In Conversation with Sheetal Shah Chief People Officer Schindler India & South Asia on HR Challenges in 2021
Sheetal Shah currently serves as the Chief People Officer of Schindler India & South Asia, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Schindler Group – an organisation she has been with since 2011. Prior to her elevation as CPO, she has led the Business HR and HR Strategic Projects function in India interspersed with a 2-year stint in the Middle East as HR Director of Schindler UAE. In the early years of her nearly two-decade-long career in Human Resources, she was associated with companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Reliance Retail, and Avaya GlobalConnect.
Working on challenges of scale in people processes, improving the lives of front-line employees and driving the culture of inclusion & diversity are some topics that Sheetal is deeply passionate about. She was listed among the Top 100 HR Under 40 in 2018 and holds a Masters in Human Resource Management from the University of Leeds.
Q- What are the HR challenges that you see in the coming year?
COVID-19 has led and accelerated one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. In the coming year, amongst the many unknowns, organizations will face several challenges.
One of the key challenges will be to create Employee Experience, that supports employees to manage the fear of uncertainty and commit wholeheartedly towards growth (personal and professional). Although part of our capacity to deal with the unknown is innate, a larger
portion is learned. Those who develop this “uncertainty capability”(HBR) will be more creative, more successful, and better able to turn uncertainty into possibility.
Paradox of Empathy and Tough Love: Data suggests that employees are working longer hours and there is likely to be growth in presenteeism i.e., people going to work when ill. (Johns, G., 2010, Presenteeism in the workplace: A review and research agenda. Journal of Organizational Behavior). Employees have showcased commendable agility and resilience to adapt to the new ways of working. However, the ability to sustain this momentum poses an immediate challenge to organizations. This enthusiasm could be short-lived as job security is a driving force for most employees in the current situation. As the market sees an improvement, productivity may roll back, talent drain may increase. While leaders must be empathetic, they must also subtly enforce the new rules of engagement and encourage employees to take personal onus for making the organization successful, by developing newer capabilities, displaying customer-centricity, and helping win incremental business.
Connections: As the world goes virtual for a prolonged period, HR leaders will need to be deliberate about retaining their people-orientation culture – mastering deep and meaningful connections with customers and colleagues/employees–challenge will be to ensure that the humane touch is not compromised due to the high-tech environment. Organizations will have to institutionalize ways for managers to engage with their teams regularly; elevate the sense to identify and support employees’needs; learn to recognize and address issues related to mental, emotional, and social well-being; review and redesign policies to bring about higher workplace flexibility. With plans to stagger the physical presence of employees in offices, fewer people in one confined space may not mean fewer human resource issues but it will mean need for innovative approaches to retain critical connect within teams as well as with the organization at large.
Q- How will these challenges impact on HR Budget 2021? and what will HR functions be on the top in budget allocations?
To thrive in the new normal, Constant Communication, Compassion and Connection will be the key. Top budget allocations will be towards communication tools that best suit the employees, providing flexible and remote work options, people development with special focus on life skills, creating leaders at all levels, employee well-being initiatives, retaining the best talents, and digitization.
For instance, at Schindler, People Development is a core value. Under the umbrella of JeevanJyot (Light of Life) Academy of the Schindler University, we are working on offering programs and wholistic learning journeys that will enhance life skills such as being mindful, staying agile, becoming comfortable with discomfort, learning to be centered, managing stress and fear of uncertainty, displaying compassion, listening, coaching, mentoring, overall fitness, etc.
Q- How the concept of work, workplace, and workforce is likely to evolve in the coming years?
Among the many current unknowns, we do not yet know how badly the global economy will be affected and how quickly it will recover. Notwithstanding the unknowns, it is obvious that COVID-19 will be recognized for changing the way we work in fundamental ways. The new way of work may create a need for some new roles, render some roles redundant, or require upskilling of existing resources. Working hours, locations, and even the work arrangements to become more fluid. Remote working to be an integral part of every organization. The popularity of contractual jobs, gig assignments, and freelancers will grow. The workforce will constantly upgrade and build capability to remain competitive and relevant. Focus on learning and development will increase to make employees future-ready. The retention of high performers and high potentials will become essential.
Q- What is the hiring strategy, can you elaborate on your hiring plans for the next two quarters?
At Schindler, we believe in staying rooted in our values and vision. As an organization, our vision is “Bigger, Faster, Fitter”. Our People Strategy is focused on making our workforce ‘Fit for Future’.Our hiring strategy is focused on bolstering our workforce with diversity, top talents, and overcoming leadership succession challenges.
The hunt for skilled talent is getting more challenging. Candidates are more informed and have more choices. When you want to be the best in your industry, you need to attract and retain the very best talents. To achieve this, it is crucial that we evolve the way we communicate with our potential candidates and our employees. Under the Schindler People Promise program, we brand Schindler as a great place to work, communicate the responsibility we hold for the society, let talents know why it is exciting to work for Schindler, and what it is that they will get out of their experience working for our company.
While we do not foresee any increase in overall headcount in the next two quarters, our hiring strategy has a three-pronged approach. One is to invest in freshers – we have different cadre programs to build our talent pipeline. We bring in freshers from Vocational Trade institutes, Engineering colleges, and Management Schools and offer career development programs. Second, is to hire ‘talents’ for all replacement positions. We hire to promote. Third, we are proactively creating an external pool of diverse candidates so that when we can onboard theme as soon as there is suitable position available.
Q- What do you see as the skillsets of the future?
More than skills, we should look at employees with critical capabilities such as Empathy, Trust, Agility, Multi-dimensional thinking, Growth Mindset, and Resilience.
Q- Any concluding remarks?
We may be in this nebulous situation for the long haul and the impacts may be enduring – organizations will require long-term adjustments to adapt work practices and culture. We will not be able to go back to pre-COVID ways of working. It is crucial for HR to revamp the policies and processes in accordance with the new normal.
Thank you, Sheetal!