In Conversation with A. Thiru on Talent Strategy at JK Organisation

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In an exclusive conversation with SightsIn Plus, we have Thiru A Thirunavukkarasu, popularly known as A Thiru, President – Corporate HR at JK Organisation (EZ), an eminent, diversified group with interests in Tyre, Cement, Paper, Seeds, V-Belts etc, in addition a prestigious University.

Prior to assuming this role, Thiru was associated with Vedanta Resources Plc, a global diversified Natural Resources Major as President – Group HR and Member of the Executive Committee. Thiru provides strategic HR insights and pragmatic solutions to the CEOs of operating companies and their leadership teams.

Thiru’s top three strengths are Strong Domain Knowledge, Very Articulate and Out of Box Thinking as per TVRL’s 360 feedback in 2016 and his Leadership Style profiling scored highest as Pioneer followed by Driver in congruence with the HBR’s C-Suite study in 2017.

He periodically visits premier Engineering and Management Schools including IITs, IIMs, NMIMS, SPJIMR and Delhi School of Economics besides participating in panel discussions at National level HR summits organized by AIMA, NHRD, CNBC TV 18, ET, BW, EFI,CII and CHROs forum of IMA.

Thiru has also written forward for the book The HRD ALMANAC emphasizing,” We must always keep the larger purpose in mind…and be the Torch Bearer for our profession.”

He serves as a Governing Council Member for select few management institutes in India and has been conferred with several accolades / awards. Thiru is an Accredited Independent Director by The Directors’ Club and a Certified Coach of Erikson International.


Q- What is your Talent Strategy at JK Organisation?

We at JK Organisation (EZ) based at New Delhi being a socially valued enterprise which stands for its unparallel business integrity, comprises of many businesses and the major ones include JK Tyre, JK Paper, JK Lakshmi Cement, JK Fenner, JK Agri Genetics and Umang Dairies having operations across the length and breadth of India in addition a prestigious J K Lakshmipat Singhania University at Jaipur have always been driven by values such as commitment to excellence and caring for people, which naturally includes Talents across functions and levels of the entire organization.

All our businesses uphold the right priorities, practicing ‘Customer First and Employee Next’ principle for ensuring highest standards in safety, environment, quality, productivity and in parallel embrace appropriate technology on a continuous basis.

The talent strategy at JKO has always been in sync with the larger purpose of the organization, ensuring right people at right jobs at all levels and especially senior leadership living the code of Business as a role model.

We seek a society which is proud of its past, conscious of the present and full of hope for the future – a society where every citizen would be equally conscious of its rights and responsibilities “ as out lined by our promoter Late Lala Lakshmipat Singhania several decades ago as a role model, in the current organizational context too.

Q- Talent is greatest asset for any organization, how to recruit and retain the best of the best talent?

We at JKO believe from the bottom of our hearts that employees are our greatest asset and have created an environment over the period of time in which ordinary people stay for almost their life time and deliver extra-ordinary results. The cumulative number of employees who have been awarded 25 years (19,289 employees) and 40 years (61 employees) long service awards till 2017 stands as an enviable testimony for other conglomerates.

All our employees are exposed to a lot of structured training programs in functional and behavioral aspects besides Six Sigma, TQM and TPM for excelling in their day to day jobs. Employees with consistent track record of high performance are further exposed to development centers and those identified as high potential (in middle and senior management category) are given customized training programs -MDPs at IIMs and encouraged to take breakthrough projects and guided appropriately for successful implementation.

There exists a strong bias for mentoring and coaching of talents and the “Krishna-Arjuna” initiatives being practiced across our businesses have not only transformed the individuals concerned but could make huge impact on the business as well. Top three best pairs across businesses are recognized and rewarded in an annual event which is graced by all the Director In Charges (promoters) along with their Business Heads. Thus we strongly believe in the concept of “Nurture & Grow Talent” with a long term perspective and not Hire and Fire for any short / medium term gains.

We also provide employees to work in CFTs on a particular theme every year under the “Udaan“ Scheme in which every business short list a few teams and send for final presentations at the group level and an independent jury comprising of eminent personalities from outside evaluate and select top 3 teams who are awarded in the above function. The themes are contemporary in nature ( such as Innovation and Agility, Sustainability and Inclusive Growth, Gear up for Transformational Changes ) so that employees are continuously prepared for facing the future challenges with innate enthusiasm.

Inter-Company Conferences held annually / bi-annually by different functions across the group companies do provide excellent opportunities for cross-learning among the participants besides deriving value from the external speakers as well. For example, the HR Conference held in the last two years with themes such as Up surging HR for Work place 2020 and Reimagining HR : Leading Change for Future Ready JKO witnessed top notch HR Professionals from Academia, Consulting and Industry and on the top of all HR Icon-none other than Prof T V Rao facilitated the interactions and inspired the participants to bench mark with the best and take their HR practices to the next level. Similar is the case for other functions like Finance, Engineering, Marketing etc. In addition, exclusive inter-company Industrial Relations Conference deliberates how to facilitate New Age Employee Relations with specific focus on our “Blue Collar Workmen“ who are going to be the competitive advantage, emerging as the “Next Collar Workmen” in the years ahead.

The top management at JKO has equal if not more hunger for learning along the line of the young talents. The entire top team numbering about 75 including the Director In Charges take 3 days off bi-annually and listen to globally renowned Management Guru’s like Prof Ram Charan (2013 & 2015) and in the latest intervention through Duke CE on the theme, ”Accelerating to Future Readiness” in Non.2017 had extensive interaction with Dean Bill Boulding and John Davis of Duke CE besides global icons like Cynthia Carol and Vinita Bali. The key take away was passed on to the next level of leadership and thus building a Learning Organization.

We also have a HR score card wherein people management practices across businesses are measured through self- audit and external audit and entities with highest score as well as highest improvement over previous score are awarded in the Founder’s Day celebrations every year. This is called People Management Award (PMA) which instills a sense of pride for the winners and inspiration for others to have collective ambition. In addition we also encourage entities to participate in National and International level competitions in Safety, Quality, Productivity and Sustainability competitions and in some of which even blue collar and contract workmen participate and won several laurels. Three of our large businesses have been certified as Great Place to Work during the current year.

Thus attracting and retaining talent is not viewed as independent silos of the HR function but integrated as holistic organizational life providing avenues for emotional connect through various processes as above, resulting in creation of greener pastures within to meet the enhanced employability of key talents in alignment with the growth aspirations of our businesses.

Q- How do you see the future of Talent and Talent Acquisition in digital era?

Change is permanent and one needs to embrace whether AI, Machine Learning , Industry 4.0 and other forms of digital transformation but with a caveat whether it is going to bring about marginal improvement in efficiencies or profound impact on business outcomes. We have medium to high degree of automation in some of our plants wherein robots are working alongside, mobility solutions are experimented /in place, looking at drones too and some businesses are focusing on low cost automation depending upon the industry. There is much hype especially using AI for talent acquisition and predicting which employee is likely to quit. The first part to reduce cycle time of shortlist is fine but I am not personally convinced on intruding into privacy of employees to predict who will leave at the individual level. On the contrary will appreciate insights what skill sets are going to be sought after, what skill sets are going to be redundant so that organization is prepared to handle the trend rather than witch hunt at individual level. Employer Empathy and Employee Privacy in my humble view shall not be compromised under any circumstances during such transition.

Q- What are best HR Practices of Talent Management at JKO?

As I mentioned earlier, people practices – right from recruitment to retirement – are integral part of our business processes and identifying and nurturing high potential talents for top jobs is one among the key levers. We have recently revisited the decade old leadership competency framework and reduced number of competencies from 12 to 7 besides incorporating those features which are relevant for today’s context and more importantly built in futuristic ones such as Thinks Transformation, Executes with Agility, Entrepreneurial Ability and Leads Business for Tomorrow. Thus moving away from fixing talents in 9 box, ranking and labeling to providing opportunities to first among the equals who can probably fit into the role in consideration with a renewed thrust on learning on the job adapting to 70:20:10 principle. This shift in the new direction will probably accelerate our journey towards becoming a Talent Driven Company as quoted by Prof Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey in their recently published book,” Talent Wins.” Exploring Dual-Career options and empowering employees to own and chart their career path, can be the Next Wave.

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

Change your lens at periodic intervals and Stay relevant at all points of time. Let Learn-Ability and Empathy occupy your Mind and Heart respectively.

HR professionals must become Co-pilot to their CEOs and Torch Bearers to their organizations-

  • By fostering relationships with both internal and external stakeholders,
  • Ensuring systems that enhance employee experience,
  • Challenging the conventions and championing change to position the organization always ahead of the curve and
  • Becoming the custodian of a value driven and self-governing organizational culture.

Last but not the least, I would urge you to keep the following quote of M. K. Gandhi always in mind : “Never apologize for being correct or for being ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth” to evolve as a True Legend.

Thank you A Thiru!

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