At the NHRD monthly meeting in September 2017, discussing the ‘interesting’ or if you prefer ‘important’ subject of conversations between CEOs and HR , was a distinguished panel consisting of Mr J.Suresh MD & CEO at Aravind lifestyle brands, Ms Lalitha Indrakanti,MD and center leader Cargill business srvices and Mr K.Srinivas, CEO, BTI payments. At the outset, the panelists gave a brief picture about the nature of their business and its challenges.
Mr Suresh said that his company Aravind lifestyle brands, offers 25 plus fashion brands through 1500 retail stores. Around 10,000 are employed in the stores and 800 in the offices. Indirectly 15,000 workmen are employed in the factories of third parties, from whom the company sources the material. He said his company is following the ABCD strategy wherein A stands for analytics being used effectively to scan the data of 1 million customers every month, B for buy now with a target of under 40 days cycle time, C for compliance and D for digital optimisation. The HR challenge is the recruitment, retention, training and performance management of the large workforce.
Ms Lalitha said her focus was on creating a culture for the 153 year old company (Cargill business services), and in this connection HR has to play a strategic and very important role of a partner and enabler. The other challenges include developing multiple skill sets as against specific skill sets as skills these days, tend to get obsolete in a short time. HR has a key role here in giving a different connotation to performance management. “How do you predict business outcomes? and how do you enable employees to meet these outcomes? are the answers expected from HR.
Mr Srinivas introduced his company BTI payments, as a startup which has made available white labelled ATMs to the interior rural areas of the country. The objective of starting the company was to make ATMs accessible to the rural population and also encourage them to use technology for their monetary transactions. He said that they were clear right from the beginning that the company would operate as one in a service industry and not as another bank. The basic business that of “Buying cash and selling cash” was badly hit by the demonetisation. It resulted in money, the very lifeblood of the business becoming in short supply. With so many Indian citizens standing in queue, making available cash to an ATM transaction company, was the least priority for the banks. Therefore, the company which before demonetisation was hovering around the breakeven stage slipped back considerably.
Being a young company and a startup, the challenges faced by BTI payments include attracting the right kind of people with relevant competencies and defining a vision for the company. Presently, a two-member HR team handles the matters pertaining to the 200 odd employees working for the company. Mr Srinivas informed that “as a part of handling the crisis caused by demonetisation, we went around and transparently shared with employees the current reality.” The leadership team took salary break for two months while the other employees took a one month break.” Every single person came forward to take the cut.” Today, after six months the company is limping back to the breakeven stage.
The panelists then shared their present priorities. Suresh said that reskilling of people to meet the fast happening changes is his priority. For Lalitha, setting up the new department for developing organizational culture was the priority. In this connection, it was important to learn how to educate the people before implementing. Srinivas said that his priority of recruiting the right people was being addressed by a strategy of recruiting people already known to the top executives during their tenure in previous organizations when the candidates demonstrated qualities of competence and personal loyalty to the organization.
Taking a question from the audience as to how does one manage disruptions, Suresh said that “Today disruption is the norm”, with competition coming from ‘anywhere’, not necessarily from one’s own industry. In these circumstances, HR needs to be proactive and business savvy. The focus should be on developing an eco-system (complex network or interconnected system) for the company and not engage merely on job description based recruitments. It would mean getting the talent to work and also pondering on the question “How to get other people in the eco system also to deliver effectively”. Lalitha said that a focus area was to get people working in multiple functions and different maturity/ experience levels “to think as one.”
Another question posed was “What are the top 3 things HR should stop doing?
- Stop owning Everything: As for example attrition is seen as an HR issue, while many other factors contribute to it.What HR should instead do is to be an enabler and show the mirror as to what is happening with the support of matrix.
- Stop just taking orders: HR should instead give its own insights and understanding of the business situation and scenario to the management
- Stop doing performance management in its current form- The current methodology has become old fashioned with the system not serving its objectives. It needs to be replaced with a more relevant and dynamic way of motivating employees.
What advice would the panelists like to give the youngsters or students of HR?
Acquire diversity in whatever you do. Experience multiple dimensions whether in terms of geographies, functions, area of work. This will stand you in good stead in a rapidly changing environment.
Adaptability teaches a lot more than sameness and being in the same area. It makes you a better professional and a better human being.
The discussions for the evening ended with the panelists underscoring the fact that boundaries are going to blur. People of all functions would be required to have an HR perspective and the HR professional would also need to become a business person. The ideal situation would be when an HR perspective and approach is automatic in the organization. “Think of a day,” said one of the panelists “when HR as a separate function, would be felt irrelevant by organizations.”
Although the above proposition may sound scary to an HR professional, in the long run with so many changes happening, he /she could be working freelance. The real test of the HR professional’s success would be in equipping an organization to be self-reliant. Having accomplished the mission, they could be moving to the next organization and to the next challenge.