Article (April-2021)


Time for unlearning, reflection and willingness to change towards greater relevance

Bimal Rath

Designation : -   ounder & MD

Organization : -  Think Talent, Gurugram


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How do you define the Leadership in HR in the present environment?

BR The last year has in some ways brought out the best in HR. The HR function has had to respond with agility and precision. It has also had to play a more strategic (and broader) role in ensuring business continuity by delivering on day to day matters more efficiently. The partnership with business and business leaders has become much better, perhaps as a necessity of the times. Having said that, the operational side of HR has been in prominence. As a definition, I would say it's in transition, not just due to the pandemic but due to how businesses will think and transform now and the accelerated use of technology in all aspects of our business and life. There are many new concepts that have emerged and will continue to emerge-e.g. hybrid working and work from anywhere. The implication on HR and people policies and processes will be significant in the coming months and years. HR leadership has to grapple with these changes while working very closely with business leaders. This is a great time and opportunity for HR to ensure its own evolution and impact. Another way to look at HR leadership role would be to examine the way it has managed to juggle many priorities, manage the pressure, and balance employee and organisational expectations while keeping their own team members motivated, safe and healthy, and alert to the context and environment.

According to you, what should be the competencies of a good HR Leader?

BR There are of course the traditional leadership and functional/technical competencies which are still useful, even though some may not be as useful as before. Apart from technical competencies (HR SME related), let me break the competencies into two buckets-Functional and HR Leadership. Here is a visualization of the functional competencies. Rather than talk about competencies, thinking about is in mindset terms helps. To the best of my experience and insight, all of the nine are required for each HR role holder; the degree of depth required varies.

If you think of the CHRO as the organization builder, then certain aspects need more focus than others. But just to iterate, all the 9 are essential in some measure.

On the leadership side, it would be useful to call out a few specific areas of competence, apart from being digitally savvy and learning to use technology for HR.

  • Balancing the interests of employees, gig workers and the organisation, and creating a sustainable model for operation. This would mean a wider perspective and continuous juggling of (sometimes) opposing forces.
  • Managing Change. There will be all varieties of transformation organisations will go through and the HR leader will be expected to play a key role here.
  • Pattern making. There are so many variables at play from a human and people perspective and all changing rapidly. Every aspect of Human Resources policy, e.g. employee well-being and empathetic leadership to digital mindset to getting in the right talent has their own variables-both internal and external-at play. The HR leader has :
  1. to understand the relevant variables that impact each area,
  2. be able to see the linkages
  3. even predict emerging trends and
  4. create solutions around these

How you visualize the HR leadership role different from than it did before 2020?

BR There are four key asks from organisations which I believe have got highlighted more now, due to the pandemic. Business leaders are asking these questions of themselves. HR leaders have a key role to play in each of these areas.

  • How do you build a more humane organisation? This includes work areas like culture, leadership capabilities of the softer kind, employee well- being, diversity and inclusion among others.
  • How quickly can we adopt technology in all our processes and become more digital? HR will have to play a key role in change management as organisations and HR departments transform. In addition, HR leaders would have to examine the human impact, as well as help answer broader moral and ethical questions around data privacy, misuse of technology etc. as part of people policies.
  • Specifically, the area of social media will require a deep dive where employees, potential employees and alumni are concerned. Company reputations can be significantly impacted by social media, and HR has a key role to play here.
  • How do we generate trust among all our stakeholders? It's a simple statement but the HR leader has a key role to play here, with employees, unions, labour markets, top leadership and government bodies. And there is a direct cost of lack of trust on the bottom-line.
  • How do we constantly flex to build and utilize capability to keep at the cutting (or competitive) edge in the market? HR leaders will have to be at the forefront of this movement in
  • building critical capabilities as well as 
  • keep running an engine that is helping unlearn, learn, relearn and,
  • Manage capability clusters with a constantly evolving organisation and moving marketplace.

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