Conversation with Poornima S P on Changing Role of HR Leaders

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In an exclusive Interaction, we have Poornima S PGroup Director & Head -Human Resources at Tejas Networks Ltd, a premier telecom product development company based out of Bangalore. Prior to Tejas, she has worked for global companies such as Cisco, Intuit, Yodlee Infotech and had earlier career with CDOT. Poornima comes with a total experience of 20 plus years in Human resources where she has handled the entire gamut of HR and her core competency is employee engagement & retention.

She has been the recipient of many awards and few of them are “Super Women Achiever Award” for the Southern India region in the year 2012 which was given by the Indian Branding Awards, an international organization and was again conferred with “Women Super Achiever Award”   by the Asia Pacific HRM Congress Awards in Sep 2013. In Sep 2015, she was awarded the Most Influential 50 HR Tech Leaders by APAC HRM Congress.  In February 2018, she was conferred the 100 Top HR Tech Minds by the Asia Pacific HR Congress.


Q-Many thanks for giving us your precious time. You are an inspirational HR Leader; we would love to know how you were able to shape up your rich career journey?

Thank you for the opportunity to share my views. Well, actually I wanted to be a doctor but resulted in being a doctor in an organization dealing with people!!  I am a self-motivator, dedicated and committed individual.  I will do what it takes to complete a task be it personal or professional provided I like it or passionate about it. I started off my career as an HR administrator right from the scratch and have gone through pains and perils in my long career, especially being an Indian woman balancing home and work!

I got the opportunity to work for some of the best multinational companies and went through a very good learning curve. And also had the opportunity to travel to many countries on work which expanded my horizon.

I am a self made person, over the years I have learnt to “LET GO and free yourself from social validation” has helped me to be where I am today.

Q-What do you think is the biggest challenge that HR leaders are facing today?

One of the biggest challenges I am facing and many of my HR counterparts say that they are facing is, managing & retaining talent especially when it comes to the younger generation.  The expectations of the employees changes periodically and with multi generational work force in the organization, the expectation varies.

Retaining talent is one of the most significant challenges HR is facing especially with the millennials. Talent poaching and cut-throat competition has given an impetus of high remuneration to the deserving candidate.  Job seekers have gained lot of exposure and have become highly ambitious as well. Which is why they are always on a lookout for better opportunities. This kind of a trend is observed mainly in the IT/ITeS sector.

Q-In your opinion, how digital technology is changing role of HR leaders?

The role of HR is changing rapidly with the advent of digital technology.  Digital HR is enabling the creation of easy-to-access online applications for many processes like recruiting, compensation management, learning and development and talent management.  In my current organization we have embarked on this journey.

Furthermore, digital HR today is potentially a tool for cultural transformation. Below are the 4 key roles played by HR in any organization and I will tell you how digitalization is changing that role:

  • Strategic partner:  . Along with the business focus,  employees can benefit from easy-to-navigate platforms that make various processes such as new employee onboarding friendly and seamless. These could take the form of mobile apps that help roll out and access quick pulse surveys or of an e-communicator that helps employees connect with their HR partners anytime, anywhere.
  • Change agent :  Quite a few organizations have already adopted or in the digital way of delivering learning, such as e-based training sessions and video-based learning, which  is more effective not only in terms of reach but also in terms of ease of delivering content. For example: organizations are putting into place community based e-learning platforms through which employees can reach each other across geographical regions, anytime, anywhere and collaborate and learn based on common learning goals or interests.
  • Administrative expert: Whether it is analyzing multiple sources of data within seconds, providing feasible solutions, or calculating the ROI on various employee initiatives, digital HR is the key to quick and informed strategy and decision-making. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are tools that are being used by some companies for predictive analytics such as to predict customer behaviour, employee potential or to design effective retention strategies.
  • Employee champion:    employee engagement being one of the top priorities of most leaders, strong online networks, digital networking tools and enhanced digital platforms have experienced an enhancement in employee engagement.   This paradigm shift towards digitalization is certainly helping HR professionals to plan where to invest effort and money depending on the needs of the organization.

The future of the human resource function and each of these four HR roles lies in digital transformation. Whether it is about e-learning programs, employee analytics, employee platforms for various processes, embarking on this transformation journey is truly the next stage in transforming HR into digital HR.

Q-How to engage multi-generational workforce? And what is role of leadership in employee engagement?

Different generations are motivated by different things, and a lack of motivation and a lack of engagement go hand-in-hand.

  • Understand employees: understanding common pain points experienced across generations is the first step to gain insights and address their concerns.  There are many different ways to obtain such key employee insights, so it’s important to land on a solution that accounts for employees of various tenures and ages. As a leader it’s our job to decipher the real causes of people issues and propose useful solutions.
  • Champion a culture of camaraderie: Bring employees together so they can learn about each other in non-work settings. From a company-funded lunch to a family picnic to a virtual happy hour to connect remote employees, real connections will cross over into day-to-day collaboration and productivity.  Workplace friendships and connectedness are so important they actually have an economic impact on the well-being of a company and its employees.
  • Unite teams: Lack of team unity hinders productivity. Strategically aligned enterprises have a much better chance of winning in today’s challenging business environment.  A leader has to create and communicate company-wide goals that require employees to work together in smaller teams or cross-functionally, and this will have  a profound effect on team unity.
  • Give employees the chance to learn: A research by Forbes has found that employees with two to three years of experience struggle most with utilization, role clarity and professional development opportunities at work. Reciprocal mentoring programs, which pair new workers with seasoned employees for on-the-job skill building and role clarity, supersede generational differences.

Given the multi-generational attributes of today’s workforce, we ‘re more likely to have a diverse, experienced group of employees, which leads to stronger teams and bigger, better ideas.  We need to stay focused on one or two key initiatives to move the needle of our workforce.   Pay attention to generational differences, but ultimately listen and encourage employees to be open with managers and leaders. This is the key to an engaged workforce, regardless of age, generation, gender or background.

Q- A change in leadership can be stressful for both the new boss and the existing team, what are steps to help a smooth transition?

There are two dimensions that needs to be looked into during change in leadership. The first is the functional and psychological impacts that this phase can have on team members and the transitioning leader. The second is  the challenges that a newly promoted leader or a leader who has come from a different organization faces when establishing influence over the team members.

  • First and foremost the leader has to first assess the organization. Understand the team’s strength, challenges & areas of improvement and make incremental changes to gain their trust. A change in leadership can be smooth if the new leader that assumes charge start off by taking everyone into confidence. She/he should inspire, influence and gain their trust Setting the right expectations.
  • Adapt to the new organization & team. As a new leader to the organization respect the past, recognize the great work that is being done and it is critical to be realistic about the current situation  and be optimistic about the future by painting a picture of a future organization that is much further advanced then the one that exists today.
  • Securing ‘Early Wins’  is essential for establishing credibility as the new leader of the team. These early wins should be “team wins” as opposed to wins for the new leader. This will help build the perception that the new leader is effective not just in managing his or her own work, but more importantly getting the team to work together towards common goals.
  • Achieve Alignment: Ensure that your goals, your team’s goals, and the organization’s goals are all in alignment.
  • Create Coalitions: Your success will greatly depend upon your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. As the new leader of the team, you are the voice of your team to the organization at large. You should not only build and maintain alliances with the people on your own team, but also with the key individuals within the organization who are necessary to the ultimate success of your team.
  • Keep Your Balance: Transitions are extremely difficult to manage; it is easy to lose perspective, become isolated, and make bad decisions. To help maintain a balanced perspective, you need to develop a strong advice and counsel network both within your team and within the organization.
  • Expedite Everyone: You need to not only accelerate your own transition, but the transitions of everyone you work with – direct reports, bosses, and peers.

Q-What is an “Agile HR” to you and how HR leaders can help organizations to create & stay Agile?

‘Agile HR’ to me is changing directions quickly, easily and helping the organization to stay relevant and aligned with the realities of today’s talent requirements.

HR leaders can help organizations to create & stay agile by incorporating four values of agility such as adaptability, transparency, simplicity & unity that can improve HR service delivery.

Adaptability is important in the face of ever changing business needs, while Simplicity is important when designing HR programs and practices that don’t cause confusion, alienate managers and employees or try to accomplish too much. Unity applies with respect to HR working together and ensuring it isn’t working in silos or at cross purposes with the business. Transparency is important in gaining the trust of managers and employees and explaining why things have to be done in a certain manner.

Q-What is the best piece of advice for HR professionals who want to be great at their job?

Openness and a positive mindset are important ingredients for successful HR professionals.  Doing the right thing at the right time for the organization as a whole helps the HR professionals to be great at their job.   Apart from keeping oneself abreast of what is happening in the industry, being proactive and so on, the most important is being known as a trustworthy Human Resources professional gives you great credibility.

Last but not the least in the midst of policies, procedures and initiatives do not forget the “human” element.

Thank you Poornima!

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