Holding the core values through change with continuity

Holding the core values through change with continuity

How do you critically evaluate the HR practices in manufacturing sector after post Covid scenario?

PS There have been many significant changes in the realm of HR, post Covid. The most significant change is the shift from VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) to BANI world (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible) – both in terms of scale and the pace! Second most significant is the mindset change-many things we never thought could be done using technology, have been possible, i.e., virtual working, work from anywhere, extensive use of digital, use of gig work etc. – this has led to re-architecting organisations and the work. Third, digital has become an integral part of businesses! Fourth, employee wellness, work-life balance and health have become an important agenda. Fifth, focus on ESG has become even more prominent. Sixth, and perhaps the most important – Experience Economy is now a reality. Employee experience, not only the customer experience counts!

The secret of JK organisation having been in existence for more than 138 years and evolving through the generations is practicing the core values-Care for People, Integrity and Excellence. In conversation with Business Manager, Prem Singh, President, Group HR, JK Organisation describes the HR practices, Challenges, work culture and integrating core values with people thus making it truly a learning organisation and of course, about his leadership style and vision about future of HR.

Moving forward, the focus will continue to get stronger on digital transformation. Biggest need for HR is to help drive the “digital mindset” to enable digital adoption. Digital is not about hardware & software, it’s not about connectivity and devices, it’s really about re-configuring business processes using digital tools – to serve the customer, in a much more seamless manner, which is faster, convenient and on the click of a button! Between the starting point and end point, all the steps/business processes are negotiable, as long as customer sees the value. The personalization of employee experience and customer experience has become the key drivers of value. Role of HR has become even more prominent in terms of ensuring the availability of requisite competencies, helping in developing the right mindset and an enabling culture, to support the business deliverables.

Do you also feel the re-skilling and upskilling affecting your industry? How you plan to overcome and meet challenges?

PS Absolutely! In fact, Alvin Toffler had said long time ago, that ability to unlearn, learn and re-learn will become a sine-qua-non of “literacy” itself!

Re-skilling and upskilling have become the critical success factors. A major component of Industry 4.0 is the automation of manual tasks. But the onset of this technology doesn’t mean absolute human replacement-instead, it calls for new human skills, of a higher order, to be able to work “with” these technologies. Workers will now need to perform the tasks the robots cannot perform, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity etc. According to the World Economic Forum, 54% of all employees will need to be upskilled by 2025 to prepare for the increase in automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

The right strategy is a combination of developing skills internally through training on an ongoing basis and hiring from outside (for skills that can’t be developed internally), with a stronger focus on development of internal talent. If done right, this will save companies time and money while continuing to meet the evolving demands of consumers.

With President JK Tyre (International business) Mr. AK Bajoria






With President JK Tyre (International business) Mr. AK Bajoria

In the current business environment, what are some of the growing challenges in the domain of Human Function including fast adaptation of technology and automation?

PS The key challenges HR function faces today is getting the organisations future ready amidst all the disruption taking place. This requires nurturing a conducive culture, enabling people embrace new age tools like digital, AI/ML, data science, multi skilling, up-skilling and delivering against ever increasing demands of the customers. This requires working with the leadership very closely and ensuring organisations fully realise the value of the new age tools.

Employee experience is another important lever – to be able to attract and retain top talent and drive business excellence. Greater focus is also needed on the people critical issues like employee wellbeing and health.

Further, managing the combination of multiple generations at work place – some of the extremely tech-savvy and some not, and ensuring they all work in unison, is another important agenda.

Any HR practices of your Group Companies which are distinct and innovative, you would like to share?

PS Care for People, Integrity and Excellence are our core values, at JK Organisation. We are a learning organisation and lay a lot of focus in developing people and nurturing culture of excellence. Our HR Processes & systems are designed to ensure learning on an ongoing basis so the organisation develops, adapts, and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people.
We organize Top Management Conference, every two years, where our 100 Top Management members, including Promoters, CEO’s and other C Suite executives invest 3-4 days together, with the facilitators from Ivy League global institutions, deliberating on a wide range of subjects relating to future and business strategy.

Our annual JKO Inter-company conferences, held for HR, IR, Finance, Manufacturing, Marketing & Sales, IT & Digital, Purchase and CSR functions provide huge opportunities for learning from the best of experts, invited from very respected organisations and institutions. We have been organizing MDPs for our High Potential Talent at premier institutes like IIMs & ISB. Initiatives Like UDAAN and Breakthrough projects ensure learning is translated into actionable projects and Significant ROI. Critical business skills training to High performers ensures our employees are future ready.

With better half




We have an integrated Talent Management and Leadership Development Program which is a very focused, and multi-tiered initiative. Annual Talent Review, attended by all Promoters and CEOs is a very serious exercise, to look at entire talent pool, review the development actions taken, actions planned and major group level plans for grooming our talent at leadership levels. Our high performers go through rigorous Assessment Centres, to help identify Talent and future leaders. They are then groomed with support of the best-in-class institutions, Coaches and Industry leaders through various initiatives to support them in career growth.

Chairman’s People Management Award aims to recognize and further strengthen, our journey of HR Excellence across JKO businesses. This is to ensure our HR processes are driven in a most efficient and effective manner, delivering optimum value to various stakeholders; and continuously enhance organisational capability to remain ahead of curve. We have developed a comprehensive framework to evaluate HR Excellence in all our businesses, with help of external assessors. The winner is awarded by Chairman in a gala ceremony on the Founder’s Day every year.

We have a well-defined Engagement measurement process, administered through an external party, which helps us tailor engagement programs in line with people pulse.

We have institutionalized Customer Champions Program, to promote Customer centricity among our HR professionals and to recognize extraordinary efforts of HR team members to support their internal customers in achieving Business Results.

How does your work culture at the workplace help the company achieve its strategy of growth and innovation, efficiency and talent management?

PS We have an open work culture which promotes diverse and inclusive deliberations. Values and ethics are very important. We are driven by purpose and clear expectations which pushes us to be better than what we did yesterday. Our culture promotes a positive, structured work environment that motivates and inspires employees to do their best. It leads to high levels of engagement, which drives productivity. We recognize and celebrate our employees and teams’ successes at various forums such as JKO Inter-company conferences, Founders’ Day and many others which instill in them a sense of accomplishment.

What kind of leader you are? What blows you up at work place?

PS By style, I am a people’s leader and believe in an inclusive leadership. I like to get wider inputs for any major initiative or project. I encourage diversity of thoughts from team members and try to bring the best from team deliberations. I like to inspire people and try to bring the best out of them. I firmly believe it’s very important for a leader to uphold the principles of objectivity, fairness and meritocracy; and doing what is right for the organisation. I like to embrace a combination of passion and empathy for people at work. I do not appreciate negative attitude at work, I rather encourage a “can-do” approach. Similarly, lethargy and poor quality of work is not something I appreciate.

How you can describe your organisation work culture?

PS I would use the term “change with continuity” for describing my organisation’s work culture. We have been in existence for more than 138 years and our businesses have been evolving, through the generations. While businesses have changed, our values of Care for People, Integrity and commitment to Excellence have remained firmly ingrained all through. We at JK Organisation promote open communication, diversity of thought, change (for the better), innovation and technology adoption towards creating value for all stakeholders.

Any three things which you feel HR should focus in coming times to steer the ship?

PS HR function needs to continuously evaluate and refine HR strategy to remain relevant to changing needs of organisation. We must align to the big changes taking place around us – Digital, ESG, sustainability etc., HR can play an important role here.

Second, Experience Economy is a reality. Great customer experience starts with great employee experience. So upskilling line managers to ensure a great employee experience, which in turn will drive excellence in customer experience – is the key. Third, in most organisations, there are 3-4 generations at work. Every generation thinks it’s smarter than the one that preceded it, and wiser than the one that follows it! So, HR’s focus should be to ensure they are able to synthesize strengths of various people and get multiple generations to collaborate more effectively.

What are your contributions in HR function throughout your career, which give you sense of achievement?

PS My professional journey has been extremely fulfilling and full of learnings, which I owe to the great leaders and the team members, I worked with. To mention a few of the enriching experiences :

While working at Owens Corning (India) Ltd, as the Plant HR Leader, I led implementation of High-Performance work systems, which included Self Directed Teams, six sigma, Talent Management, Employee engagement, Variable pay program right up to the last level, as some of the tenets of the high-performance framework. Our plant received gold award for 3 years in a row, and I was awarded with the Global HR excellence award. The most satisfying was that several leading companies like – Hindustan Lever, Cadbury, Pepsi etc. visited us to benchmark and learn how the Self-Directed Team concept was being implemented at Owens Corning.

Second was the Annual Leadership meet at Wockhardt Group, where I was conferred with the Chairman’s Leadership Excellence Award. Team had done lot of quality work in several areas, enabling us to bag three awards from Great Places to Work, including Rank #1 in our industry and Rank #3 for unique HR practices. Team had made significant impact in several areas like Strategic talent acquisition, leadership development, succession planning, culture, and engagement etc. Most satisfying was the comment from Chairman himself who said in his address, “….in a short period of time, Prem has taken a number of initiatives which have helped the organisation tremendously; after a long time, we have got the right person in HR”. The last sentence Chairman used, still reverberates in mind and gives a great satisfaction.

Third was when I headed HR, Admin and Corporate Communications in Essar Steel Caribbean Ltd, in the Caribbean islands. Acquiring qualified talent for immediate and future business requirements was one of the key focus areas, to de-risk an investment of 2.4 USD billion. Amongst the others, key skills needed on a regular basis were mechanical and metallurgical engineering. With due diligence, we found that University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) was the only university that could possibly help us. However, this university did not have engineering departments in the above disciplines. I made a presentation to the authorities at the UTT proposing a long-term relationship, wherein we would assist the university in developing these departments by helping them hire excellent faculty from various IITs in India. In turn, the UTT would develop these disciplines and train young engineers, who would be later hired by us. We entered into a strategic tie up with UTT. We advertised in India inviting applications from the professors from the various IITS and arranged interviews with a three member UTT team came to India for this purpose. They selected five professors. The professors who joined UTT started developing the disciplines, and in fact, some of them have settled themselves there! In a function held at the university, this initiative was much appreciated by the then Hon Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and Prof. Ken Julien, the VC of the University. The manner in which the PM and everyone else appreciated us that evening more than convinced that it was worth the effort.

The fourth instance was at Piramal when during the annual Talent review with Top Management team headed by Chairman, I had presented the newly developed process of identifying critical positions, potential successors for these positions, readiness of potential successors, development roadmap of successors; and career mapping for the internal talent pool in a scientific manner. The integrated approach appealed to everyone, and one the Board Members commented “this is such a robust process, it should be followed across the Group”. This was then adopted by other businesses as well, and I was requested to lead a task force at the Group level for this.

Fifth, while working at JCB, in addition to my role as HR manager, I was asked to lead a cross functional team of managers to measure customer satisfaction and recommend an action plan for its improvement. This allowed me an opportunity to design the survey, validate, pilot and roll it out – travel across the country, meet the customers, and come out with a comprehensive report including the action plan for improvement. After that, I also became a member of the implementation team. Seeing the quality of work done in this area, one of the SBU heads offered me the role of marketing manager in his SBU, starting with a stint in the UK! It was very satisfying to see that the management saw value in the quality of work done by the team.

Sixth and seventh, there were two instances where the Chairman and Managing Director of my former employers (would not like to reveal names of companies), called me to seek my advice on critical matters, related to restructuring and senior business leaders. This gave a sense of satisfaction that my view was still considered useful and objective, even though I had left those companies more than a year ago!

Extremely important has been that my team members who worked with me in various organisations have grown very well. It’s very satisfying to see them doing so well in their careers. At times some of them would call me up to say “Sir, today I presented to my CEO the work I had done using the concept I learned working with you in XYZ organisation and my CEO was very happy”. “Sir, today I conducted a workshop that you used to conduct in ABC organisation and it went so well” etc…such comments bring a unique sense of fulfilment.

Most satisfying of all – “Joy of giving back” is extremely fulfilling. It’s very satisfying to note that I have been able to help several hundreds of young HR professionals/students/others, through the conferences I have directed, moderated or spoken at, on various platforms like IIMs and other B schools, National HRD Network, CII, PHD Chamber of commerce, AIMA, BMA, DMA etc.
At my current company, JK Organisation, our HR vision is : “We shall be an Agile, Credible, and Strategic architect for sustainable business growth”.

Key pillars of the vision are :

  • Organisational capability development, nurturing leadership & talent;
  • Strengthening meritocracy, performance-oriented, team-based culture
  • Driving customer centricity across the organisation;
  • Being an employer of choice respected by all the stakeholders.
  • Leveraging Digital Technology in all people processes.
  • Organisational values, focus on diversity/inclusion sustainability.

As part of organisational capability pillar, we have been able to bring several high caliber business leaders at the top management levels from very respected organisations. Another focus area has been to re-orient our approach as to how we can deliver value to our stakeholders even more effectively and in an agile manner. A well-structured Customer Champion program has been initiated to recognize high impact, proactive and progressive initiatives in our HR professionals. We have developed a multi-tiered leadership development programs like Top Management conference, Strategic Leadership Programs, Ready to Lead programs and First time manager programs etc. Besides, several business-critical skills like Sales & Marketing Excellence, Biz Finance capability etc. are also being strengthened in collaboration with institutions like Harvard, Wharton, Duke, ISB, IIMs etc. Digital Adoption is an important focus for JK Organisation, and we have been working with business leaders to develop an enabling eco-system – in terms of skills, mindsets, practices, celebrating successes etc. – so necessary to embrace digital.

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Prem Singh

A graduate in Mechanical Engineering and Post Graduate in Management from IIT Delhi, Prem is currently the President Group HR (Group CHRO), JK Organisation, New Delhi. He is also Hon. President, National HRD Network (North).

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Prem Singh

A graduate in Mechanical Engineering and Post Graduate in Management from IIT Delhi, Prem is currently the President Group HR (Group CHRO), JK Organisation, New Delhi. He is also Hon. President, National HRD Network (North).

October 2023

HR- The change catalyst - Oct.23
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