Spot Trampolines’. They wanted to set-up their operations in India. Initially, they hired me as a Business Development Manager, but six months later I was promoted to be the India Head. I still feel proud to mention that we scaled and moved from a small office in a residential area to Okhla Phase 3 (right next to the Star TV office), within a year. The wheels were in motion.

In 2004, I did my first US business trip and showcased our company in the Internet Retailer Conference at Orlando, Florida. Later, we worked on developing a model to create big trampoline parks in the USA with the support of both the trampoline hardware and software applications. In parallel, we also developed a fully automated backend to support one of the sister companies supplying outdoor promotional products to the biggest business brands across the USA.

Soon it was time for “What’s Next?”

My journey with Beckett started in 2009 as an Online Marketing Head and I was promoted, in seven months, to the position of the Global E-commerce Head.

“I was always inclined to ask ‘What’s next? Just no time for a Dull moment”

In 2012, I took over as the President of Beckett Media. By 2014, transformed the business model into becoming collaborative and execution driven with a “Think Global” mindset. The P&L had started to look good. By end of 2016, we did 7 tuck-in acquisitions for the company. In 2017, we created a portfolio company for the business by the name of “Entrust Global Group” and started to focus on a more consolidated and strategy driven growth model. Our appetite and ambition for calculated risk taking was always high and that really supported our aggressive growth journey. By 2018, we had acquired 4 more businesses, done one more successful start-up and had started building up business in international markets such as Japan, China and Australia. In 2019, we added a healthcare arm to the Entrust group and this was a group of companies named “Eye Care Leaders” with the biggest market share in the ophthalmology space in the American market for practice management solutions and EHR’s.

In July 2021, we have acquired one of the biggest sports collectibles and gaming products distributor named “Southern Hobby” based out of TN, USA. There are many things we are working on currently which will continue to add strategic value for the long-term asset builders that we have become for people, processes and businesses.

Rahul: What would your long-term strategic vision be for your company? Or to say in your words, what’s next for you now?

Sandeep: Managing a portfolio of companies, I would want Entrust Global Group to be a “Provider”. Provider of a disciplined set of Core Values, Resources to develop Scale up potential, Formulating Business Strategy through our learning system, reinforcing Leadership Accountability & Empowerment and leading our businesses with a growth engine of Dynamic Leadership.

The Growth of a company is limited by the growth of its leaders.

“It’s all about how we will look and what we envision for next ten years. It’s like having a BHAG – big, hairy, audacious goal. And it comes down to WWW– our internal acronym, which stands for ‘who does what, and by when”.  The question that’s always on my mind is ‘Who’s going to be my number two, or in other words, the next leader?’ The idea is to think about hiring the right replacement for myself and moving on to the next orbit of growth. It’s always about the “Right” people.

“I really do believe that after a certain point in time, it’s not people running systems, but systems running people.”  Creating the right scalable systems which are conducive to your scaling up growth strategy through the process of formulating the right rocks (certain people call them KPI’s/KRA’s etc) is PRIME.

For me, the fun part is to keep growing the size of the pizza, then fighting over the size of its slices. If the Pizza does not grow, then that should be considered as a leadership problem.

Rahul: What are the qualities that you look for in your successor?

Sandeep: Well, here are a few thoughts, High levels of energy and enthusiasm of course, but most importantly, passion. Passion is what drives you even on those dull Monday mornings. One other important quality I would look for is the ability to think beyond the immediate horizon of one’s personal interests (I refer to it as the runway view) and instead taking a 30,000 ft view of how the world you operate in looks to you.

Attitude is another key attribute. There was a study on Fortune 500 companies which showed that the most important personality trait which probably gives you a winning mindset is one’s Attitude.

“Resilience in character is also something to look forward to in a probable successor.”

We hire and work with professionals globally. So, as a successor the person must have the requisite cultural sensitivities to understand a scenario and make rational decisions. One should be aware of the cultural differences, for instance, something that works in India might not work in the US, or vice versa. So, understanding these nuances are crucial.

Rahul: Going forward, in the next 1-2 years, what are the X-factors that you would want the future leaders to develop?

Sandeep: As a leader, one of the most important traits one should develop would be the ability to deal with chaos comfortably. And, I say this because our present world is perhaps the best example of the VUCA world, as everything is hinged on a certain level of uncertainty now and in fact, many people have still not been able to  recover from the pandemic. Today, we have a lot more ‘unknowns’ than ‘knowns.

The present world looks at those future leaders who are extremely open-minded and authentic.

They should be able to measure their success through outcomes and not efforts. Also, the level of control a leader exercises has changed dramatically due to the pandemic and now it is clearer than ever that success cannot be monitored through micromanaging people. So, I believe that future managers need to come out of this particular “Comfort zone” cocoon.

“Largely in terms of their focus, we differentiate between managers and leaders by saying that ‘Managers – Do things right, while Leaders – Do the right things.’ The leadership evolution essentially requires someone who can ‘Do the right things right.”

Rahul: What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to people management, especially in this post-pandemic time?

Sandeep: While speaking about challenges, we also need to keep certain things in our minds – the fact that although every human has a varying capacity to deal with stress or any changes in their immediate environment, but with this pandemic there are families which are going through extremely difficult times now, financially or otherwise, and a lot of jobs have also been taken since the breakout happened.  Inspite of these hurdles, keeping people motivated and focused, while understanding their needs at the same time, is not an easy task.

That is why, empathy plays a key role today. Looking back at the last 14 months, I can say with confidence that had I not been empathetic, my organization would probably have gone in a very different and rather an adverse direction.

Another challenge is to increase one’s tolerance for inefficiencies. The inevitable truth is that there has been an enormous change in lifestyles of business folks. We are no longer in an office space, sipping coffee together. We need to inculcate more trust in our approach to our peers, juniors and colleagues. Also, when I say being tolerant, it does not necessarily mean compromising on culture, but to be more open and accepting to the fact that there may be situations when outcomes are not met.

“It’s all about understanding the changing landscape and its impact and framing friendlier policies.”

We are thriving right now, and to be honest, COVID has worked as an accelerant for us on the business side. Remote working has opened new doors for us and helped us to venture into newer avenues and evolve, as we think two steps ahead.

Rahul: If you had limited time in an interview, what are a few questions you would ask?

Sandeep: If there is a time constraint, I would like to ask – “Why do you think you are the right fit for us? And how do you see your future with us, if you are hired, for the next 90- 100 days?”

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to  the younger generation?

Sandeep: I would advise them not to be fake. They should demonstrate integrity and stand by what they say. I believe that authenticity should always be in one’s approach. I would also recommend them to spend time understanding what you want, and more importantly what you don’t want. The ‘should’ and ‘could’ in your list can wait, but you must be very clear about your ‘must’.  My second advice would be “don’t simply run after working for branded names for the sake of it”. They need to reflect deeply on their decisions. And since we are talking about the younger generation, I would suggest them to explore and learn as much as they can in the initial stages of their careers. Be workmanlike and choose your playfield well to Rise and Shine!

Knowledge and Learnability: Making of a Successful Manager

In this edition of the ‘CHRO Insights,” we have Mr NR Mani, Head of Human Resources, Lucas TVS Ltd. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his values and principles that he follows as a leader.

 

Rahul: What is in the field of HR that holds your interest?

N R Mani: Being an HR expert, handled multiple businesses such as Construction, Port Logistics and Manufacturing sectors. I encountered huge work force which is capable of bringing great transformations. I invest my efforts in understanding their cultures to attract and train the best talent. I am privileged to help the people those who work along with different mindsets and also bring enormous energy to create phenomenal changes that happens for industrial growth, especially by following various benchmarked best practices of the industry.

 

Rahul:  How will your colleagues describe your leadership style?

N R Mani: They would say that I follow a transformational leadership model which brings organizational growth and people development. But, I believe that my leadership style is mostly servant-leadership style which is to take an opportunity to serve others through driving cordial relationship with employees.

“The measure of one’s intelligence is its ability to change.”

One of the don’ts for working with me is that they should not be dishonest as I do not tolerate what they say if they are not being honest. Second, I am always result-oriented and many people in my team describe me as a change agent.

 

Rahul: What are some of the leadership lessons that you believe your leadership team has learned during the past year?

 

N R Mani: The pandemic time probed me to learn many of the people practices and helped my team to understand the power of empathy and relationships as well.  It has helped me to understand the people and their hidden talents of the people.

“Being empathetic allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Secondly, there has been a multiple fold scenario which has increased the productivity levels of people across all the functions.

Third, the introduction of technology has impacted the business in a powerful way, as now there are various software’s that can track performance delivery, which helps leaders to understand it is important that what people are bringing to table and how they are contributing towards the organizational growth.

To quote an instance, I hired a few young engineers and assigned them a few projects. Over a few months’ time, I was surprised to see the phenomenal changes and success which was beyond my expectations. This has brought huge return on investment to the organization and because of their innovative initiatives, the business will reach greater heights in the future.

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to the younger generation who are entering the corporate workforce?

N R Mani: I believe that today generation is highly adaptive to technological aspects and we should understand their aspirations and motivate them. The present leaders should work on reverse mentoring ad align the millennials when they step into the workforce. Second, when they are given a task, the youngsters should think of ways that they can contribute to the organization and the team. Third, they should exhibit their interpersonal skills and network with different kinds of people as much as possible. Finally, they should gain hand-on experience and explore new things time and again to great a deal of exposure in the corporate world.

“In the end, in the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience.”

 

Rahul: What are the most crucial competencies required for a managerial role?

N R Mani: I am positive that a Great Manager displays a combination of two attributes- excellent knowledge on strategic thinking with business knowledge which bring the end results. And curiosity to learn and implement new things and enjoying the challenges. I believe with these qualities a person can climb up the ladder if she/he has the expertise knowledge and the fire to learn and contribute to the organization.

“Learnability is the skill of the future”

 

Rahul: If you had the opportunity to ask only one question in an interview and decide on that basis whether to hire the candidate or not, what would that question be?

 

N R Mani: According to me, a candidate’s past experiences, achievements and contributions to various organizations are significant parameters for selection, So, I would ask, “What are some of your most significant achievements over last five years and how have you contributed to the society and organization at large?” Through this, I would be able to understand whether a person has worked well in teams or independently and what kinds of results he/she delivered as well as the difference these created. This will also help me know whether his thought process is aligned to the organization’s vision. I would also want to see if the person has that hunger to achieve.

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, one should build a door.”

 

Rahul: HR’s role in the last particular year has enhanced in the eyes of the business folks. It is expected out of HR that it will take care of the people and most of the organizations are working towards COVID care. What is your perspective to this evolving role of HR?

N R Mani: I strongly believe, the first and foremost responsibility of the HR is to give confidence and parental care which eliminates the fear and bonding the to its employees during the most critical situation. The second wave of COVID was quite unexpected and has been tough to deal with in such a populated country. This pandemic has brought a paradigm shift into ways of working and living. In fact, I think, now our HR fraternity has set a precedence on handling the crisis. They take accountability on imparting education and spreading awareness within the system and as well as outside the organization to ensure people’s safety and well-being.

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards. He has played a vital role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last six years in India. Rahul has been consulting organizations for the last ten years in identifying & developing successors.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great manager awards program is an initiative by ‘people business’ to identify, recognize and reward “companies with great managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.

MAKING RIGHT CHOICES, BEING PERSONALLY SECURE & OPTIMALLY SELFLESS: SUCCEEDING AS A GREAT MANAGER

In this edition of ‘CHRO Insights’, as Part of The Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Sushanth Tharappan, Senior Vice President & Head – Infosys Leadership Institute at Infosys. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his leadership experiences. 

 

Rahul: What is it in the field of HR that interests you?

 

Sushanth: The development dimension of HR is what interests me as it keeps evolving. My career has seen me journey through roles in Learning & Development, Leadership Development, Organization Development, Business HR, Talent Acquisition, as Head HR and now as the Head of the Leadership Institute focused on Succession Planning & Leadership Development. It’s gratifying when you are able to add value to colleagues, leaders, and teams. The ability to discover and share the wealth of potential people have and to work with them on a journey to discover that wealth, is extraordinary. It can be best described by one of Benjamin Disraeli’s quotes –

 

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”

 

When people discover their true potential, see the unseen, add value to organizations, to themselves and to their teams – the experience of and learning through such journeys is what keeps me invested in this dimension of HR.

RahulWhat is your leadership style? What are some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to working with you?

 

SushanthFirstly, I look for two factors, achieving results and creating value, and in my mind, these are two complementary but different outcomes. Achieving results is about the performance – quarterly, half-yearly, or annually. I tend to rely on data, metrics, trends and stakeholder feedback. Questions such as – How are we moving the needle? How well are we delivering to our stakeholders? Does the data corroborate this? Are we achieving the result that we’re supposed to? – are ones that help in calibrating the result focus. Adding value to your stakeholders is a higher measure. ‘How are we making a difference?’ is a useful question to ask to understand this.

Secondly, having the right people on the team is critical to achieving results and creating value. I take time to select who I want on my team. Once you are part of the team, my belief is that the leader is responsible for every team member’s organizational contribution and their career. I often tell my team members that if we were to meet two decades down the line, we should have fond memories of our time together along with pride for the value we created/ added to the organization.

The third dimension is transparency as it’s critical to building trust. Our team meetings have open discussions on data, metrics, and analysis. I believe in measurements because it’s easy to communicate with measurements, especially when you’re dealing with areas that are open for interpretation. Importantly, information on goals, achievements, performance ratings, recognitions, promotions etc. are transparent. There are no surprises in the team when it comes to information.

A friendly and fun atmosphere also becomes key especially when you keep pushing for a higher standard. Finally, I believe you have to be incorrigibly optimistic and highly energetic.

“Achieving results, creating value, a data-based approach, being transparent, inclusive, fun & friendly, being incorrigibly optimistic and energetic are the major qualities that I value and strive for.

 

Rahul: If you were to choose a successor, what are some of the significant qualities you would look for?

 

Sushanth: Let me share this as two key groups of attributes – the key attributes to have and dysfunctional behaviours to not have.

Let me begin by sharing some attributes that I would look for in any successful leader. Firstly, you should be personally secure, because that instils confidence in an individual and that confidence will propel you. You will not look to taking anything away from others and even if you must deal with failure, you will deal with it on your own. It’s a vital attribute if you want innovation, experimentation and risk taking to happen. Secondly, you have to be reasonably selfless – you need to be motivated by the success and wellbeing of others. Thirdly you need to have competence – business, people, andfunctional competence. Finally, willingness to learn and adapt. Today the constant changes we are seeing necessitates this attribute.

I also look for and place a premium on some core values – Excellence, Integrity, and Stakeholder Centricity

“Stakeholder’s respect matters the most. Respect is more important than popularity as it speaks to value creation/addition.” 

 

The second set of factors to also look for is the absence of certain derailing or dysfunctional behaviours. Three adverse behaviours I watch out for are:

The first is conflict avoidance. If you are a person who avoids conflict, then you will likely not confront issues and take a stand, when needed. The second is indecisiveness- I think the greatest failure as a leader is to be indecisive. Third is being discriminatory; because a lack of inclusivity will mean you are propagating inequity.

Rahul: What could be some of the priorities for HR in the upcoming months, with the context of change due to COVID 19?

 

Sushanth:  The HR focus will vary based on the phases of recovery from the pandemic. In the immediate phase, it’s about conveying organizational empathy and support to its workforce as people cope with the pandemic and its impact. It will also need to support the organization in its larger response to the communities we are a part of. Employees also need to be supported with a short-term visibility into how they will function in their respective locations – remotely, hybrid work or from office as different locations will be at differing stages of recovery. As visibility increases and the local ecosystems settle down, more predictability about the work ecosystem will need to be shared and new policies that balance organizational, workforce and community needs will have to be shaped and shared. Psychological safety, wellness and empathy will be key employee priorities in this phase.

HR will also have to balance being adept at regular operations and planning an adaptive approach for the next few years. Opportunities will open on multiple fronts, raising the question – how do we make the best of this? New work models, new talent pools, new or modified employee value propositions, new partnerships, new work culture etc. will need to be considered and scaled as appropriate. The key will be to being adaptive than being definitive.

As it is said in psychology – If you’ve had a life-changing event, then you have to redraw and rethink. The whole world has gone through a life-changing event with the pandemic and therefore, we have to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. HR has to revisit the assumptions around work, workplace and workforce.

“The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in the moments of comfort, but where they stand in times of challenges and controversies.”

 

Rahul: In your opinion, what could be some best practices to engage new employees?

 

Sushanth: to meaningfully engage new employees, one has to start from the basics – what do new employees really need from the organization they are joining. In my experience, they need to feel supported and valued, learn something new, and have visibility to a career pathway. They also need someone to guide and support them and help them navigate the new organization they have joined.

To facilitate the above, a manager will have to invest extra time and effort in understanding them as ‘people’ and help them align to organizational vision, values, goals and what it means individually for them in their roles – most managers fail to do this. Frequent check-ins during the initial phase till the employee settles down and starts performing is another good practice.

“When a manager is there to help the team navigate, the bond becomes stronger.”

There should be an emphasis on establishing a personal and emotional connection, especially in this hybrid world. Essentially, managers must reinforce the belief that the new employee has made the right decision of joining the organization.

 

RahulAccording to youwhat are some crucial competencies required for a manager at a middle-level managerial role?

 

Sushanth: To excel in any role, a manager should first be personally secure and second, be reasonably selfless. If these two essentials are absent, then the relationship with a team will never flourish. The other attribute is competence – business, people and functional. Great managers build trust in themselves and in the organization, because ‘if you trust your manager, you will trust the organization’. It is important to consider two questions in the relationship from a team member’s perspective – Firstly, ‘Do I trust my manager’s intention towards me?’ and secondly, ‘Do I trust my manager’s competence to get things done?’. Derailing behaviours can erode trust, hence just being competent is not enough. If the manager can get an affirmative answer from each team member to the two questions, then the foundation for a great team relationship has been achieved.

Once trust and competence are assured, the manager should strive for excellence, aspire to a higher standard, and lead the team on that journey.

“The leader has to be practical, and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.”

 

RahulWho have been some major influencers in your life?

 

Sushanth: Over the past two and half decades of my career, I’ve had 10 managers and I have learned from all of them. I have also been influenced by some iconic figures as I’ve had the good fortune of working with the founders and many senior leaders of Infosys very closely. I can’t thank them enough because each of them has made me a better version of myself.

The third influence, which has equally grown with me, is my team. I sincerely believe that teams are the driving force behind a leader’s success. As you grow to become more senior in the organization, this becomes an even more critical and differentiating factor.

The last is my family because whatever you do is finally for them. The career you are building, while it realizes your potential, you are ultimately doing it to make the world a better place for your family, friends, and loved ones.

One of my favourite quotes is from Harry Potter, when the Principal of Hogwarts, Dumbledore tells young Harry,

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

 

Thus, you may be the most competent and qualified person, but none of that defines you; it’s the choices you make that defines you, both as a manager/colleague in an organization and as a person in life.

FLEXIBILITY AND FEEDBACK: FACTORS TO BUILD A STRONG ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM

In this edition of the ‘CHRO Insights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Sudeep Dev, Vice President Human Resources at Volvo Eicher Commerical Vehicle Limited. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he opens up about his life as an HR Leader.

 

Rahul: How would you describe your professional career journey as a CHRO?

 

Sudeep: In my 28 years of experience in the HR domain, I have been contributing my managerial and leadership qualities to retain the best team and attract the best talent in the industry to minimize the attrition rate as much as possible.

“Key talent retention rate should be not less than 95%” – is my Haiku. 

While carrying out a few benchmark cases, my philosophy was that until you have the right talent, you cannot manage to produce optimal output. However, I not only aim to the retention of the best talent but also to create an HR intervention model that offers business sustainability and helps employees contribute more to the growth of the organization. HR should also provide a workplace that generates equal opportunities for everyone, where people are treated with dignity and respect.

I also believe that any HR professional should have a good sense of understanding about financial management to help the organization become cash-rich and well prepared to serve the market. HR along with the finance department can contribute to positioning the organization to the most financially viable audience as well as in creating a business model which runs through negative working capital and positive cash flow.

I also learned that five factors that any great manager should never fall under are- employee safety & well being, product quality, right cost, , employee connect/trust and delivery with thrust.

Rahul: What is the leadership style that you like to display as a leader?

 

Sudeep: I always believe, collaboration is one of the best ways to drive operative results. There is a need to collaborate with different internal as well as external stakeholders to implement all the policies and strategies. One optimal way a leadership team can collaborate is through conducting activities that accelerate total productivity and engagement of the workforce.

For instance, conducting attitudinal and employee pulse surveys helps provide the right advocacy, retention, increased level of engagement, and execution for the organization. It is important how people feel working with the organization, and how passionate they are.

And as an HR leader, I like to be practical about any situation, measure things before taking action, and then act proactively to resolve the issues concerned.

Interaction with employees also allows me to do an appreciative inquiry to understand the team better and seek better ways of solving problems.

I expect the team to be transparent, open, and accepting of mistakes. Human beings are bound to make mistakes and how they learn from their mistakes is what matters essentially. Second, the team must stand by its commitment, keeps accountability, and communicates effectively to the leaders to coordinate most responsibly. Third, discipline, courtesy, and punctuality are what make the team the best.

 “I could never think well of a man’s intellectual or moral character if he was habitually unfaithful to his appointments.” 

 

Rahul: What’s in the field of HR that holds your interest?

 

Sudeep: The immense amount of coefficient energy that people carry with themselves is what drives me to work better and more each day. Interacting and connecting with the young generation of different age groups helps me understand their aspiration levels.

“Managing the millennial workforce is a big challenge. It’s time that the gen Y change their mindsets as they manage these millennials”.

Flexibility to change and immediate feedback is what we as leaders need to provide them. The policies need to be made in such a way that it also considers the viewpoints of the current generation and fulfills their requirements. Today, to keep more than 65% linear workforce motivated, the challenge is to keep them engaged through various activities.

“Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.”

 

Rahul: If you were to find a successor for your role, what would be the two or three qualities that you would look at?

 

Sudeep : The first quality I would look at is a good sense of understanding and aptitude of the operations in a manufacturing setup. Second, the person should have interpersonal skills so that they can actively interact with all the stakeholders and third is the ability to negotiate and accommodate divergent views to seek a responsible way of conflict resolution. Good understanding of product management.

Rahul: According to you, what should be some critical components for designing a succession planning program in the organization, and what could be possible reasons for the failure of such an initiative? 

 

We create succession planning by defining the critical roles based on business criticalities, identifying more than 200 different goals, and based on that identifying a person with the current position holding, and who’s the next person. It is significant to map the competencies by making a concrete case and planning accordingly for the kind of talent available, needs to be enhanced or is not available, usually for a term of three-five years. If the company wants to hire from outside, then it should assess who are the people available and who will help the organization emerge better in the competition.

The failure could be because of a lack of commitment from the top management. No initiative is successful without the support and contribution from the top management. It should be driven and synced with the leaders as well as managers. If that kind of maturity is not there, then this kind of initiative has to be tied. And it is the responsibility of HR to mitigate such failures and create solutions for how they can sell the initiatives and processes to the top management and make them understand how critical it is for the organization.

Rahul: If you had the opportunity to ask only one question in an interview and decide on that basis whether to hire the candidate or not, what would that question be?

 

Sudeep: I will ask situational-based questions that will include liver problems and case scenarios. Through this, I would like to know his/ her value systems, decision-making ability, and real competency.

I will give situations that are not only related to the domain for which the candidate has applied to test his aptitude but also EQ to see if he/she is having some experience that gives him/her some kind of courage to handle a situation in adversity and uncertainty.

Rahul: According to you, what are some of the most critical competencies that are required of a great manager?

 

Sudeep: Culture-fitment is important. Speaking about the organization as a whole in terms culturally and values, the manager should be able to fit into the organization’s culture because every organization has a different culture and value system in place. For instance, globalization and hierarchy in an organization are common these days but employees should be given the freedom to voice their opinions, ask questions in meetings, etc.

Another crucial competency is that of behavioral and technical. Such hygiene factors are significant. These factors help me understand the profile of the person as well as the probability of the person leaving the organization in a shorter or longer duration of time. I must say, my hit rate is almost more than 90% as whomsoever I have recruited are meeting the expectations of the organization.

A Great Manager is someone who can understand the organization’s vision and cascading it down to the team members. The managers should able to execute the vision at the ground level efficiently, effectively, and diligently.

“The manager is to manage today and the leader is to manage tomorrow.”

 

For instance, how to do managers manage crises and take care of the whole team is what defines the actual competency of a Great Manager. Managers must focus on employee care and wellness. They should ensure that the employees get proper care during COVID in terms of physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The relationship between employer and employee is of utmost importance. People are ready to stay even in small firms if their employers are appreciative and treat them well, while some leave big motivational companies if they aren’t treated well.

“It is true that 80% of the employees leave because of their boss, not because of the organization.”

 

Rahul: As the role of HR has evolved, what have been some critical expectations from HR, specifically in the next one or two years?

Sudeep: The expectations from the business and HR have completely changed over time. Today, people look at HR as an HR business partner. An HR manager is no less than a business manager.

The organization expects that HR should contribute immensely to any critical intervention, for the improvement of business processes and for resolving people’s issues.

Second, HR analytics has become important for predictive analysis and to forecast the market trend. HR needs to offer solutions and action plans for how the business should meet the pace of the market and how to make it more proactive and sustainable in the long term. But, there will be respect for HR only if it hires the right talent and workforce efficiently.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to the generation Z that’s coming into the workforce?

 

Sudeep: I always ask them to give their 100% with their heart and soul in whatever they do. I recommend them to refrain from being the jack of all but master of none so that they should focus on their goals. Second, the youth should be self-aware as well as seep in knowledge in various ways, For instance, follow HR trends, recent and trending business practices, and read Harvard Business Review articles.

“You are never dedicated to something you haven’t given your heart and soul to.”

THE SUCCESS OF HR DEFINES THE SUCCESS OF ORGANIZATION

In this edition of the ‘CHRO Insights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Ms Simin Askari, who is the SVP Corporate HR & Business Excellence – DS Group. In her conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, she opens up about her life as an HR Leader.

 

Rahul: How would you define your leadership style? 

 

Simin: As a leader I like to follow the formula of minimal supervision to drive phenomenal outcomes. I don’t like to micromanage. I usually list down my expectations and then give my team independence, as long as the deliverables are given to me and the promises are met. I like to be collaborative in terms of decision making, allowing my team members to learn from their mistakes. With this empowerment comes responsibility and the team is motivated to put their best foot forward. It is important for people to take ownership of their role and this independence to take initiative often results in great outcomes.

My take on the HR function is perhaps linked to the way I evolved into being an HR professional. Early into my career I was into sales and business development. Later I became an entrepreneur, and this journey helped me understand various nuances of a business. When I re-joined the corporate, I wanted the HR function to be a true strategic partner to the business. We needed to have a more analytical, data driven and proactive approach. Encouraging my team to give diverse views and encouraging them to present innovative solutions has been more impactful and valued by various stakeholders in the organization.

“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to…”

 

Rahul: If you have to search for a successor for your role, what would be some of the qualities they should have? 

 

Simin: You need to ensure business continuity even after you leave, so there is already a plan in place. For me, the most important quality is not someone to be just a people person, but someone who understands all aspects of different functions. For somebody to be successful in my position, they need to be flexible and open to listening to others. You need to be knowledgeable and convincing, but you also need to be aware that there will always be things that you may don’t know. This is why learning agility is significant.

I had been given an additional responsibility about a year and a half ago, which was Business Excellence. This department may not outwardly seem to have an affinity with the HR function as it deals with defining processes, standards and SOPs. This function requires somebody to be not just aware of the operations of different functions, but also have the ability to discuss with the different stakeholders, take everybody’s views, read a lot about those processes, come to a certain common platform and finally, be able to draft the processes or SOPs.

That’s why now, Business Excellence and HR is one team. It’s a natural synergy. So, my successor doesn’t have to necessarily be from an HR domain. However, s/he needs to be somebody who is a good influencer, is agile and a life-long learner, and is able to work collaboratively.

In my mind a successful successor would be one who is a charismatic leader and who can be looked up by team members. 

 

Rahul: How do you go about succession planning? 

 

Simin: The first step in succession planning approach is identifying the critical roles. Once you’ve identified them, you need to find the competencies required for that role to succeed. You have to figure the key elements needed for that role holder to be successful. Try to look at the internal people first and see who is the nearest to that description, who could be ready in some time, and who will be able to take over that role but may have certain competency gaps. And if you feel that you don’t have anyone then the next natural thing is to look outside for a successor. However, I firmly believe an organization needs to invest in its people, providing opportunities to them to overcome such competency gaps. Incidentally, we are in the process of setting up a DS Learning Academy. This AI and ML driven digital academy is the perfect solution for us to work on the Succession plan besides the other various inputs that it would provide to us in talent acquisition, performance management, talent development etc.

 

Rahul: Why do you think some of these programs on succession planning fail?

 

Simin: There could be very different reasons for this. Leadership development interventions are a necessary ask from any CHRO. Most of such interventions do not meet their objective as they are treated as any training sessions. Succession planning needs to go deeper than this. Leaders need to be identified and be provided with adequate grooming and mentoring We, at DS, are very cognizant of the fact that a succession plan has to be in place, and this has become even more critical after the second wave of COVID where we lost some very senior colleagues. This made us realize the fact that our planning needs to be meticulous and up to mark all the time. Succession plans sometimes fail as they are just plans on paper and not executed properly. HR may talk about promoting internal resources and entrusting them with higher responsibilities, but may not provide them with adequate training, mentorship and guidance to take on the next role. In absence of proper execution, the plan is bound to fail.

 

“Succession Planning doesn’t start with people. It starts with the requirements of the position”

 

Rahul: What would be your advice to the professionals who are joining in for the senior HR positions in the last one and a half years? What should be their initial focus?

 

Simin: Personally, I think this is the time when the business needs its senior HR professionals the most. This is the time when HR is at the forefront of everything. We are the people responsible for the health (physical as well as mental) and well-being of our people, making sure that people are motivated, they are performing to the optimum, they are safe, and that they feel their organization is caring for them. This is the time when HR needs to take the lead everywhere.

For an HR professional who has joined a new organization, the most important thing to do is understand how they can add value to the business. To succeed, any CHRO cannot work in a silo and collaboration is the key to success. So, building good relationships, communicating effectively with all stakeholders and ensuring his/her credibility gets established should be their focus areas.

‘To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others’

 

Rahul: What should be the focus for HR in the next one to two years?

 

Simin: The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst in pushing HR to become an absolute strategic partner to the business. Leveraging on technology, the focus of HR for the next few years would be managing the remote workforce, their motivation and maintaining a culture of performance. HR would be now expected to rely on metric analysis and provide insights using big data and AI. Organizational structures would undergo transformation as we move towards the Gig economy. Rescaling, multi-skilling and cost optimization will be the other focus areas for HR.

 

Rahul: What are some of the critical competencies that are required for a managerial role?

 

Simin: According to me, the most critical aspect of being a great manager is that they should be able to communicate well, listen and share information. Somebody who is result-oriented, but does not micromanage their team, who treats others with respect and works with ultimate transparency. I feel that as a leader, one must also be able to take quick decisions while weighing in all the pros and cons. Challenging the status quo while being able to defend their own convictions, is also an essential trait of an effective leader.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow”

 

Rahul: If you had a limited time and you were to ask one question to a candidate and decide basis whether he/she is the right fit. What would that question be? 

 

Simin: My approach to evaluating candidates is a little different. Perhaps this is true for a lot of people, that you make up your mind in the first two to three minutes about a candidate. My first few takes when I look at a person are their body language, the way they come across, their grooming, their attentiveness or sharpness. For me, these things are very important. Secondly, I look at the way a candidate responds to a question, is he/she genuinely thinking or just bluffing their way through it. I’m happy if they don’t know some things and mention this, because this shows their honesty. So, aptitude to think it through is something that I appreciate a lot. If I need to ask just one question, I would probably try to understand how they have approached failure in life and what have they learnt from this.

“Only a few realize how loud their expressions really are. Be kind with what you wordlessly say…”

 

Rahul: What advice would you like to give to the current generation coming to the workforce? 

 

Simin: The advice I would like to give to the current generation coming to the workforce is that there is no substitute for hard work. Make sure you take ownership of whatever assignment is given to you. Choose your career path carefully as you should love what you do. The excitement of going to work and coming back with the feeling of satisfaction that you have made a difference to the world that day is priceless and you should aim for this.

CREATIVITY IS THE KEY TO SUSTAINABILITY AS A GREAT MANAGER

In this edition of the ‘CHRO Insights,’ we have Mr. Harjeet Khanduja, Senior Vice President Human Resources at Reliance Jio. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his approach and vision he looks forward to as a leader.

 

Rahul: What would you say is your leadership style?

 

Harjeet: I have a situational leadership style. My leadership style changes with the people. I adjust myself based on the needs of people I work with. Fundamentally I believe that every person should be treated with respect and should be given opportunity to participate in the organization building process.

Nowadays, leadership is more about creativity than anything else. How you are creating the future is entirely in your hands. I encourage people around me to ideate, challenge the status quo, solve problems in creative way, leverage technology, and look at the world with fresh eyes.

I believe in development of the people. Development can be done by creating opportunities, empowering people to make decisions, channelizing their energy, making them effective by aligning them to organization goals, encouraging them to learn, and leading the way in creating the world of the future.

‘I feel each and every employee has an opportunity to shape the organization in a very different manner; everyone brings a unique touch.’

 

I have learned that if somebody in the organization is not able to perform, it is generally the leader’s fault, and not that person’s fault, because either leader has not communicated the expectations or have not enabled the person to do that kind of work, be it physical infrastructure or skill sets, whatever the case may be.

Rahul: What would you say is the most critical competency required of a great manager?

 

Harjeet: The role of a manager is becoming more creative and more strategic in nature since the operational part of the role is starting to wear out. Earlier. managers used to spend most of their time in the operational part of the role i.e. allocating and monitoring the work. It appeared that work allocation and monitoring was the most critical competence for managers. As technology matured, work allocation and monitoring started getting automated.

This is when people realised the critical competencies of a great manager were hiding behind. The top five competencies for great managers are ambiguity tolerance, creative engagement, digital thinking, problem solving and communication.

Rahul: What would you try to gauge to decide whether the candidate is the right fit or not?

 

Harjeet: Guaging a candidate is a big responsibility. The most important part of gauging a candidate is often a clear understanding of the role and the competencies required to perform the role. I believe that competencies should be assessed before the interview. If a person meets the desired competencies required for the role, only then can the gauging process should come into picture.

Once you are satisfied with functional competencies, then is the time to focus on the softer aspects. Some of these aspects include things like – Does the candidate understand the role? Is the candidate willing to work in the organization? Why does the candidate want to work with the organization? What are the career aspirations of this candidate? Will the candidate fit in the organization culture?

The larger idea is to ensure a win-win for the candidate and the organization.

Rahul: What is it in the HR field that still holds your interest?

 

Harjeet: My heart lies in HR.  This is an ever-changing field. The best part about it is that it is ambiguous and when there is ambiguity, you have a lot of work to do. Another bonus is that whatever you do, you improve quality of life of people. This makes for a huge amount of job satisfaction.

Recently, the HR job has become even more interesting, as it not only impacts the top line or the bottom line but also the survival of the organization. With the advent of technology, the HR job has become more digital, more creativite and more psychological.

I love it because it continuously allows me to paint my thoughts on a canvas, it makes difference to the lives of people, it impacts the business and gives meaning to my life.

Rahul: What are some of the qualities that you would be looking for in a successor?

 

Harjeet: There are four qualities of an ABLE successor.

“A” means aspiration, whether a successor has the aspiration to make a difference.

“B” means business acumen, whether the successor understands the business drivers and business dynamics.

“L” means Learnability, whether the successor unlearns and learns quickly.

“E” means Expertise, whether the successor has expertise in the related domain to be successful in the role.

Remember that a successor is not the replica of the incumbent. Each successor has its own strengths and area of improvements. One must see a successor in context of the role, and the ability of the successor to deliver for the role rather than comparing the successor to the incumbent.

Rahul: If you were to advise a company in terms of building a succession pipeline, what are a few guiding principles that you would share with the firm?

 

Harjeet: You should be aware of your critical roles. Critical roles don’t necessarily lie in the top management only. One must figure out which roles have the maximum impact on the organization. At times, people in product management or revenue management get missed out if succession planning is restricted to the elite in the organization.

‘After identifying your critical roles, making sure that you have a talent pipeline for handling those kinds of roles is key.’

 

However, succession planning is not as easy as it seems. Succession planning is not just about finding a set of successors. It is about investing in the successors so that they can take up the next level of roles. Another guiding principle is that one must be dispassionate while doing succession planning. If ABLE successors are not there within the organizations, then one must not make compromises, it takes away the competitive ability of the organization in the marketplace.

Rahul: Why do you think Leadership Development programs fail?

 

Harjeet: Leadership development programs fail due to the lack of commitment from multiple stakeholders. Firstly, the people who are actually running the program are not clear why they’re really running the program. Secondly, the participants who are participating in it take it as their birthright.

Also, the design of the program is a big factor in defining the failure rate. If the program is a bunch of branded events, chances of its failure are higher because such kind of programs create a lot of buzz but do not really impact the behaviour and thought process of the participants.

The effective programs focus on developing microhabits and need hard work from the program facilitators as well as participants.

Rahul: When HR leaders join a new setup, what according to you should be the initial short-term action plan?

 

Harjeet: Anyone joining a new organization must make an effort to understand the business. Understanding the business means understanding the revenue streams, products, customer personas, flow of work, performance drivers, business priorities, cultural sensistivities, key issues, key roles, and key people. While understanding the business, one must build relationships to co-exist with people.

Next step is to prepare an aspirational HR operating plan for the organization in alignment with organization objectives addressing key business and people issues. After preparing the plan, build consensus around the plan and go for implementation. Focus on few low hanging fruits to build confidence. That’s it. Your short term will become long term.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself giving to the Gen Z population?

 

Harjeet: Each generation is innately smarter than the previous one. That is how humanity has progressed and come to this level. Each Olympics we see new world records, because every four years we keep becoming better than our previous selves. Gen-Z population is born with technology, and hence technology comes naturally to them.

As businesses step up in the digital arena, having Gen-Z on their side creates a distinct advantage. The CEOs of new-age start-ups are able to understand that difference because they are able to think in a digital environment. Instead of giving advice, I would rather listen to Gen-Z more because their ideas are different, fresh, and radical.

LEADING WITH HUMILITY, RESPECT, AND EMPATHY: KEY TO PEOPLE LEADERSHIP

In this edition of ‘CHROInsights’, as part of The Great Manager Awards, we have Ms. Anupam Trehan, Sr. Director, People and Communities, Cisco APJC. In her conversation with Mr.  Rahul Mahajan, Country – Lead of Great Manager Awards, she shares her growth story and people leadership experiences.

Rahul: What’s your style of leadership? What would your colleagues say about some dos and don’ts around working with you?

 

Anupam: My mantra for leadership has always been about treating my team how I would like to be treated. So, I believe in treating them with respect for everything that they bring to the table, both from a personal and professional perspective, and respect for who they are as individuals.

“Respect is a significant aspect of my leadership style because, in today’s world, it’s not just about people who report it to you. As a leader, you play that leadership role for so many others.”

I ask my team to maintain high integrity. For me, it’s non-negotiable. My don’ts encompass actions like passive-aggressive behavior and finger-pointing. As professionals, I believe we should hold ourselves accountable and responsible for whatever actions we take. Secondly, I don’t believe in the ‘impossible’. I feel no problem is too big or that it can’t be solved. When you come together as a team, nothing can stop you.

Rahul: Why did you choose to get into HR, and what keeps you going in this field?

 

Anupam: When I was younger, my ambition was to be a journalist. I was nudged into doing my MBA by my parents, and while I was doing my MBA, I knew I wasn’t cut out for marketing or finance. Frankly, I didn’t know much about HR, but amongst the options that I had, it seemed the most interesting and once I started my career in HR and moved deeper into this field, I cannot not imagine myself doing anything else. It’s a profession that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

“It all boils down to organizations having the right people, and being able to enable, empower and engage them in the right way, to drive business results.”

Having worked across various industries like manufacturing, banking, and now, technology, I’ve realized that the fundamental of everything is the people. I have performed varied roles within HR, such as talent acquisition, learning and development, Employee Relations, Leadership Coaching & Development. Each position has challenged and excited me personally and professionally and given me immense learning and experience.

“One should take a step back and realize the massive power that this function can have, especially at times of change or during uncertainty.”

What keeps me excited is the possibility of what we can do next, what else we need to think about and plan for, the opportunities to ideate, brainstorm, and rise to achieve; the idea of how we continue to be inclusive, not just within Cisco, but how we create an ‘inclusive mindset’ for our communities outside of work. These are things that keep me going in this function.

“HR as a function is a powerhouse that can bring a lot of those business strategies and ambitions to life.”

 

Rahul: During the pandemic, the role of HR has become a lifesaver for both individuals and organizations, as it became a source of COVID care as well as ensuring the organization’s business continuity. Considering now, wellness and business productivity are hygiene factors, what do you think the role of HR will evolve into, say in the next one to two years?

 

Anupam: I would look at two fundamentals. One of the fundamentals of HR as a function, which has not changed during pre-COVID and post-COVID times, and continues to be its focus, is the primary responsibility of translating the business strategy into a people strategy.

What has hugely shifted is the experience that organizations can provide their talent.  When you start to peel the onion on what that experience should be like, specific questions become essential – is this the organization that will help me continue to invest in my professional self? Is the organization only interested in me as a professional or also as a person? Is this an organization where I can find my match in terms of personality and interests, and does it hold the values I stand for? Is this an organization that has a culture where I can simultaneously foster my passion?

These are some questions that can define the experience an organization aspires to create for its employees and these are questions one thinks of before joining a company. This is where the company’s focus on the well-being of employees becomes critical and where the passion that one may have as an individual can come to life.

“Because when you look at careers, the experience must not only help an individual in professional growth and investment but beyond that.”

 

Rahul: What qualities would you look for if you were to find a successor for your role?

 

Anupam: A few that come to mind immediately – Business acumen as everything we do is in the space of translating the business strategy into a talent strategy .A leader that inspires, empowers and can also roll up their sleeves when needed. Someone who is  comfortable with ambiguity,  and with not knowing the answers.

Someone with a customer mindset. A ‘customer mindset’ is crucial because they need to serve the business, which is the first customer and the second set of customers, who are the recipients of everything that HR does. Last but not the least. and something close to my heart – Someone who could lead with empathy, respect and humility.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

 

Rahul: What are, according to you, some crucial competencies that are required from a great manager?

 

Anupam: What truly differentiates a great manager from a good manager is ‘people leadership’. While leaders focus on driving the business and doing what is important and right to achieve results, what truly differentiates a manager is people leadership. Everybody remembers, respects and follows those leaders who were invested in them and who took care of them both professionally and personally, at both good and bad times.

 

“People remember how leaders make them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

 

It is about how the manager creates an aspirational experience for employees and leads with an inclusive mindset, leads with empathy, and understanding. This is imperative. A great manager would live by these values every day, regardless of the circumstance, and I believe this is most crucial.

Rahul: If you must interview a CEO, what are some of the questions you would want to ask for your firm?

 

Anupam: Some of the questions I would ask would be around their values and what is important for them. I would love to ask them about a situation where things may not have gone the way they planned or where they failed, and hear the story and understand why they did what they did. I would like to understand why a particular role or job excites them and I also like to get to know people for who they are outside of work,  what do they like to do, and what gets them going? I try to understand the personality and values because a resume always talks about the person in professional terms and its important to get to know who they are.

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself giving to the younger generation who are stepping into the workforce?

 

Anupam: My piece of advice, regardless of anything, would be, “Don’t define your career with a series of jobs or goals, but look at your career through the lens of experiences that you want for yourself.” This opens the opportunity for people around the kind of experience they want, as it helps them do stretch assignments and even do things outside of their day job to learn something different and challenging. One should be open to exploring as many different avenues and possibilities to learn and invest in oneself.

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”

Rahul: Who are or have been some of your mentors and influences in your life through the years?

 

Anupam: I grew up in a family where women were strong individuals, which had a considerable influence on my personal life. As I started working and growing professionally, I’ve had many great managers, mentors, and sponsors who had a profound impact on my life. My managers, mentors, sponsors have guided me, challenged me, supported me and advocated for me.

More recently some of my biggest learnings and influences is coming from my kids because they’re constantly challenging me to open my mind and think about things that I would have probably not even thought about.

‘Having Agility, Trust, and a Positive Attitude’: Leader’s Toolkit

In this edition of the ‘CEOInsights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Pankaj Poddar, CEO at Cosmo Films. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his leadership style and values as a leader.

 

Rahul: How would you define your leadership style? What would your colleagues say about some dos and don’ts around working with you?

 

I believe in empowering people by delegating authority & decision making to people, & allowing them to work independently, in collaboration with their colleagues, and at the same time, having appropriate tools to measure the success & progress of business. I do an organization-wide check-in with my Functional & Business Leaders once in a month & a few basis the organizational priorities, & those requiring alignment with the larger organizational goal.  I keep a sense and view of the overall organizational progress, & don’t like to micromanage. I like to limit the number of meetings & follow an open door policy where employees can feel free to interact.

 

“Have faith in your people. Nurture them and allow them to grow.”

 

Rahul: What has been your playbook in terms of leading through the crisis?

We are at a stage of expansion and implementing strategies for diversification. Today, it is no more just a films manufacturing company, but beyond that. Apart from expansion in the films business, we have launched new businesses, like Speciality Chemicals & Pets Business, & I hope most of you would have seen an extensive coverage around our first B2C product, Fabritizer, Kapdon ka Sanitizer, which not only disinfects your clothes by killing 99.9% of the germs but also keeps your clothes protected for 7 days after wash.

 

A lot of these plans were made pre-COVID, but we have continued to pursue our goal, & not paused due to crisis We have been able to navigate effectively & continued to effectively execute and plan the business with an optimistic outlook. On one hand, we are launching more products and on the other side, we are increasing capacity, which can be up and running by next year.

 

Rahul: What has been your approach in terms of cascading down this vision to the junior most person in your firm or enabling them to live this vision as much as you do?

 

We emphasize a lot on communication and having a proper cycle to ensure that employees understand, imbibe and live the organizational vision. Before the beginning of every year, we plan and set out our priorities for the next year, latest by March.

 

Functional & Business Leaders & myself agree on the priorities & communicate this to the whole organization. And then, based on the priorities, do a goal-setting exercise for the employees, and the progress of each initiative is shared with the organization on a regular basis.

 

We also have an organization wide Open House, where the Functional & Business leaders share the updates & the plan, & take up any questions our employees have. In addition to this, we have many other communication forums as well, where we directly reach out to our last mile which helps us to be in touch with the organizational pulse & take inputs on how we can improve & better ourselves. In fact, even during COVID time, while the opportunity for a physical gathering was not possible, we continued to have the open house, town hall, skip levels, etc. I recently did one and was very happy to see that a good number of people joined and asked about 25-30 questions. It is always very encouraging when we as leaders get questions from our people, because it reflects on the engagement & alignment and the transparency in the organizations culture.

 

As a part of this exercise, we keep repeating and reminding the employees organization’s key priorities and goals for that year. We also send regular updates for any new developments, & at least a quarterly update in terms of where & what we planned & what we have accomplished. It’s going very well for us as an organization and we have been able to ensure that each team member lives the organization’s vision.

 

 

Rahul: What are the typical ‘X-factors’ that you want your leaders to be displaying much more, given your plans for expansion?

We have defined competencies basis what works for us, based on which we evaluate our leaders. Apart from our competencies, we coach our leaders to be agile & improve the speed of decision making, which is crucial these days. Second, having trust in people and empowering various levels. Third one is creativity, in terms of how they one can motivate their teams & think out of the box, and then fourth is analytical thinking, which is the ability to extract meaningful insights out of data.

 

“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” – Bill Gates

 

We also do hire based on these competencies, like in the last year or so we have hired more than 100 people across various roles & businesses. mostly for management roles. And as we are expanding, we plan to hire about 500 people.

 

 

Rahul: If you were to find a successor for your role, what are some of the qualities that you would look at, in that successor?

I would look for someone who demonstrates a mix of qualities that I talked about. So, someone who is agile & can think on her/his feet, thinks out of the box, and believes in empowering people, & passionate to drive the brand Cosmo to the next level.

 

Secondly, the person should have strong communication & influencing skills, so that s/he can communicate the vision & the plan effectively. So, one is strategy part and another is communication part. Third is having & building trust in her/ his team members, which is extremely and equally crucial.

 

Given the fact that we are now moving from operating one business to six businesses in the next couple of years, we are also getting a lot of leaders as a part of this process.

 

Rahul: If you had limited time in an interview, and you could ask only one question and decide on that basis whether to hire the candidate for a leadership position or not, what would that question be? And what is it that you would typically like to gauge from it?

 

I would ask “What has been your biggest failure? And what did you learn from it?”

 

This would help me know the honesty & the value systems of the person, because most people end up saying “No, I never had any major failures”, or they talk about some of their small failures. Second, I would like to know if they have really learnt anything out of their failures, and if they have made any incorporated any learnings to their lives after facing one of their biggest failure, which might have crushed their dreams. So, I would see their honesty part and what they learnt from their mistakes.

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to the generation Z that’s coming into the workforce?

 

First, they need to be curious, especially in the initial part of their careers because if they do not have curiosity, they won’t know much. They need to keep learning new things to expand their knowledge base all the time.

 

Second, they should be prepared to do both hard work and smart work. A lot of Gen Z people feel that anything and everything will happen and success will come on its own, because they have seen a few success stories and they generalize, but they must realize the fact that success means sheer hard work.

 

Third, they should need to be a rebel talent & break the rules at work & in life in order to be a trendsetter in life, but at the same time be humble & have a positive attitude.

 

If they have these virtues that I mentioned, then they can certainly go ahead and faster than others.

 

Rahul: What do you think is the most critical competency of a Great Manager?

 

I think the most important competency continues to be the attitude. They should look at things in a positive way, and they should be ready to take on new challenges. Along with it, I feel that agility and trust are other two critical ones required to be a Great Manager.

 

Also, I believe that the middle-managers should hold the fort, by delegating and ensuring high performance till the last mile in their teams, while the senior level managers should be spending more time on thinking, developing new strategies, making the execution better, and improving the analytical skills of people in the organization.

Rahul: If you could go back in time, what would be your advice to ‘younger Pankaj’, to say, in terms of the lessons you have learnt in your professional and personal lives?

 

I think one thing which is very important is that one needs to have the right person for the right job. Let’s say, if you are at a very senior level, and if you have to drive a bus or a plane, you need to make sure that you have the right set of people to do that for you. If one wants to really grow the business fast, then this is extremely important. So, one is to get the best of people and then another is to keep developing them such that one day they can take your seat.

 

“Human beings are the most important asset for any organization.”

 

I believe in imparting more knowledge, giving people more responsibility and delegating more. And, one of my lessons has been to never stop hiring, as I remember one of the management philosophers said –

 

“Keep hiring and they will keep adding value to the organization.”

When you’re intensely invested in the work you do, it’s a luxury!

In this edition of the ‘CEOInsights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Egbert, Schram, the Group Chief Executive Officer at Hofstede Insights. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his leadership style and best practices as a leader.

Rahul: How would you define your leadership style? And what would be some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to working with you?

EgbertIf I were to summarize my leadership style in one phrase, I would say “It’s work-and goal oriented, direct. Not necessarily too detailed, but more providing general direction.”

I believe that the client always comes first, so I encourage my team to aim at maximizing clients’ service. If I reflect on my leadership style and assessments and look at those six crucial dimensions of the multi-focus model of organizational culture applied to myself, the first dimension is very goal-oriented and the second one is very customer-oriented and in both I would score high.

“Followers think and talk about the problems. Leaders think and talk about the solutions.”

Rahul: What has been your playbook in terms of leading your organization through crisis, especially during events of last year? 

Egbert Honestly, it’s been the same as it has been for the last decade while being a CEO. Being in this position normally means that you lead companies from one crisis through another crisis, because that’s what you should be doing as a CEO, building structures so that daily business focus can be delegated as much as possible, leaving you time to focus on the unforeseen. What this truly means is being available and making time for the team.

“I do not believe in “leaders” saying that there is no time, because the fact is that there is always time, if you choose to make it available”

What I think I’ve learned to do better, specifically in the last one and a half years of remote work, is to pay more attention to the fact that for some people, emotional attention is more important than for others. This is a pitfall for me because work for me doesn’t necessarily feel like work and that means I have not always been able to distinguish between those needing more attention and those needing less.

One important thing for me has been that my mental workday is not necessarily restricted by eight hours, which means that it’s easier for me to make time available. The point of being always available is that I lead by building a trusting environment, which means that my employees should never feel restricted in contacting me, which helps to balance out those moments where I have not found the focus to actively reach out myself at all times to those who might have needed that. This way I have tried to build a two-way street of communication.

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is carrying it out with discipline.”

 

Rahul: What is your long-term strategic vision and how do you cascade it down to your leaders?

Egbert: If we start with a vision, it is basically in terms of the impact that we want to make. We want to increase the engagement scope that we have, and want our organization to go beyond awareness and take cultural thinking along in redesigning the ways in which organizations work globally.

For internal leaders this means that a growth mindset is very important, whether we talk about a small or a large firm, all of our work across and within borders with people come with different mindsets. So if we want to help our clients to foster an inclusive growth mindset, we need to help our clients understand what are the different mindsets within their context, where do they come from and how can they use them. All of this starts with us applying our practices in-house as well. This means internally that leaders need to display a personal growth mindset.

Secondly, leaders should be able to spot the bottlenecks in business processes, and address the need for automation, or delegation. It is not necessary for them to fix these problems themselves, although that does tend to happen in an entrepreneurial environment wherein the leadership spirit says that ‘if you see a problem, you fix the problem.’ Naturally there are many times where other people are better equipped at fixing the problem, and in that case, the best solution is that leaders should simply step aside for a moment and let the better people fix the problem.

If you want to grow a company rapidly, then as a leader you need to be ‘vacuuming’, which means ensuring that people can do their jobs and help people understand their priorities. This requires you to step up your own game, and that always starts with being approachable and creating a trusted environment. Even if your team members know that you’re busy, still they should be able to reach out to you.

These are the things that I find important for my leaders to understand; to recognize the bottlenecks, and the need to be approachable and available when their team needs them.

“If you have no vision of yourself in the future, then you have nothing to live for.”

Rahul: What are the challenges that you usually face in terms of people management, and especially in this virtual environment?

Egbert:  The first thing I would mention is “time management.” You might always hear managers saying “they’re busy”, but it simply goes back to having time available on your calendar, i.e. ‘blocked for doing nothing’. If you talk about consulting, we’re not like traditional consulting firms; we don’t track billable hours, because I don’t believe in that concept. In consulting firms or any global firm, there’s always enough work, so finding that balance between engaging people with what they’re passionate about and helping them to understand that they don’t need to be pushing 10-12 hours every single day is very important.

“One has to practice what they preach.”

To make an impact in own as well as people’s lives, any leader or even manager should make a consistent work-life balance and ensure that in the 21st century, people don’t bore out or burn out themselves.

For me this has been a big challenge personally though. I will never push people to work extra hours or work during their holidays, yet because I will do it myself, I am setting a wrong example for them (which is to keep pushing ahead, even when you feel overwhelmed- in the long run this is not sustainable). I don’t necessarily take too many holidays, yet  I want my people to take theirs.

When you want to lead by example it is also worth it to reflect on how your own behavior sets the tone. In my case that has meant becoming more mindful about actually taking time off (although still not at the Nordic “four week holidays at a time” level). I have found it improves my thinking ability and am glad to see that finally this has also meant others in the organization have been better able to take theirs.

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the leadership journey as you manage people.”

Rahul: What are the qualities that you would look for, if you were to find a successor for your role?

Egbert:  The thing which is very important for me, is that person´s ability to grow and show ownership in their roles. One should always be able deal with the cards they get dealt. They should own their own context (e.g. emotions and actions) and not pass or avoid responsibility. I admire people who just deal with the things that they need to deal with and make the best of impossible situations. This is a really important leadership characteristic for me, in addition to a proactive attitude.

“When you’re intensely invested in the work you do, it’s a luxury.”

I do feel that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I’m allergic to leaders who are not invested in their jobs, which is why I don’t work with them if I recognize that fact. There is a catch there, the paradox being that when a leader is too invested in their job, have a great drive & energy level, they might make other´s feel guilty / obliged to work at a similar level, which is not sustainable for many, e.g. to different personal situations. Balancing this personal interest with understanding that for some work is just work, is another characteristic any potential successor has to be able to manage. To separate oneself as an individual, as a professional and as a leader.

“If you have achieved any level of success, then pour it into someone else. Success is not success without a successor.”

 

Rahul: If you had a limited time and you were to ask one question to a candidate and decide basis whether he/she is the right fit. What would that question be?

Egbert: The question will be, ‘Give me the description of a situation where you had to make a very difficult choice.‘  Through this, I gauge their priorities and ability to visualize difficult scenarios. First of all, I would like to know the person’s definition of a ‘difficult scenario’, depending on the example they come up with and then, understand their reasoning in terms of why they made that particular decision.

Although there are hardly any black and white situations whereby a decision is completely right or wrong, what I’m interested to know is the thinking that went into making their decisions and why did they make the choices they did. Basically, did they “own” their decision.

Many leaders ask the question, “What is more important “attitude or competency?” The  challenge with this particular question is that people will answer to the extent of getting a particular position. That’s why I hardly ever asked for this kind of black and white example. Rather I’m much more interested in knowing about situations that people have faced and what were the reasons for the choices they made. This shows their reflective thinking skills and what they will choose – ‘action’ or ‘analysis’. For different job roles, you need different types of people; sometimes you need people who don’t think too much and simply execute, and sometimes you do need people that actively think because they need to balance people like me who don’t necessarily overthink situations too much.

“You are only one decision away from a totally different life.”

 

Rahul: Who have been some of the key influencers in your life?

Egbert: So, there are four types of examples that I had in a personal setting, which made me learn a few important lessons.

First, I’ve had people who very actively showed me what not to do, basically creating a toxic and unsafe work environment centered around personal loyalty and celebrating their “cult-like” status. Only they had all the answers and they were never in the wrong. When an organization is built around an individual´s guru status, my advice is to run like crazy– it can only go wrong. Organizations build around individual guru status are like a house of cards. Unbalanced, tricky and more centered around keeping itself in tact than focusing on employees and clients.

Secondly, I´ve worked with so-called “leaders” who are quick to take the credit, yet avoid all responsibility when things go wrong, basically political players who never take any real ownership. True leaders, in my book, are those who own their decisions, whether those decisions are right or wrong. They are not afraid to apologize and learn from their own mistakes. Power comes with responsibility. Those who do not want to take responsibility should not be handed power, whether that be formal or informal power.

Thirdly, if I were to name a few people who lead by example for me, I would name the founder of the company, which I now lead. To quote an instance, on the second day of my employment, he sent me to Stockholm and told me to sell something there. I had no idea what it was that I’m selling, but just the level of trust he had in me made me feel more able to pull something off.

Another positive example lies in three of our oldest business partners, based in Italy and Sweden (75+ years and still active). They have shown me to always keep learning, to keep an open mind, never claim they have all the answers yet offer perspective and not judgement. For me their behavior is something to strive for.

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”

 

Rahul: What’s your piece of advice to the younger generation, who have just started in corporate?

Egbert: The advice I have been giving to younger people is that go for the jobs that give you knowledge. They might not necessarily pay as much, but do expose you to senior levels of thinking and a variety of projects all the time. In that sense, consulting is a very good profession. Especially in the beginning, it doesn’t pay that much and the hours are long, but there are a lot of insights and experiences that you can gain because of the varied type of clients and assignments. It may be different from one country to another, but here in Europe, we say that until you’re 40, don’t go for the money, go for the knowledge, and after you’re 40, cash in on the knowledge that you gained. It is easier said than done because when people need to enter into new life stages, the balance becomes a bit more difficult. Yet until you’re 40, I would say go for knowledge.

“Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.”

 

Rahul: If you could go back in time, what would be your advice to the ‘younger Egbert’, to say?

Egbert: The advice that I would give myself at that young stage, when I was 22 and had just started working in a consulting firm with a very sales-oriented role, would be to develop a hobby that would have taught me more patience, like meditation. Patience helps with a lot of things when you want to grow in a more senior role, and it often pays off to think before you act. So going back 20 or 18 years that would have been the advice.

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”

 

In terms of sacrifices made; I don’t feel that I’ve missed things in my private life, despite very frequent travel. I have clear priorities at this stage, which are family and work. This has come at the potential expense of a wide social life, yet I’m quite happy with the choices that I’ve made. In general, I don’t dwell too much on the past, because what’s done is done and you live with the choices you make. Perhaps this is seen as a very simplistic approach, but it keeps the brain fairly healthy.

“If it’s out of my control, then it’s out of my head.”

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the country lead of great manager awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the great manager awards program in partnership with the economic times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul closely works with business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great manager awards program is an initiative by ‘people business’ to identify, recognize and reward “companies with great managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.