Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Sajiri Chidgupkar, the force behind AnD HR Solutions

AnD, which stands for Assessment & Development, has been able to cater to two very different mindset of clients with its unique offerings

Published: Jul 3, 2020 06:39:18 PM IST
Updated: Jul 6, 2020 05:24:48 PM IST

Sajiri Chidgupkar, the force behind AnD HR Solutions
No matter what the level of automation, there is no organisation in this whole world that can sustain without its human resource. In fact, it is the human resource that has understanding and capability to control, manage and optimally use the other key valuable resources and lead the organization upon the path to success and sustainability. That's how important human resources are to any organisation. A reliable partner who could take care of all its human resource needs can prove crucial to an organisation’s success. One such partner is AnD HR Solutions LLP, which has created a niche for itself in the domain of human resource and organization development in the last decade.

Starting with just two people and one project, today AnD’s clientele has names that feature in the Future 500 list. AnD, which stands for Assessment & Development, has been able to cater to two very different mindset of clients with its unique offerings. The larger corporate entities consume AnD’s learning programs and boutique consulting assignments. Its work in the MSME segment sees AnD work with the owners to help them realize their next growth jump. With partner offices in the US and internal assignments in Africa, Europe and the UAE, AnD is set on its journey to becoming truly global.

We have with us today, Sajiri Chidgupkar, Director and Principal Consultant, AnD HR Solutions LLP, who is also an Executive Coach, Facilitator and Organization Behaviour Change Champion. Sajiri is an insightful straight talker who believes that people learn the most when there is a perfect balance between fun and learning. She uses her own experience of running a business for over a decade to see through the problems organizations experience at various stages of growth and consolidation. 

Her clients both in terms of organizations and participants have a global presence. The consulting assignments vary from designing and implementation of key HR processes to working with the leadership to create and achieve the vision and goals, competency matrix, assessment frameworks, incentive policies.

Sajiri Chidgupkar, the force behind AnD HR Solutions
Some of the organization she has trained in include names like Sleek International an Asian Paint organization, Geometric, Rexel India, Vishay Group, Volkswagen IT, Kairee Systems, Aryan Imaging and Business Consulting, Winsoft Technologies, ITC Infotech, Bajaj Finserv, Volkswagen (Plant), Anadarko, BIDCO, Allana. She has conducted over 300 BEI and worked as assessor and lead in assessment centres.

Sajiri also enjoys connecting with the students and is invited as Guest Lecturer in Leading B Schools viz Amity University, Sinhagad Institute, SIBM, Bharti Vidyapeeth.

Sajiri has several Publications & Certifications to her credit including

●  Over a dozen publications in a leading national daily

●  Co-authoring the book - The Next Phase of Leadership: Building Leaders Who Build Organizations.

●  ISEOR University: Only Indian Women to be Certified in Socio-Economic Approach to Management.

●  She ensured AnD getting certified as the only certified SEAM consulting organization in the APAC region.

●  Certified Extended DISC Assessor

Recognitions and Achievement:

●  Consultant’s Review Magazine: 25 Most Promising Women Consultants 2018

●  Insights success magazine: AnD being recognized as one of “The 10 Most Admired HR Solution Providers”

●  Institute Relations: Visiting faculty at IMDR, BVP, Symbiosis, Amity University

Let’s speak to Sajiri and find out what drives her and how she and her friend, co-worker and co-founder, Monimoy built AnD right from scratch.

It has been little over 10 years since you started AnD. What has the journey been like?

It’s been an exciting ride for sure. I was always very sure I wanted to start an HR consulting firm. Didn’t know it would happen so early in my career. We took the risk after just 3 years of a corporate career and since then there was no looking back. Living the life of an entrepreneur, where we could work (seriously) even out of a café, travel the world, be recognized for the kind of work /training programs we bring to the industry,  was my dream and it feels great to have ticked every aspect of it.

Monimoy and I, started AnD when I was 24,  too ‘young’ for people to take us seriously as consultants, and now here we are, not just surviving but creating an enviable list of customers, programs and team members. We started with just the two of us in a mezzanine floor office and have grown into an office which may not be huge but screams about our character in an unmistakable manner. The philosophy that keeps AnD going is, “AnD…There is always more to do…”

The last 10 years have seen us working with more than 20 team members, and it is of immense pride that if and when they have moved, they went to large MNCs and we still share a great rapport and bond with them. A lot of our consulting assignments directly or indirectly are about working with and creating different organization cultures. We were very cautious that we build a culture in AnD which resonates with what we preach. When one of our team members got a wall hanging “Only Happy People Work Here” we knew we were on the right track. Speaking about the journey will be incomplete if we didn’t take a moment to thank everyone who believed in us in our initial days.

The last 2-3 years we have seen our landscape changing rapidly. From predominantly being  a Pune based organization to having a partner office in the US to doing sessions/assignments in 3 African nations, 2 European and also in the Middle East.  A book titled “The Next Phase of Leadership”, multiple mentions in magazines and newspapers round it all up!

You have been part of two major international tie ups how has that impacted the target industry?

The first of our tieups was with Dr. Brett Savage’s Next Phase Leadership. That allowed AnD to bring to India this leadership development concept which had been developed at Harvard and been implemented in more than 50 counties over the last 40 years. While coaching has been around for some time now, we believe that the concept of Phase Leadership brings a very unique dimension to the process. That it focuses on ‘Contribution’ and not just ‘Performance’ is what had caught my eyes when we first interacted. And we often brag about this offering saying, "we clone your best leaders".

The second tieup was bringing the holistic consulting concept SEAM (Socio-Economic Approach to Management) from France to India. AnD today is the only franchise in India, and I feel very proud of the fact that ISEOR, Lyon, France, where the concept originated 43 years back, makes you complete the certification course in Lyon before they consider giving the franchise.

What excites me the most about this offering is that it is something that the Indian MSME sector can really benefit from. The MSME sector has always wanted frameworks which are able to show the ROI in numbers. With SEAM, we are able to do just that. We were able to increase per person hourly contribution by 37% for our very first client. In fact this particular assignment’s success was appreciated by SEAM consultants from various countries when we presented in last year’s conference in Lyon. This year’s conference will feature it as a case in their journal.

We are all set to take these two idiosyncratic offerings to a larger audience as the benefits are immense.

Has it been difficult to manage a full time business and family with two young boys?

Multitasking comes naturally to me. To be very honest, I have grown up seeing my mom, who is a doctor and a rock solid lady managing both work and family like a breeze. I am doing the same and never felt it was something special, rather it is a way of life for me. I come from a family where I have even seen both my grandmothers working all their lives, so managing family and work never seemed like an event.

It is not like it does not take efforts, sacrifices and some degree of guilt. Just that, it never felt it was something that needed to be discussed or feel extra proud about. It all boils down to the fact that the decisions are mine and the good and bad of these decisions are result of my choices. So, are there times when I feel everything is going out of control? Absolutely. Will I ever want to give up any aspect of my life for it? NO WAY. And this journey becomes exciting with Ashwin (my husband) who shares a similar passion for his own work.

This is our mess and we love it and my fall back is that I know am giving my best.

How has the COVID-19 situation affected you guys?

There are two broad aspects of our offering, consulting and training. Training requires gathering of people in a room, the participants size various from 15 to 200 or more at times. So you can understand how it has impacted our business. I am hopeful that may be in Q4, we start seeing some noticeable numbers. When it comes to consulting, we have more work than ever before, trying to walk this tough journey with our clients, but the collections and billings are down to 5-10%. That is the grimmer side of the story.

But as an organization, we have always been very optimistic in our approach, we also speak about this in our training programs. Creating online content was on the back burner, for quite some time and this lockdown has allowed us to focus on that. We believe it will help in the years to come even when the physical programs start happening.

We were also quick to adapt to the online format, and while in numbers it would be nowhere close to our in-person sessions, but it was a quick and good start. The impact on the MSME industry is massive and we are still gathering data to understand how far and deep does the impact run.

You have to understand that the impact has been at two levels, first, which we all can see, the economic impact. And the second, which will be the rippling effect, and according to me the harsher impact, which is the emotional aspect. And tackling the sentiments of people will be crucial in days to come.

During this lock down, we were also able to finalize another offering we were dragging our feet over. Our HR shared services now have the support of  strong HRIS at a price which makes it an obvious choice for our customers. The initial response has been very encouraging.

What do you see as the future of learning and development?

When the world goes through something like our current situation, you can be rest assured that things will never be the same again. Am sure the L&D and consulting industry will also have a similar effect. For example, online learning has been around for quite some time but people were skeptical. Now that a lot of them were forced to ‘taste’ it, they realize that it is an acquired taste but something that definitely has its benefits. Especially the flexibility and scalability. Can they replace in-person sessions? No, I don’t see that happening any time soon. But they will definitely feature more prominently in the arsenal of L&D professions going ahead. Facilitators will have to evolve their approach as with online learning, the competition is suddenly the entire world. I feel there will be a greater push towards trainers and facilitators bringing in a niche, terms of concept or delivery.

I do foresee some cuts in the L&D budget, at least till the end of this financial year. How severe the cuts and for how long, will depend on how the particular industry and organization got affected. More importantly, it will also depend on the philosophy of the organization i.e. whether it sees learning as pure cost or as an investment. Never before have we seen such times, and I sincerely believe that companies with strong leadership and foresight will still continue to invest in L&D.

Is the Indian MSME sector really ready for consulting?

To be brutally honest, not really. They understand paying for tangible service (payroll, accounting, CA, CS even HR) but consulting is not immediately tangible. I’ll try and explain with an example. Let us say we employ the services of a cook, we pay money to the cook and we get food made according to pre-decided frequency, quantity and taste. While we are responsible for buying the ingredients we are clear of what we are getting from the cook. In comparison, let us say we have employed the services of a personal trainer in our quest of a healthier lifestyle. In this case, the trainer can tell you what needs to be done, show you your mistakes, course correct, push you… but cannot do your tasks for you. This is where the MSME owners mostly struggle with the concept of consultants. They feel consultants will ‘execute’ the tasks. The bigger problem is that consultants in the MSME sector fall prey to this expectation and transition into becoming service providers and that completely changes the nature of the engagement.

We do see some organizations understanding this difference quickly and our results with them have always been great. In fact, in some cases after their realization, they have decided not to go ahead, which also is perfectly fine as it saves valuable time for both parties.

What's the way ahead for You & AnD

Last year in November, we were in France presenting a paper and as recent as in February this year, we were doing a program in Dubai for a group of people from Ethiopia. We were close to ending on a perfect note for the financial year. Then we woke up to the reality of COVID-19. The world hit the ‘pause’ button and we are slowly coming back to life now finding what has been the impact. In spite of the current situation I feel positive about AnD’s future. I am extremely happy with the way we have started laying foundations for the post COVID-19 world.

The online modules, webinars, the HR shared services become our foundation going ahead. Yes, the coming year is going to be different from the ones we have seen in the recent past, but I believe if your business’ foundations are right, things will start taking shape again. I am personally going to invest a lot of time in a new project close to my heart and also pick up on my reading.

With this and a huge smile, Sajiri says she’s got to go as she needs to be on another call. And we wish this gutsy lady the very best in all her endeavours.

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.