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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.

Envision and Execute: Key to Exemplary Leadership

In this edition of ‘CHRO Insights,’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Ms Ruchira Bhardwaja,Joint President &CHRO of Kotak Life, India. In her conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, she shares her thoughts on crucial competencies for a leadership role.

Rahul: It has been 25 years in the field of HR for you, what is it in the domain that still keeps you going?

Ruchira: Rahul, there are many reasons, however, let me share two which are very close to my heart. Firstly, the ever changing “nature-of-the-workplace” provides an opportunity to keep reinventing oneself. It is exciting to be constantly being challenged and be prepared for what’s next in the business or the industry locally or globally. As an HR professional, I strive to understand my company and my people, meet various challenges, and be at the forefront. Secondly, working with teams, conceptualizing initiatives and processes which can contribute to the growth and development of people and more significantly, be an enabling factor for the organization keeps me going.

Rahul: What is your leadership style and some do’s and don’ts around you?

Ruchira: I would say my style is mostly participative and collaborative. However, I can be directive too when required. The directive part usually takes precedence when people (are not thinking enough and beyond, are not conceptualizing things keeping the overall business deliverables in view, or not keeping an eye for detail.

Also, I don’t sit in the corner office and decide what needs to be done. I like to spend inordinate amount of time with internal stakeholders, understand their wants and needs, analyze the data, and synthesize the information to decide how can my team and me contribute to their success.

“Leadership is about giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.”

Answering the 2nd part of your question – about the do’s and don’ts around me – I believe in the ABCD style of working.

  • Wherein A stands of Alignment & Accountability – be aligned to the purpose and hold oneself accountable to deliver.
  • B is to be the Bridge between people and HR, between people and the senior management, or between the teams and me.
  • C is about honoring Commitments; and
  • D is understanding the power of Delegation and timely Decision Making


Rahul: What are some of the top advice to the HR professionals who have recently started with their new positions as CHROs during this pandemic era?

Ruchira: First 90 days are the most critical phase. My number one recommendation for these 90 days is “Just Listen and Assimilate”

“The key is to listen more, observe more but speak less. If you do speak, measure your words very carefully.Remember, the person before you, or the team(s), for that matter the CEO too, have been there in the company much before you joined. They have been instrumental in building the organization before you joined.”

Be very cognizant of how you articulate your thoughts, try and build a great rapport with your team members, and avoid talking about the things which are not there.

“To win the marketplace, you must first win the workplace.”

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

Ruchira: Tenacity and Deep understanding about the business & how HR can contribute towards it. An HR leader defacto becomes the custodian of the organization’s culture. One needs to have a great balance of empathy and apathy to steer the company forward and build a sustainable proposition.

The second thing required is to possess a deep understanding about the business, but more importantly a superset of knowledge about how HR can enable business growth.

Rahul: Given the limited time in an interview, what would you want to gauge through a set of questions that you will ask from a particular candidate?

Ruchira: I will assess the individual’s capability to envision and more critically, capability to get it executed.

Rahul: What is one standard piece of advice you would like to give to the younger generation?

Ruchira: The current generation stepping into the workforce must ‘find their IKIGAI’; that is, finding what you love and passionate about. I’ve seen those who found that IKIGAI contribute much more meaningfully, both at the workplace and for their personal development. They are also much more engaged with whatever they’re doing. And that’s a delight to see.

Rahul: What would be some critical expectations from HR, specifically in the next one or two years?

Ruchira: “Today, HR is more about building a balance between employees’ wellness and the organization’s well-being.”


About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of the 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 consults organizations 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.




Performance, Practicality and Perseverance: Principles to Success

In this edition of ‘CHRO Insights,’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr Praveen Purohit,Group Dy. CHRO at Vedanta Group. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his experience and learnings as a CHRO.


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

Praveen: There are some crucial things that keep me passionate and interested. One needs to keep challenging their limitations and goals to excel in their respective roles and responsibilities. It is about making the best of the learning opportunity and perform to achieve recognition and visibility.

In my case, particularly I think I’ve been very fortunate for the simple reason that right from the beginning of my career, I got an opportunity to work with most of the inspiring senior leaders. I got more than I ever dreamt of. I enjoy networking and connecting with people from different backgrounds and travelling to different locations to explore new business projects and so I urge the youth to experience life with open mind.I am also part of many business clubs and groups and network with top leaders in order to continuously learn and share knowledge for new ideas and betterment.

“The bottom line is that nothing comes free, it takes hard work to prove yourself.”

Performance is a concept as delicate as glass. It breaks if you don’t perform and so one needs to be on their toes, give their heart and soul and give their best continuously to achieve higher performance outcomes.

“You achieve prosperity as you bridge the gap between performance and opportunity to make things happen practically.”

Rahul: How would you describe your leadership style and what are some of the do’s and don’ts around you?


Praveen: From the leadership point of view, I believe in participative leadership as together we all can create a better impact. I also vouch foran outcome-oriented approach. One has to be very pragmatic in nature so as to survive long in the corporate field. Being pragmatic helps the leaders achieve what they need as an outcome from themselves as well as from their team.

I believe in actions and results as these speak louder than words. Everything that one does should have a clear purpose and a feasible outcome to promote growth in key result areas (KRAs).

“Theories don’t work in real corporate life, but only the application of knowledge.”

Businesses measurehow the employee iscontributing towards enhancingproductivity,creating best practices for the organization with the changing industry trends, or whether HR is able to hire the best talent in the country and globally.

When it comes to some don’ts around working with me, it’s a negative mindset. I always encourage my team members to have a positive attitude. Second, I cannot tolerate anything that is not in line with the ethics and values of the company.

“Positivity brings effective outcomes and builds a progressive organization.”

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

Praveen: I would vouch for a person who has maturity and a good understanding of business as well as people. He/she must have the ability to appreciate people’s potential and capabilities and empower them by providing growth opportunities. Second, he/she must be agile in delivering superior performance outcomes. Also, someone who can appreciate and work on large scale operations &projects while simultaneously handling multiple stakeholders both internally and externally, globally.

“A successor should be somebody who is or has the potential to be a charismatic and inspiring leader and somebody who can be looked up to by the team members.”

Rahul: What do you think the role of HR will evolve into, in the coming one or two years?

Praveen: I take immense pride being the Deputy Group CHRO at Vedanta and HR is something close to my heart. Today, I can clearly observe that traditional HR does not give key positive results for the organization. However, the role of HR today is more than to be just a business partner and extends to being a co-pilot to the CEO. I strongly believe that the companies, big or small, are going ahead only because of their best HR practices.

“People are the crux to any organization and HR takes care of this crux.”

Praveen: The role of HR is prominent and dominant as it is designing not only one part of organization, but most of the strategic business units and the organization asa whole. For example, HR plays a crucial role for operating the functions of 35-40 business units in Vedanta.

HR is seen as an enabler as it catches the aspiration of people, helps them execute their goals and also provide them with the best pay, compensation, incentives and stock options to keep them happy and motivated at work.  Also, I think nobody will be able to survive in any company who does not come with a digital and technology mindset, whether it is in HR, finance, or any other domain.

HR ensures that employees’ performance is impacting the KRA and can deliver on the expected business outcome. Overseeing the performance& delivery of thousands of people with the help of digital mechanism.

Therefore, todayor tomorrow, the primary role of HR will be to design the organization for right management in place; second to identify the best of the talent such as people with fresh and innovative thinking and put these in the right job, and also keep changing, evaluating, and reviewing them. It also ensures that employees are tech-savvy and get opportunities for learning as well as enabling facilities. Third, HR incentivizes them appropriately to retain and attract top talents.


Rahul: What do you think are the crucial competencies required to be a great manager?

Praveen: Business Performance delivery is most crucial, according to me.

First, ability in terms of delivering on performance in line with business objectives. Second, inspiring teamto deliver more. Third, encourage and empower people to think disruptively including digital mindset. And finally, maturity, agility and learnabilitywould be the remaining key ingredients.

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

Praveen: I would advise the youth first, to work hard and second, to keep performing and be pragmatic. The day the person does not perform, he or she is out of the top league of the company.

“There is no shortcut to hard work. A person has to prove what he/she is all about.”

One can add value to the company only by performing to its best and nothing else. I have worked with dedication and passionately all my life to come to the position I hold today.

“Victories aren’t born on the field. You create them during practice and through continuous performance.”


About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards. He has played a pivotal 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.


In this edition of ‘CHRO Insights,’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Krishna Raghavan, who is the Chief People Officer at Flipkart. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his experience as a CHRO.


Rahul: How did you get into the HR field given that you are not from this domain? 


Krishna: I have a background in math and computer science, but I think the first sort of exposure for me in this domain was when I did my undergrad in the US from a liberal arts college. They have a rule that everyone must take one course from every discipline; otherwise, you cannot graduate. So, I sort of got intrigued by the multidisciplinary and multifunctional approach to how you look at people or how you look at life in general and the realization that it is not bucketed into one space. 

I was on the technology bandwagon for 20 years. However, over the last four or five years, I started to spend more and more time in the arena of the efforts required in terms of building a strong workplace culture in an organization in a team and nurturing people in a truly meaningful way. Even as an engineering leader in Flipkart, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to build several teams numerous times over and understand the things that go into building effective teams. 

It piqued my interest, and I started to partner with HR over the last three years in terms of drafting various policies and practices. About two years ago, I enrolled myself in a coaching course, and was particularly intrigued by the methodology of providing people a way to help themselves in a safe environment. These two universes intersected for me to create my own personal journey in coaching, and I am extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to leverage my learning, experience and passion for this role.


“When you look back, you can connect all the dots to figure how you landed up where you did.”


In fact, the pandemic has been an incredible learning for me as a  HR professional. As an organisation, Flipkart has focused on helping people in very troubled times and finding a way to take care of the workforce. I feel like it was the universe’s way of nudging me to use my interest and passion to be able to make a difference. 


Rahul: What have been your key learnings over the past year?


Krishna: One of the key learnings has been about people centricity. It means keeping people at the center when you are making those tough calls. I will cite an example. While we were completing our annual appraisal cycle in Flipkart in April 2020, we were faced with tough choices as there was no clarity about the business outlook. We could have deferred all the increases and the campus hires, but we had the conviction that employee centricity could not be sacrificed. And I think that paved the way for our employees to rise to the occasion and to go beyond the call of duty. 

“We went ahead without having any clear knowledge about how the business is going to play out and promised to honor all the increments and new hires.”

Another learning we had was that when you are building a policy—it is important to ensure that it is customizable to different types of employees and get consensus on whether all the groups are on board with the new policy. Given the diverse employee base at Flipkart, we have been conscious that all the factors like demographics, age, gender must be considered before drafting any employee-related policy. 

“You cannot paint the entire employee landscape with one broad brushstroke.”


Rahul: What should be an ideal relationship between a CEO and CHRO?


Krishna: The ideal relationship is one where you trust each other, have each other’s back t, and challenge one another. CHROs are not just HR leaders; they are the leader of all the people. They need to understand where the business is headed and proactively tackle business challenges and opportunities on the horizon. When you start doing these things, then automatically, you have the trust and the credibility, you become a thought partner to the CEO. Then you are no longer an administrative and support function, but a strategic function that can drive a cultural transformation. 

“With respect to the age-old question of whether HR should have a seat at the table or not, HR will have a seat at the table when it earns the trust and credibility of the business.”


Rahul: According to you, what has been the board’s role in terms of driving the cultural transformation in Flipkart?


Krishna: It starts with defining what your employee value proposition really is. Where do you want to take the company and its people? The core of every company remains the same, but there are certain aspects that you want to heighten in a particular environment/context. Defining the culture becomes important. For instance, in Flipkart, three principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose by Daniel Pink are major drivers. These are three things that also reflect our values which are audacity, a bias for action, customer-centricity. Integrity and inclusion were added last year. 


“Define your EVP and align the CEO, the leadership, and the board, on the strategy and your differentiators.”

Defining a very clear strategy and aligning the board on the focus is critical. It is often said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, so getting the culture right and treating it as a strategic focus area with the Board’s buy-in is critical. 


Rahul: If you could ask one question to someone, and basis that decide whether to hire that person or not, what could be that question?


Krishna: It would be to know what their primary purpose is. What is the reason for them to even come to our company and apply? I think most often than not, this depth of a question also brings about ideas, thoughts from the candidate and allows them to express what really motivates them. Their answers could vary from monetary stuff to title to the work culture, and that’s okay. However, that answer for me gives a lot away in terms of the candidate.


Rahul: What is the most crucial competency required for a great manager who is at mid-level?


Krishna: The biggest thing for mid-managers would be about how they empower. Because when you grow from being an entry-level manager to a mid-level manager, there are points that you will need to step back, and it is not a skill that naturally comes to people but something which needs to be developed. It is a delicate balancing act between empowerment and detail orientation. You need to have both because the more you empower and delegate, trust starts to build between you and your team. It creates a virtuous cycle that is self-reinforcing.


Rahul: What will be the two or three guiding principles while designing a robust leadership development program? 


Krishna: The first thing to do would be to understand the overall business context, key roles in the organization, and understanding what those roles look like in the future. The next step would be an assessment of the current talent. Then comparing the current talent, contrasting it with the future roles, and assess the development needs. Looking at the technical side, it is important to gauge leaders’ people skills, self-awareness, strategic acumen and thinking, multidimensional approach, enterprise thinking before designing any leadership development program. Another factor to look at is the pace of volatility in the industry and determining the volatility index. We need to stop trying to cast leadership development into a square box. Focusing on a few key competencies of the leaders in the development program and harnessing them to the fullest is what matters the most.  

“Your ability to harness the spikes is what you need to focus on.’”


Rahul: If you were to choose a successor, what qualities would you look at from a CHRO perspective?


Krishna: It would be the ability to build and connect with a variety of stakeholders effectively. Secondly is having courage because you have to deal with various important matters alone. There will be times where your courage and decisions will be tested, and you will have to stand firm with your belief as you prioritise people. 

“Always do right by your people”

The next important quality would be business acumen because earning the credibility and the trust of business partners depends on your understanding of various functions’ business strategy, and finally, you need to have the ability to hold the organization to a certain set of ideals and cultural tenets. 


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


Krishna: My advice would be not to constrain yourself in a particular role. Keep your options very open and fluid, and explore as much as you can. The second piece of advice would be to develop the ability to do detailed work and not get distracted easily. 

‘Sample and test as many roles as you can in your early career.’

At a personal level, indulge in physical activities, be it running, sports, or anything which gets you out in the world. It is important to practice something daily to develop your ability to do deep work. You need to have an undistracted quality time where you are focusing on one thing and one thing alone. That is a skill that can probably differentiate you and set you apart in the times to come.


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.

‘A Great Manager is one who hires better than himself’

In this edition of the ‘CHRO Insights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Udbhav Ganjoo, who is the Head HR – Global Operations, India, Emerging Asia and Access Markets of Viatris. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he opens up about his life as an HR Leader

Rahul: You’ve been a veteran in this space, tell us about your journey as an HR professional.

I started my career as a management trainee with Kelvinator (now Whirlpool) and moved towards plant IR/ HR. In my first year, we were exposed only to the top layer of the organization. After that I was placed in the plant operations, here I got exposure to all labour/ IR issues. I spent 4 years with Kelvinator, it was an interesting journey and provided exposure to different facets of people management, lockouts, union-leader interactions and so on. As I started understanding the HR function more, I adapted my personality and working style to meet the needs of the role.

After that I moved to ITDC, which was a completely different sector. I spent 6 years here and had different roles within the corporate HR function. I had the opportunity to learn and work with different businesses of the company.

My next movement was to Turner Morrison Group (part of TOI), which was a conglomerate of different businesses from textiles to engineering to financial services to infrastructure, where I was in the corporate HR role at the group level. I was here for 5 years and delivered various HR initiatives and programs here for multiple businesses.

It was after this that my stint with the pharmaceutical sector started and is still continuing.  For 18 years I was with Ranbaxy where I joined as a Global R&D HR Head. I was in different HR leadership roles here and eventually became the Global Head of HR.

Presently, I am with Viatris (formerly Mylan), a global pharmaceutical giant since the last 7 years. So, this is a summary of my professional journey over the last three decades, helping various organisations in supporting and building their people, culture, and leadership pipelines.

Rahul: Who were some of the early influencers in your life?

During my professional career I have had lots of mentors. My first mentor was a well-known Automobile Manufacturing expert. He was the first leader who had a big impression on me in terms of how to deal with people; while this may appear simple, it is quite nuanced and a very important aspect in HR. Observing him deal with difficult situations and taking hard, smooth, and quick decisions was a big learning for me

When I was working with Turner Morrison Group, it was the Chairman and MD of the group who was my mentor. He was a great leader who helped me develop risk taking ability and seeing things outside in.

I have been in pharma for almost 25 years now, and there have been many professionals, leaders, and CEOs within my organisation and outside who have influenced me as a professional. During this journey, I have also been a mentor to many professionals from business as well as from HR and many of my mentees are holding leadership positions across various organisations. It’s been a learning as well as a sharing experience.

“It’s about how efficiently you can delegate and adapt to difficult roles faster to move up”

Rahul: What are some of the top pieces of advice that you give to the CHROs?

Udbhav: The most important one is to remain connected with the people and business. To succeed, any CHRO or HR person needs to add value to the business. If there is a disconnect with the business, HR professionals will fail because HR is the only function that works in partnership with the business and people. You cannot work in silo in HR and succeed. You need to be grounded and aligned. Collaboration and getting everyone together are key for success.

HR should have the ability to guide and influence the leaders to take right decisions as far as people management is concerned. They should be able to deliver on the expectations from HR, be it building the right culture, employee engagement, development, career path, succession planning, organisational design, hiring and so on.

The important element is HOW a CHRO is able to remain connected with people at various levels of the organisation, being empathetic while keeping the business priorities in mind- this is what I call “PEOPLE TOUCH’.

Rahul: HR Heads have very broad responsibilities. How do you provide focus to each of these responsibilities?

Udbhav: It’s about delegation and remaining connected and having a process by which you know what’s happening in the businesses in context of people and leaders. HR needs to be connected with the business, you need to have your focus areas in alignment with future and current needs.

‘The key is to remain connected with what’s happening around the area which you’re responsible for’

We have created well-defined processes, with well-thought-out meeting and review cadence. But there’s built-in flexibility. I have not put any boundaries. If there’s an issue, they can pick up the phone and call me or walk into my cabin. Important issues will be addressed immediately, I don’t want anyone to wait for the next 2 weeks for the meeting to happen. These are the few things that I was able to create so that there is no delay in the actions/ response that HR is expected to do. You shouldn’t keep everything to yourself. There should be total delegation.

Rahul: If you could ask one question to someone and basis that decide whether to hire that person or not, what could be that question?

Udbhav: Right from the very first interview I have conducted, there have been two things which I look into the most and which have proved right for me so far.

‘Personality and Attitude are the two things that I look into while hiring’

It all depends upon the situation. It depends on their attitude towards work as well as life. I try to assess their attitude as it’s important for any leadership role. We had to drop the candidature of many good candidates who have done well academically and professionally but do not appear to have a right attitude. Having a positive attitude with good work ethics is one thing that helps the organization grow. It is not there on the CV, so this is something that I consider along with other factors while hiring.

Rahul: What are the X-factors that differentiate the Great Managers/ Leaders from the others?

Udbhav: For a great manager, it’s not just about managing your team, but beyond that. It’s about putting the right team under him. These days, in many organizations there’s a gap between No.1 and No.2 in terms of ability of taking over the role.

‘A great manager is the one who is confident enough to have a brighter team under him than himself’

But a great manager is one who is not afraid of building a team of smart individuals – those who are better than him. This improves the overall productivity, innovation, performance from the team and is good for the organization. It also provides organization the confidence that you can have a good pool of future successors in the team. One of the roles of a good manager is to build a strong team below him or her. Unfortunately, there are only a few organisations having such structures.

All things are interlinked. It depends upon the position of the person, the philosophy of the organization and how they would like to have the people. There are organizations were there are certain areas which need intervention and corrections, and leaders need to be able to make these changes.

Rahul: What has been your playbook in leading your firm out of this crisis?

Udbhav: Because we are in the pharmaceutical space, even during the crisis we had to be doing what we were doing. But our priority shifted mainly towards the wellness part. As an organization, we are big in India, we have approximately 25,000 people. Our focus was on wellness – mental as well as physical. We invested both in terms of time and rewards into this aspect. Our operations didn’t shut even for an hour during the lockdown. Also, people who stepped out of their homes because of work were given special reward incentives. We followed various defined protocols, invested a lot in the health of the employees, and in cases where they tested positive, we took care of their treatments. So, the well-being of our employees was the major focus for us during the crisis.


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 consults organisations in identifying & developing successors