Harshil Sethi – The ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional in organisations today

Harshil Sethi – The ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional in organisations today

Working as a HR professional is analogous to being electricity for your home, You enjoy your television,home theater or AC or any other utility for that matter, unless electricity is cut or it gives you a shock you don’t really recognize it is there and yet it is what makes your home, the sweet and comfortable home that it is. Before I talk about other facets of what it is like to work as a HR, here is a brief of how I got into HR. 

 When I started working as an engineer after my graduation, the first thing I realized was that each employee was treated as just another resource, an employee code that has to become billable as soon as possible. A few month  of working made me realize the immensity of difference a good HR can bring about in the life of employees like myself. I started talking to one of the HRs ( A beautiful lady), and i got instantly attracted to both the field and the lady.Although the relationship with the lady was brief, I entered into a committed relationship with the field of HR. 

I started my academic journey with HR, it was exciting to read about an array of technicalities in a function otherwise unpopular for global lectures. A lot of friendly banter on campus about how HR was easy, it was not technical and full of ratios like Finance, or full of numerical questions like in operations. While I always fought back, somewhere a seed of doubt was sown, whether HR really lacked data orientation. 

Then Asian Paints happened, I was put into Plant HR, a part of supply chain. Then what happened led me to believe in a superpower that wanted me to keep loving HR. Plant HR was about two primary things – relationships  and data. I loved both these tenants, while the days were spent taking plant rounds, meeting people on the shopfloor and listening to their amusing stories of how they spent 30 years in Asian paints, the evenings were all about data and analysis around it, what were the age trends, health trends, married/single trends, what is the budgetary impact of salaries and the projections for years to come and what not. It was like living a dream, getting to do this right after college was a complete delight. I loved every bit of the role, there were elements that completely took me out of my comfort zone. One such instance was when people didn’t like the Chapatis that we were serving in the canteen. Plant  HR had the accountability of managing canteen, thus this issue had to be resolved by me. All i knew about cooking was “how to make maggi” and “boil eggs”, but I stood in the canteen alongside the chef while he made chapatis, right from the quality of Atta to how is it kneaded, everything, after about 10 hours in the process, we made a SOP to make chapatis, this was tested for next few days, the feedback was recorded and incorporated, we modified the process slightly, and Eureka, we finally had the ideal chapati recipe and procedure. This was one of the many instances that I fondly remember. 

In last 4 and a half years of working as a HR, one thing that gives me the most happiness is that today work in organizations is not done in silos, there are no clear boundaries w.r.t. where a HR should stop and where the line managers should start. Whether it be productivity improvement or setting up HR processes for the international business units, there have always been cross functional teams working together. The HR is not just expected to understand the business but work as a business guy, understanding what business needs to scale up, grow, diversify or sustain. This makes one work very closely with business leaders, this is what is the  true success of the HRBP role that has evolved in the last decade. 

From the comfort of a structured organization, I took a leap of faith to join a start-up, I wanted to challenge myself with ambiguity and uncertainty. Luckily for me, Rivigo turned out to be an equally data loving organization, there was focus on “fun with work” rather than Fun at work, which meant that choose and solve a problem in the way you love and have a ball while doing this. The last few weeks at Rivigo have gone by in a blink of an eye, working here is like a roller coaster ride, there are peaks of achievement and sometimes lows of ambiguity, but there is never a dull day. They have moved a step ahead of the traditional support function mindset, HR in Rivigo is called Organization and Business Engine, an engine that leads the company from the front, the driver of growth. This is the advent of Human resources function of the future. 

Now flipping the coin to the other side and talking about a few agonies, while the business has started expecting us to share a lot more data and talk numbers, we as a community somewhere still resist bringing data and metrics into a lot of our work, we believe that this takes away the joy and creativity from our work. This sometimes pains me, since we do great work but in our mental blocks of being judged, we somewhere don’t measure impact or sometimes our metrics are not right (an example being Training man-days as a metric to measure the effectiveness of L&D professionals, training man-days are the.

 The second key point of pain is that despite business becoming more open to our feedback and our view point, a lot of us still do not consider ourselves a subject expert when it comes to business, hence we often seek approvals from business to execute a lot of decisions, this whole loop is an Non value adding activity, this increases bureaucracy in the system and somewhere diminishes accountability in HR w.r.t. business outcomes, this often results in Silos formation . Examples – The HR plans training on month ends and then seeks validation of why only few people attend, the HR sits in performance appraisals of employees not understanding their KPIs and the performance of business as a whole etc. 

On a concluding note, I am happy to be working in HR at a time when HR is not a side tracked function, it is becoming the leading indicator of how good an organization is, employees of HR get lateral and vertical opportunities to run business verticals, functions and even lead organizations. In the knowledge economy, the most crucial and sustainable competitive advantage for any organization is its people and hence the focus is to engage people not through gimmicks like showing them matches or team lunches, it is through deep and meaningful interventions that make jobs richer and more fun to do. To become an even more satisfying profession, HR will have to embrace data and technology while continuing to be founded on relationships and mutual trust. 

Thanks and Warm Regards,

Harshil Sethi

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