In Conversation With Krish Shankar, Group Head- HR, Infosys on C&B

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Krishnamurthy (Krish) Shankar is the Group Head – Human Resources, Infosys. In this role, he is responsible for envisioning employee experience and driving the talent and organization strategy.

Krish has over 30 years of experience and has led HR functions in organizations like BhartiAirtel, Philips, Hindustan Unilever and Unilever. In his wide-ranging experience in these organizations, he has facilitated transformation and capability development, along with leading the transformation of HR into a strategic partner. He holds a postgraduate diploma in HR from XLRI, Jamshedpur, India and has received an executive certificate in Strategy and Organization from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a doctorate in Business Administration from Aston University.

Krish is an avid reader, blogs occasionally on LinkedIn takes a deep interest in the technology and societal changes around us and is passionate about exploring new ideas in HR and organizational development.  A football enthusiast, he also likes trekking and running.

Q- You are a senior HR leader having profound working experience with fortune 500 companies like Unilever, Bharti Airtel, Philips and currently with Infosys as GlobalHead- HR. Tell us how you were able to shape up your rich career journey?

As we all know a career spans over 30 odd years. I was lucky to be in great companies in the early part of my career where you had some fantastic leaders. I think I would look at the first 10 years of a career as a foundational part- where you need to work with good mentors and in organizations where people get opportunities to learn by doing things. I started my career with Eicher- what I loved was the responsibility given to me to try new things, and the access we had to the leaders. But the first 10-12 years in Levers enabled me to move across many jobs. I started as a Personnel Manager in a factory and then moved out of HR as the Operations Manager for Exports where I was managing 2 factories. I really enjoyed that stint- helped me do things that you would like to do as an HR person.

“I enjoyed doing rounds of the factory and talking to workers and asking them about the work and issues they faced- my biggest learning came from that. The more you involve people and listen to them, the more valuable insights you get”

I then moved as a Recruitment Manager and the Corporate Training Manager, before moving to the UK to work in the corporate centre. In all these early jobs, the best thing was the opportunity to interact with leaders- looking back that was the biggest development I got. They shaped your thinking and helped build your perspective.

After 20 years in Unilever, I moved to Bharti Airtel and this was a different challenge- we had to build the foundation of robust processes as the company was scaling up rapidly, and also be part of the transformation of the company from many circles and businesses to one integrated organization. Building something new calls for different skills- and my past experience came in helpful.

Personally, I think building a career calls for a mix of some long term view of your aspirations but coupled with medium-term flexibility to look at different opportunities as they present themselves. No one can say ‘I want to be CEO’ and plan an ideal career, and expect everything to go as per plan! With every opportunity or move, every few years, you set your new aspirations- be open to opportunities as they come, but have a clear view of what you would like in terms of a career.

Q- What are the most important lessons HR aspirants can learn from your career?

I would summarise the tips as learnings from my career.

Build a strong foundation for your career. Early on, look for a mix of HR generalist roles as well as roles in the expertise areas like Learning, Compensation, and Recruitment, etc. This helps build a strong foundation. Again, in the early part of your career say in the first 10 years, look to work with great leaders and mentors- it does wonders for your long term career. Moreover, look to work with different leaders

I sometimes see a tendency of people to work with just one person- working with different people helps bring a different perspective. Finally, always bet on your strengths- and you will know about them after the first 5-7 years. Once you have a good idea of your strengths, bet on them for the longer term and leverage those.

Borrowing from Arthur Brooks, the first part of your career is about building your CV- what he calls as resume virtues. You do this with the right experiences. The latter part of your career is about reinforcing your values, strengths and also making a difference to others- what he calls ‘eulogy virtues’. You build this by leveraging your strengths, and by widening your intent to do larger good for the organisation and community.

Q- Prior to joining Infosys in 2015, you have worked with mostly Non-IT companies, how do you see the difference between HR’s role in IT and Non-IT industry?

The HR challenges are similar across industries, as are the different HR functions. However, each industry has its unique differentiated business model and business environment, and a different set of success factors. And HR has to understand those strategic issues. This may mean that certain elements of HR are more critical in certain industries. The IT industry deals with a large scale, as well as a huge group of talent. We cannot apply the talent systems that FMCG organizations employ. The IT industry also hires a large number of young engineers every year, and the average age of employees in IT organisations are in the range of 27-29. On top of all this, the skills needed in the IT industry change quite rapidly- the skills in demand now would change, and therefore the need to get people to be upskilled regularly is critical in the IT industry. And given that 75% of the costs are related to employees, compensation and related areas become very critical to business success. So these are the unique challenges in the IT services industry and HR has to accordingly focus on them- and that’s the difference with FMCG or Telecoms. I am attaching a few slides that can help you understand this better.

Q- The Role of HR has evolved a lot over the last few years, how do you look at the HR Transformation journey?

We have witnessed that HR has changed drastically in the last 15-20 years, and HR Transformation journey includes:

Q- How compensation & rewards have evolved in the last few years, and what’s new in C&B?

Compensation is becoming more sharply focused and nuanced. Standard, across-the-board increases have gone away. We are seeing greater segmentation and performance linkage. For instance, early-career individuals are looking for quick growth and compensation increases, and some kind of predictability of what they can expect to grow in the next 3-5 years. The compensation response to this group would be different than for managers where we see sharper differentiation based on skill, performance, and potential. At the leadership levels, we see an increasing focus on Stocks linked to performance. While compensation at the lower levels is still very much local geography/country dependent, compensation at senior leadership levels are broadly in sync with global trends and benchmarks, as there is good global mobility of Indian talent. Overall India is also becoming quite global in its approach to compensation. Therefore, what’s new in C&B- I guess it is paying for special skills, more investment in health and fitness, use of various performance-linked long term vehicles for rewarding leadership talent, team-based rewards and incentives, etc.

Q- What are the key elements of an effective compensation strategy?

Compensation is a critical component of any organisation’s value proposition to its employees- and for ‘people-centric’ organisations, it plays a key strategic role in retaining talent and in overall competitiveness. Compensation is also a great lever in driving the execution of a company’s strategy by ensuring that the compensation of leaders is linked to its long term strategic objectives. Moreover, in a broader sense, reward and recognition drive the culture of an organization. For instance, the focus on fairness and performance orientation are strongly influenced by compensation. So an effective compensation should meet all these objectives- ensure leadership is aligned behind strategy and its execution, ensure that it is competitive, both as a business and in attracting and retaining talent, it meets the ‘value-proposition’ objectives as envisaged by the company, and finally helps in driving the right behaviours and culture in the organization. However, there are trade-offs involved, and the key is to strike the right balance based on the organization needs.

Q- The workplace which supports employees’ health and wellness is proven to reduce stress and improve performance. How do you keep your employees healthy and happy?

For Infosys to succeed as a company, the health, and well-being of our greatest assets, i.e. our people are extremely important. Having a healthy and productive workforce allows us to offer the best for our clients as well as is great for the long term success of our employees. Given the challenges of today’s environment, employee burnout is a lurking issue and if not given immediate attention, can significantly affect the productivity of the workforce. Having realized the impact a while back, HALE (Health Assessment and Lifestyle Enrichment) was Infosys’ response to counter the increasingly evident issues at the workplace like busy schedules that had long periods of sedentary activity and irregular working hours. To add to the mix, there were complex transitions from college to work, from rural to urban settings and lack of suitable leisure opportunities. The objective of HALE is to have a “proactive approach to health and life enrichment” aimed at increased awareness, overall wellbeing resulting in good health, reduced stress levels, a safe work environment and improved productivity levels. The HALE initiative focuses on the increasing emotional value-add for our employees by optimizing their health, quality of life and work environment. The goal is to ensure healthy and happy employees who will be more productive and in the long-term, add to our competitive edge in business. HALE strives to achieve this goal through a set of offerings that focus on health, safety, stress, and leisure.

Emphasizing the importance of mental health in wellness programs and including wellness objectives to help promote healthy mental well-being is the focus. We are also embracing digital technologies to custom design our programs and make them more interactive as well as easily available to users.

Some of the interventions that have worked well for us are:

Samaritans:

A peer to peer counseling network of Infoscions who are trained in barefoot counseling and provide counseling to other employees thereby helping them cope with personal and professional issues. Employees us this to discuss both professional and personal situations and this has helped many.

Professional Counseling:

  • HALE Hotline– Provides professional counseling help in times of crisis. A hotline facility has been made available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whereby calling in, instant access is provided to a trained professional. Each location has a dedicated local number. Issues like cases of serious mental depression, substance abuse, attempted suicides and relationship issues, etc. have been resolved through hotline service.
  • Professional Counseling at locations- Counseling at the campus for our employees by professionally trained counselors that provide face to face advice to the employees.

Online wellness tools:

  • HALE Tool – An online wellness survey that ends with a professional de-brief session that suggests changes to lifestyle, diet habits and other interventions based on the analysis.
  • Stress Audit Tool: An online tool (questionnaire) created for self-awareness that assists employees in identifying their stress levels and thereby seek help or take appropriate measures to improve their mental health basis the results.

Expert Talks:

By professional counselors, external speakers on topics ranging from mental health at the workplace to depression to managing work-life balance. Online chats with the counselors are also available at an employee’s perusal. The segmentation approach is followed where our objective is to have focused sessions for the target population, ours being Millennials, Family members, Women, etc.

Key highlights (last FY)

  • 21,000+ health checks conducted across locations.
  • We have on-boarded 20+ health & wellness vendors on InfyGold+ (our e-commerce platform used for employee engagement and rewards) wherein these vendors provide wellness offerings at discounted rates exclusively to our employees and their family members.
  • This year, our key focus was on enhancing the importance of mental health & mindfulness where we conducted 50+ expert talks across locations on topics directly/indirectly impacting the mental health of an individual as well as workshops on mindfulness.
  • The segmented approach in terms of the campaigns was followed to alleviate the key health & wellbeing risks. To name a few, we conducted a sleep wellness campaign emphasizing the importance of sleep, WHO Health Days to raise awareness on health issues, International Yoga Day, Anti-Tobacco Campaign, HALE Run, etc.
  • Focus on Healthy Eating by introducing healthy eating kiosks on the campus.
  • Enhancing Quality of Life: Sessions on Lifestyle management, digital detox to ensure employees are able to improve the quality of life.
  • Partnered with famous fitness brands to promote group workouts for employees.

Q- What would have been your alternate career option, had you not gotten into the Human Resources field?

Other careers I would have had- not sure. When I was young I thought I will be an aeronautical engineer. Things changed a little bit over time. I used to like writing. I thought I would be a novelist or a poet! I was also quite shy and diffident- so never thought I would get into careers like sales or business. But while doing my graduation, I realised I liked relating to people and working with them. If not in HR, I think I might have been a teacher or an academic. I still like to teach and hope will do more of it!

Thank you, Krish!

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Krishnamurthy (Krish) Shankar, Group Head- Human Resource Development at Infosys. Krish has over 30 years of experience and previously he has led HR functions in organizations like Bharti Airtel, Philips, Hindustan Unilever, and Unilever. In his wide-ranging experience in these organizations, he has facilitated transformation and capability development, along with leading the transformation of HR into a strategic partner. Shankar holds a postgraduate diploma in HR from XLRI, Jamshedpur, India and has received an executive certificate in Strategy and Organization from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a doctorate in Business Administration from Aston University.

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