I have been an HR professional for over 14 years and, while most of my experiences have been in a single organization, these were across multiple functions - strategic initiatives, planning, governance, management - and are enough to fill a couple of volumes! I began my journey as an HR professional with Bharti Airtel Limited, hired as a part of their prestigious management trainee program directly from my business School campus. At the start of my career I had the good fortune of working directly in the office of the Group Director (HR) of Bharti Corporate and learnt firsthand from experienced and distinguished stalwarts. And with this diverse exposure to the workings of the corporate world within the first couple of years itself, I spent my career at Airtel moving between several lines of business handling HR partnering roles as well as SME roles in Talent Acquisition, Talent Management and L&D. As the youngest and first management trainee to have taken on an independent HR head role for a circle, the empowerment and responsibility I was entrusted with made me respect HR not as a support function but one that played a strong role in driving the business agenda.
After almost 14 gratifying years at Airtel, I now Head HR for the R&D business of Sun Pharmaceuticals at Gurgaon. Sun is the largest Pharma Company in India and the largest Indian Pharma company in the US as well.
However, this is not a forum to talk about my employers; rather this is a great opportunity for me to share what I believe are useful takeaways of an association with this function. Human Resources has been much misunderstood and even maligned at times but think of the number of times one reads in an exit interview that the organization had 'subpar HR policies' and one realizes the criticality of a function that essentially binds together the ethos of a company and instils a sense of belongingness. Unlike business or production functions - where the unit being processed is essentially currency or a product - this is a function where the unit being processed is human, and brings to the table all the related complexities of human beings! For anyone pursuing or planning to pursue a career in HR, here are my two cents. These may not be words of grand wisdom, but are simply my practical observations.
Education counts : There are any number of people who treat HR professionals as individuals who could not crack Marketing/Information Management/or Finance during their MBA entrance exams. While at a certain point in time this may have been true, the idea is way past expiry today. The study of human resource management in an organizational setup is a science that can be studied and taught, and the ability to plan and implement a strategy in HR is a skill that has to be carefully nurtured. Today we have some phenomenal institutes providing HR education and introducing the passionate student to cases and illustration of managing the working environment in diverse industries. If you want to be an HR professional, don't start thinking about it once you (inadvertently) get into such an MBA specialization; rather assess if this is something you are passionate about and work your way into a good educational institute where you would receive insights to make a professional out of you.'
Stereotyping is counterp roductive : I find 'diversity hiring' a tad demeaning. Especially since diversity in India is reduced to male/female definitions and a job tagged for diversity simply means that the organization doesn't openly want to state that it's for a 'woman only'. Organizations just need to clean up their processes to evaluate merit and fitment accurately so that the correct person is hired for the job regardless of gender. This is a country where young girls top national school examinations year after year, and figure in honor rolls in professional institutes as well. There is no reason why they would not be capable of securing jobs based on merit alone. The validation of 'best person' is key and a mature organization is one that can ensure enough controls in place for such validation while recruiting men or women.
That said, I don't deny that our complex social attitudes have made their way to the workplace and prejudices are rampant. Women bosses are looked at as 'entitled' and water cooler conversations can be far from flattering. But if such individuals have in fact been hired under the diversity program, then why wouldn't such attitudes be justified? Our revolution for equality and professionalism needs to be pursued individually; select the organization you want to be part of carefully and, if you're a decision maker in your organization, try to work towards a culture that emphasizes parity, equality and - as a result - respect, regardless of gender.
Conflict resolution is critical : One of the important jobs of an HR leader is formulation of policies in line with the organizational mandate and implementing the same. As a direct consequence of this, conflict is a part of one's daily job. As I mentioned earlier, the unit being processed here is Human in nature and being mindful of human attitudes, propensities, ideologies, cultural variations, belief systems, and working styles is critical. Impassionate interpretation of policies needs to be tempered with sensitivity to human behavior. Most conflicts are flagged for resolution as they have business impact - poor performance, compromised work environment - or ethical dimensions - lack of integrity, misbehavior of any form, etc. - and it is important to not rush into judging impulsively. One's role in HR as the gatekeeper of organizational conscience necessitates being able to solve the issue while being mindful of the broader impact that such a decision is likely to have.
Professionalism is key: Decisions taken as part of your professional position need to represent organizational mindset and not your individual doctrines. This is easier said than done as an HR resource is as much a human entity in the organization as anyone else and has a personal belief system like any other entity. A good HR leader needs to be able to park that individual belief system and acquire a persona of the organization on a daily basis as part of one's work. Actions need to be formulated with the best interest of the organization in mind and implemented representing the organization. It's equally necessary to not carry any baggage on your conscience and compartmentalize your personal and professional lives.
If you do take up HR as a profession take it up for your passion and not because you don't know what else to do. Seek out leaders - and believe me there are plenty - to guide you or mentor you along the way. I love every bit of my role as an HR professional and wouldn't want it any other way.
About the Author
Reema Bose Suri is currently the Head, Human Resources, at the Research & Development Business of Sun Pharmaceuticals at Gurgaon. Sun is a USD 4 bn+Indian multinational in the pharmaceutical space with over 50,000 employees across the globe. Prior to this Reema spent close to 14 years at Bharti Airtel in a variety of roles spanning all disciplines of HR.
An Engineer by graduation, Reema completed her Master’s in Business Administration (HR) from Punjab University’s Business School (UBS) at Chandigarh. Her passion for engaging with people, ability to draw out the best in teams, and capacity to understand nuances of interconnectivities between businesses and resources have earned her significant standing in the organizations and functions she’s worked in. She believes strongly in the need to nurture HR talent scientifically with holistic exposure, and takes pride in mentoring young talent.
Reema is married and she and her husband have been blessed with a son. She lives in Gurgaon.