Three new HR roles in the age of AI and Automation

Deepti Varma, Head HR, Amazon in India, the Middle East, and North Africa

Exclusive Conversation with Deepti Varma, Head HR, Amazon in India, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Deepti has been working with Amazon for the past 8+ years. Prior to Amazon, Deepti was employed as Director – Human Resources with Dr. Reddy Laboratories heading Corporate HR and Talent Acquisition. Before joining Dr. Reddy’s, Deepti led Human Resources initiatives at organizations such as NIIT, Eternit Everest and Unitech.

Over the last 23 years, Deepti has been associated with diverse industries such as E-Commerce, Information Technology, Pharmaceuticals, and Manufacturing Industry and has had significant global exposure to all facets of HR and organizational effectiveness.

Deepti is an active member of multiple Women in Leadership Forum and is passionate about diversity and inclusion where she has bootstrapped multiple innovative and scalable initiatives across different organizations.

Q- You have been associated with Amazon for almost 9 years; how has the journey been so far? 

My journey with Amazon over the last 9 years has been fantastic with some good learnings. I have played multiple roles within the HR function and have been continually challenged. Amazon is a place for the builder and the best part of my job is that we get to experiment and innovate on behalf of our customers. In doing so I have learned a lot, failed fast and developed as an individual. I have been very fortunate that I get to work with very smart people from across the globe who have unique skills, experiences, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds are that enhance my learning every day. It continues to be Day-1 at Amazon.

Q- HR has evolved over the years. How do you see major HR challenges in the new decade?

With companies continuing to invest and grow in India, headcount across several companies is continually growing. How to develop an approach where we are connected with employees but have the ability to scale will be a major growth area for HR. Secondly, the business has started realizing the importance of people’s functions. In these circumstances, how can the HR function continue to innovate, go beyond traditional HR solutions and offer customized business solutions will be critical to our success. Finally, HR professionals are culture champions. With growing technology and scale, our ability to maintain the fabric of the company is going to be key.

Q- What are three new HR roles in the age of artificial intelligence and automation?

First, I believe that there is a significant investment in HR technology and I foresee HR professionals to possess a strong background in data sciences in the future. This will allow HR professionals to embrace artificial intelligence and automation. Leaders are looking at a holistic approach which leverages human presence as well as AI-driven chatbots to operate at scale

Second, employee wellness and mental well-being is a big focus in most of the organizations today. Several companies are investing in developing HR capability and leadership who have the ability to think through all facets of employee wellness.

Third, I believe we will need to have stronger HR business advisors – a more sophisticated version of the traditional HRBPs, who have a strong understanding and experience of business and look at people solutions and success metrics from the business lens.

Q- What is the impact of new-age technologies on HR and how can HR ensure the human touch remains?

The demographics of the workforce are shifting to a more millennial dominant representation. Their needs are evolving where they expect instant answers, more use of technology and virtual touchpoints. As they evolve, the HR function is going through a transformation to a more technologically advanced set of talent practices. While there is a lot of focus on automation however I have also seen that the workforce expects HR to have a higher EQ and more empathy.

Personally I feel that once you have automated the operational part of HR, you will have more time to spend with your business teams on strategic issues that require hi-touch.

Q- How do you see the future of work and what are your critical strategies to prepare your HR organization for the same?

The future of work will be determined by two vital elements: The growing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, and how well the talent gets acclimatized to this change. AI, automation, and robotics will make this shift as significant as the mechanization during the industrial revolution. In the process, we will witness the creation of a lot of new jobs and change in a lot of traditional jobs. Along with that, we will also see a shortage of right talent, a global skills crisis; a lack of engagement in the workforce; new compliance situations and a continuous shift in technology. With these challenges, HR can look at adopting some of the below-mentioned strategies-

  • Embrace Technology and Analytics and develop an AI ethics strategy proactively
  • Understand How the Company Succeeds and be an active contributor
  • Be Ready for the New Workforce and rethink about the employee value proposition
  • Upskill your workforce to make them more employable
  • Be ahead of the game on compliance issues
  • Make your organization Profitable and sustainable

Q- In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, what is required to make one job-ready?

With the rapid change in technology and the resulting complexity, we are at an inflection point. The workforce is falling short of the demands of the job market due to rapid technological advancement. The retiring baby boomers are leaving a gap that recent graduates cannot fill. This is creating an acute shortage of skilled workers. This also presents an opportunity for the candidate to upskill and stay relevant in the job market. Some of the ways to keep one continually job-ready are:

  • Embrace technology and digital literacy and sharpen your competency around that
  • Be the most scientific HR organization
  • Critical thinking
  • Learn design thinking and learn the ‘creative know-how’ of solving complex problems
  • Have a product mindset and focus on simplification

Q- Any concluding remarks?

When I was quite fresh in my career and I would look at both men and women who were holding important positions in an organization, I would always wonder if they have some secret mantra that I am not aware of. Over the years I have realized that there is nothing like a secret mantra that we can share, it all depends upon what works for different individuals. Personally, for me, most of the time I’ve noticed that the block is within myself. We need to first change our mindset and free ourselves of this block before we expect others/organization to do something for us. We need to be more confident, believe in ourselves and don’t let self-doubt creep in.

Thank you, Deepti!

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