Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Forbes India CHRO Dialogues–The Talent Agenda Round Table

Emerging prominence of the CHRO as the custodian of a company's future

Published: Apr 8, 2020 05:06:31 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2020 05:58:44 PM IST

Forbes India CHRO Dialogues–The Talent Agenda Round Table
In this digital era, companies have been rapidly transforming by adopting relevant technology on multifarious fronts. While adapting to the ongoing digital disruption is the need of the hour and companies are spending millions of dollars on their transformations, the entire C-Suite will acknowledge that no amount of strategy and technology can deliver success without the right ‘people’ to carry it all forward. Within this ever-evolving landscape, unless employees are brought on board the transformation journey, the most noble corporate missions and visions are vanquished.
The outcome of this simple truth is that although digital transformation is usually seen from the perspective of the CEO, CIO, CTO, and CFO, the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) may be one of the most important C-suite executives at a company to see this through. By ensuring that the right people are hired for the right job, they are implicitly driving the company’s agenda forward. Today, CHROs have the crucial task of finding talent for jobs that probably didn’t exist a few years ago and for tasks that may be created in the future—using a mix of old-school and new technologies.

To delve into what makes the 21st century CHRO tick, what it takes to be successful at this reimagined job profile and ensure the right talent is brought on board, the opportunities and challenges in the new scenario and other related themes, Forbes India hosted India’s 1st ever roundtable-turned-virtual conference of path-breaking CHROs. Remotely moderated by Manu Balachandran from Forbes India, the panellists included Yuvaraj Srivastava, Chief Human Resource Officer, MakeMyTrip; Piyush Mehta, Chief Human Resource Officer, Genpact; Pranay Prakash, Head Human Resource Business Partner, Delhivery; Chaitali Mukherjee, Leader – People and Organisation, PwC; Unmesh Pawar, Partner & Head — People, Performance & Culture, KPMG; Kabir Julka, CHRO, American Express India and Sashi Kumar, Managing Director, Indeed India.

The event began with each of the participants setting the tone for the deliberations that followed by defining their impressions of their evolving role. Outlining the broad transformation in the role of the CHRO, Chaitali Mukherjee explained how earlier, heads of HR were preoccupied with operational issues but today, they are constantly seeking out talent. “It’s about getting the right talent at the right time, for just the right length of time. I need to ensure a ready pool of talent is available to meet my company’s requirements,” she affirmed.

Choosing to differ, Piyush Mehta suggested that the role of the CHRO has not changed; the context in which it is delivered has. “The CHRO was always responsible for serving the talent and people needs of the organization. The methods, delivery mechanisms, leverage and ecosystems used to deliver that have changed,” he said.

In an effort to offer a perspective of the larger picture, Unmesh Pawar shared, “The CHRO is now being tasked to become an anticipator of what the future has in store for the business. With ongoing digital disruption and goals of agility and market relevance, having the right talent and the right leadership to navigate the future has become essential. We also have to steer through the generational drift that is emerging.”

Commenting on the pace of change and what is driving it, Pranay Prakash said, “In the past, change took place over a couple of years; now, it takes place in a couple of months or even less.” He also pointed out that the demographics of the workforce are changing more rapidly than in the past and the demands of businesses are changing proportionately. “Companies are constantly looking into new products and services to bring to the table for the employees, customers and stakeholders.”

Presenting a very real challenge for CHROs, Sashi Kumar commented on the subject of training, skilling and learning at the workplace, saying, “We are dealing with a generation that has very, very short attention spans. This leaves us with concerns about how to develop programs with suitable learning inputs.” On the bright side, he observed, “In the past, strategy was always the domain of the CEO, CFO and COO. Today, more than ever before, the head of HR has definitely got a larger seat at the table.”

Making gainful matches

The discussion then moved to the other side of the frame - what employees were seeking in employers and how they are responding to offers for employment. The panellists shared diverse insights on the theme after Sashi Kumar commenced by talking about the evolution of a ‘talent brand’, which is essentially a confluence between the way a company wants to portray its employment brand and the way it is actually perceived by job seekers, based on feedback by current employees. “Job seekers expect clarity and transparency at the workplace and they also want to know that they will be treated with dignity.” He added that while HR and marketing teams envision how a company’s brand must be perceived, quite often there is a dissonance between what is required to create a brand and what is being projected to the world.

On that note, Sashi Kumar shared an interesting analogy between brand building for marketing purposes and employer branding. “Marketers create ‘customer journey maps’, which track the progress of the customer between the point when they hear about a company and the time they actually engage with the brand. Similarly, it’s important for companies to create a ‘candidate journey map’ which tracks the movement of a candidate from the time they first hear about your company to the point when they become an employee and further, to when they become an ambassador for your company.”

In Chaitali Mukherjee’s opinion, the mindset of employees hasn’t changed much. “They continue to look for three critical things such as a career, growth and the culture of the organization.” Unmesh Pawar, however, pointed out that that these days, both candidates and corporates are asking ‘what’s in it for me?’, so both have to appear attractive enough for each other.

Piyush Mehta concurred that as there are many more choices available to the talent in demand, they feel they can be more demanding in the choices they make, adding, “We’re also seeing that the tolerance or sustenance of employees is proportionate to how much in demand their skills are, in the workplace. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon organizations which want to create a competitive advantage to very carefully orchestrate how they differentiate themselves. It can’t be a benefits game beyond a point of time.”

The participants raised other pertinent issues with respect to the entire employer-employee mapping process. Sashi Kumar expressed how he felt that resumes have become a lot less important today, while the entire process of getting to know what a person can offer is more important. He also shared that as per research he had conducted, career growth opportunities are a priority for most candidates, with close to 60% rating it as the most important criterion when choosing a job. Interestingly, he pointed out that salary range is not as crucial, especially when candidates are reviewing positions and engaging with a company. Further, benefits and perks featured high on the list of attractions and, most importantly, flexibility.

His study also reveals that candidates were interested in knowing who the company leadership comprised, their reputation and management policies and how they have steered the company’s growth and handled difficult situations.

As the CHRO of a successful start-up, Pranay Prakash shared his company’s experience of criteria for hiring saying, “Based on the stage we were at, our hiring criteria changed.” He went on to elaborate on how the quantum of funding, stage of growth and evolution, and changing philosophies determined the criteria for hiring.

Chaitali Mukherjee interjected that her criteria for hiring was based on a combination of mindset, experiences and levels of motivation, as she believed that job descriptions were fluid in today’s age. These attributes would ensure that an individual could undertake even new job profiles to the best of their abilities.

 Leveraging Talent and Technology

Endorsing the role of human resources, Chaitali Mukherjee stated, “HR is not the keeper of the brand but a very strong influencer; we can make the brand happen right. So, we are in the business of getting organizations to become smarter, using digital. At the same time, the value of human beings is going to be truly appreciated now. Because what humans can do, technology cannot.”

Nevertheless, as Piyush Mehta pointed out, the current situation of infusing technology presents a huge opportunity for HR leaders to leverage it in the work that they do, whether it involves recruitment or technology for employee engagement or retention.

Unmesh Pawar agreed that tech is truly going to be an enabler, especially for human resources, saying, “It will free up HR and the people function to focus on honing skills that are needed to build the organization, which is really around the humanities.”

Adding another layer of food for thought, Chaitali Mukherjee said, “As long as people continue to remain relevant, they will never get redundant, even if certain jobs and profiles do. The HR journey is actually about that. However, if we start competing with technology, we will become redundant. If we do not compete with technology and realize the value addition that we can bring vis-à-vis technology, we will, of course, remain more than relevant.” She elucidated that if the world consisted of perfect data sets, then technology could be relied upon to do everything. However, in reality, the world does not and therefore, the human element becomes hugely important, even more so, in the new scheme of things.

Both Sashi Kumar and Pranay Prakash offered various illustrations of how technology is enabling HR functions to work more efficiently and in fact, creating new and challenging jobs.

First amongst Equals

Coming to the equation of CHROs with the rest of the C-Suite, Unmesh Pawar said, “The rest of the CXOs are willing to lend a ear, especially if we can show them that we are partnering with them and helping them to become truly successful. It is up to us to show them what is possible.”

The panel concluded with a clear consensus that HR as a function, not just of the CHRO, is about keeping organizations relevant by procuring the right talent, with the decisions it takes, technology it uses, experience it fosters and work environments it creates. It was also up to HR to nurture leaders that are agile, flexible, innovative, intuitive and adaptive to the world, and a global and socially-conscious culture within the organization. Most importantly, infusing resilience and strength into talent and ensuring that it becomes a true pillar of organisational strength, in good times and bad, is what completely justifies the fresh prominence that CHROs are seeing within the larger C-Suite.