Special Article (December-2018)
Short stints of HR not good for both
About your journey in the HR profession so far?
GG Of the total 27 years of experience, the first 8 years were in Sales and Marketing roles. Then I moved into leadership consulting before taking up my first assignment in HR with RPG Group as Group Head of Learning and OD in 2004. Since then worked with AIG International and thereafter a long stint with Raymond Ltd before moving in as CHRO for Raheja Universal Pvt Ltd last July.
How do you critically evaluate the HR practices in infrastructure Sector?
GG Like all capital intensive industries the criticality of people as a valuable resource takes time to emerge, unlike in knowledge sectors like consulting, technology or service industry like retail and hospitality. So the real estate sector has been a slower mover in contemporising its HR Practices. The industry didn't feel the need, till in recent times, since the sector is small and fairly guarded from any real war for talent. Majority of talent start and end their careers with one company and they are well taken care of. There is generally a long rope and tolerant approach to performance and in turn employees understand the cyclical nature of the business making it unpredictable during turfs. But the environment operates on trust more than stringent HR Practices and that has severed them very well all along.
However, with the recent changes in the regulatory environment, subtle but definite shifts in the customer preferences and demographics and the economic volatility that the industry is experiencing, there is an urgent need to relook at this. As the industry is consolidating, several buy outs and joint ventures are taking place; talent is getting displaced and hired with equal intensity. So the irony is that while there is no dearth of talent availability, good talent and niche skills are always in high demand. That dynamic has just gotten more intense. So establishing an employer brand has become a priority for the first time in the real sense for the sector.
Several good large players have already begun the journey and set themselves apart in many ways. But I would say it is still early days. The awesome part of being here now is that it's an opportunity to lead this journey and leap frog.
Do you also feel the skill shortage in your kind of industry? How does one attract and retain the talent in a sector like yours?
GG Like I said before there is availability on one end and the challenge to find the hidden gem on the other. So, yes, there is skill shortage in areas you want to hire the best. For instance Innovative architects, exceptional legal professionals, state of art digital leads who can visualise and design the digital architecture for the organisation, Quality professionals who will set new benchmarks, structural engineers who drive value engineering to the next level, project execution heads who can navigate the operational roadblocks to create an exceptional high quality product or business managers who can look beyond financial models and lead a customer to see & feel the experience story behind the product etc.
In my role as an HR Head, I have found it always difficult to get just the right fit for a role especially when you are seeking a nuanced appreciation of the role and responsibilities. In times of disruption that's exactly what one is looking for rather than standard job roles and that makes the HR job more interesting.
I believe the percentage of time spent in talent acquisition for senior HR Leaders has just doubled because of these complexities. Because it's not only about senior recruits but niche skills across the levels need careful selection and even better managed on-boarding.
One sure way to attract and retain good talent is to ensure that the talent within is well taken care of in terms of their growth and development needs. Aggressive career experiences both laterally and vertically can be provided for the high potential talent. Another sure way to pitch your Organisation over others is to create a compelling culture that will be difficult to replicate. In the real estate sector it can be about empowerment, autonomy, better working conditions, learning and development etc.
Engaging with prospective high potential external talent on a regular basis is another way to ensure that you are on top of the mind when the talent is thinking of a change.
Of course, nothing succeeds like success. An organisation that is consistently delivering to the customer and stakeholders will always have an edge as an employer of choice.
Any HR practices of Raheja group which are distinct and innovative, you would like to share?
GG Raheja Universal is a deeply people centric organisation. We care for our employees and treat them as family. Our challenge as the HR Team is to nurture and expand this even as we bring in the best performance practices.
Some things we do exceptionally are
a) Flexible retirement policy - We have at least 3 generations working together. The experience and knowledge of the veterans in this sector is invaluable. As long as an employee is able and willing to contribute and is doing well he/she can continue in the role for as long as they want. The only decider is physical ability and performance. This helps the younger members to assimilate the organisation culture better and can experience guidance and support from the veterans as they take on their responsibilities.
b) Unconditional Support during Personal exigencies - The test of our culture of care is when an employee is going through a personal challenge especially medical emergency. Recently a senior employee suffered a back injury for which he had to undergo treatment for a week every month for the next 12 months. This was readily granted with minimal impact on the employee's eligible leave for the year. Similarly supporting the employee in accessing the best medical doctors, facilities and care is something that comes naturally to us.
c) Equitable Treatment of all levels of employees - We rarely have exclusive gatherings for only senior people. All major events, celebrations etc. especially during festive times are conducted across levels including sub-staff, drivers etc. Dignity of labour and that of the human being is an important value. The Chairman himself personally ensures they are taken care of not only for celebrations but also in ensuring their compensation and pay-outs are managed well.
How does your work culture is distinct from others to make you an employer of choice?
GG Apart from all that has been mentioned above, I must admit that this is a continuous work in process but I can confidently say that whatever we do, we will always remain people centric. We are aiming to become more process orientated, reduce any adhocism in the way we work and hence make performance more predictable. Also, evolving our culture towards becoming more agile and Innovative & infuse more empowerment and a promote accountability.
What kind of initiatives do you take to ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion?
GG We have been actively promoting diversity and inclusion all along our journey. This isn't a recent phenomenon. In fact, we have one of the best stories to tell on gender with 40% of the top leadership team being women! That's a metric few can beat especially in the sector which is large male dominated. I am happy to lead HR for an organisation that fundamentally believes in this. 20% of our entire workforce is women.
Diversity is also about cultural, experiences and thought differences. Apart from ensuring that we don't have too many members from the same regional community in one team, we also ensure we have a mix of age diversity within teams. We have our veterans working with young designers or technology teams or young management graduates in strategy to create some path breaking ideas.
What is your leadership style? What compelled you to make changes in past in style of functioning if any?
GG I would call myself a learner or student more than anything else. Always looking to bring in newer perspectives and keep the larger picture in mind. This entails spending a lot of time and energy in communicating the same to my HR and business teams. I also believe in the inherent potential of human beings, so don't give up on people easily. Take a coaching approach to managing performance and is largely hands-off most of the time and only coming in to support when a team member is stuck. What irks my team most is that I normally take on a lot more than what we should commit to.
Over the years, though, I have evolved as a human being and learnt that energy is not the same as productivity. I have calmed down in my demeanour and am working towards making optimal use of my energy for maximum output. I have begun to appreciate the need for depth over width at times.
Also, as we fully experience the 4th industrial revolution and all jobs get transformed with the advent of digital, my quest for learning has stood in good stead. I believe HR will change dramatically as we speak and it's an exciting shift.
Any three things which you want HR should do to attain recognition among internal and external stakeholders?
GG As we move into the new world of work, I firmly believe that HR will become a small and compact team. All the major time consuming work we do today - managing compensation, talent acquisition, performance management, employee life cycle management etc. will get automated with AI and Robotics. So, HR will need to step up its act and provide strategic support to the business in these 5 critical areas :
a) Envisioning the future organisation's needs and build the necessary skills and capabilities to lend competitive advantage.
b) Fully understand the organisation value chain towards delivery to the customer and ensure the talent landscape is aligned to meet that in the best possible manner.
c) Build a culture and work environment which can attract the best from the industry and inspire employees to give their best.
d) Design the organisation for flexibility and continuous change in structure so as to lend agility to the business model.
e) Build HR Analytics to give business, key insights on talent so that they can take the appropriate decisions when it matters most.
What are your contributions in HR function throughout your career, which give you a sense of achievement?
GG I don't think I have a claim to fame yet but in my role as an HR professional I believe the organisation I worked with would value my contribution in the following :
Understanding business deeply before providing any HR solutions.
Creating high performing teams that equally value customer and business connect.
Retain the human element in HR always. To never place rules and processes over a humanity and trust.
Bring in other functional expertise into the core of HR like communication, digital, data analytics, etc.
I experience a sense of achievement when I look at the number of HR colleagues who have worked with me in my teams having gone on to create their own success stories and doing extremely well today. Nothing is more gratifying than that. What you do at work can fade, become irrelevant with time or someone who succeeds you may do a better job. But what is enduring is how people experienced you and how you made them feel. I pride myself on that … And that alone.
Any mistake you committed in your career, which you would not like other fellow professionals to do and what are your learning from that?
GG Of course all of us make mistakes but when we reflect back on it and learn something then it becomes a stepping stone. I have made several mistakes and would like to share a couple here so that my younger colleagues in the industry may learn from it. You don't have to make all the mistakes yourself.
a) I have two short stints in my career. Less than 3 years. I am aware that the average career span is now getting shorter and we are even looking at GIG economy unfolding as we speak. But my learning has been that in HR especially when we do people, talent and culture work, it takes time and commitment. Short stints cut the agenda short and let off steam, leaving the organisation back to where it started on the journey. Also you don't get the satisfaction of seeing something through, not the best move.
b) Don't be naïve in the face of organisational politics. It may sound like a dirty word but the fact is that it exists and as you mature as a leader, one critical skill that will define success especially in this role, is your ability to be aware and conscious of what goes on beneath the obvious and its possible impact but never be drawn into gaming it or letting yourself be a victim by playing naive.