Article (July-2018)


An Antelope among Cheetahs

Shikha Gupta

Designation : -   Director HR

Organization : -  Schneider Electric, Bangalore


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I find both antelopes and cheetahs to be very majestic animals. I admire cheetahs, despite my preference for vegetarianism. But this is not a debate among herbivores and carnivores, its also not about Us Vs Them.
It's a story of my life, as an HR person but more importantly, as a person. As someone who, like everyone else, has had her fair share of roadblocks, I am sharing this with the hope that you will find your own story in it, or at least a lesson that resonates with you.
This story began in a small town in UP, India, in a family where education was expected to bring both learning and earning. At a time and place when women would study mainly to prepare for a blissful married life, I had both my parents working, in different towns 700 kms apart!  And no, it wasn't to maintain marital harmony, it was to earn enough money to give a good life their children. And there was my first lesson - work not as a hobby, but because you want to work, you need to work. This brings an additional respect for the job, whatever that job may be.
Eventually, this antelope did what was considered at the time to be a mainly Cheetah training, Engineering! And the journey of being an Antelope among Cheetahs started. Just when I was settling in, I moved to a different city for MBA, thus meeting a new set of Cheetahs. Through all the ups and downs, my learning was - give the new a chance and you will grow!
Then came the momentous occasion - first job! Where this antelope had to prove how well she could jump, how fast she could run and how easily she could adapt. All this while navigating another city with a very different language and culture! So here, not only did the cheetahs look different, they communicated in a language I didn't understand at all. A blessing in disguise though, was that I was the only antelope around! And hence it was a journey of mentoring, hand-holding and outright protection by the cheetahs. I learned that it is all right to seek help and to feel helpless. It makes you stronger and more aware of yourself.
Anyway, by now, the antelope had started a family of her own and had to juggle the usual work and home demands. Mostly, people say your success depends upon a strong support system at home and a spouse who cares about your career. But I learned that a far more important aspect is how much YOU care about your career, how much are you willing to give to it while not losing sight of your family needs. We are not endowed with a support system, we build it with some creativity, some convincing and loads of self confidence.
Life moved on and now the antelope found herself travelling to newer jungles, meeting different species of cheetahs, sometimes getting caught and almost eaten and yet managing to escape and come back ... it's as exciting as it gets. And the biggest life lesson learned - you survive because of your hard work and wit. Everything else, like your intelligence and competencies is the additional plate in your armor.
The latest challenge this antelope has seen is the cheetahs in different countries. They are so different, they don't even seem like cheetahs, I otherwise know. And the best part is, by the time I think I have understood and am outrunning a cheetah, I encounter another one, coming from a very different direction. The trick is to adapt and quickly change. I learn each day that no matter how much you prepare, you cannot control all variables. So, try to have a plan B, but more importantly, have an agile mindset to adapt faster than the pace of change itself. Make change your friend for it's the only one who will always be with you!

In case you are wondering, the cheetahs are not just people but all the unknowns I have encountered in my life. These are people, places or situations I was not familiar or comfortable with. And the Antelope is me and my HR persona. Over time, I have learned and have evolved and am now taming cheetahs!
So far, so good. Whats next? Where will our antelope go? What else will she come across? More cheetahs? Or something completely different?
I have as much vision of the future as anyone else. But I do feel that the future does not belong to cheetahs or even antelopes but to chameleons, who are able to completely immerse themselves into a situation and then as easily come out of it and move to another. The future is vibrant, agile and digital. In this new world, HR will have to completely reinvent itself and help the organizations as well to evolve.
Here are some of the key changes through my Chrystal ball, especially for the HR function.
Its going to be an era of anytime, anywhere, anyone working in most cases. Remote working policies will be more relevant than workplace policies. So, we need to rethink compensation, reward and engagement mechanisms for a floating workforce that will come in only for an assignment and then move on to another job, possible another company.
Technology will play a larger role and knowledge will no longer be exclusive. Even today, we can find out about anything and everything just by typing a few search strings. We are flooded by data, some relevant but mostly junk. So HR leaders need to focus more and more on analytics and decision making based on the analysis.
We will see experts working independently on small pieces of large projects and then there will be aggregators, those who will bring together these pieces and complete the jigsaw. This will be an era therefore of super specialization and hyper generalization. As HR, we must start thinking of what skills are needed in such scenarios and how to identify and develop such skills. The classical expectations from leaders will not work anymore, they will have to be more facilitative than authoritative. 'Lead from the back' rather than the front!
Even with all this, I feel we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. The change is huge, its exciting and its now! All ye antelopes and cheetahs, get ready to morph into chameleons!