In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Soma Pandey, Chief Human Resources Officer Firstsource Solutions Limited, spoke about redefining workplace cultures, to engage and retain top talent in the disruptive marketplace.
Soma Pandey is a dynamic HR leader with years of global experience, driving impact as a strategic business partner. Soma is currently the Chief HR Officer and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) head at Firstsource. Prior to Firstsource, she was the Chief People Officer and Talent Architect for Randstad India.
With an enriching career spearheading several roles at Accenture, Mastek and ITC Ltd, Soma is a strong champion of inclusion and diversity in the workplace and involves herself with issues relating to women in leadership. She holds a Chemistry Honours degree from BHU and a PG Diploma in HR from XLRI.
Q. We would like to begin by asking you about your journey so far. How has Human Resource Management changed over the years?
A. I have been fortunate in having always worked for companies that really valued the HR function and focused on their people. Having worked in the manufacturing sector, the IT sector, the HR Services industry and now BPM, over the past two decades I have found that the voice of the function is palpably changing. As the economy has evolved to being more knowledge and services driven, talent is really at the forefront of all strategic conversations.
Therefore, the HR function has also evolved from Industrial Relations and Personnel Management – primarily being concerned about compliance, employee welfare and benefits administration to now Strategic Human Resource Management, held responsible for end-to-end talent agenda spanning Attract, Retain, Develop and Enable and critical aspects like culture and inclusivity.
With knowledge, skills and aptitude of talent being the core ingredients and strategic differentiators for any capable organization in this technology-driven knowledge economy, HR is at the front and centre of the business. From being a staff function to now being a line function, HR has a seat at the table in making strategic decisions in the boardroom with the chief executive as a true business partner and expert advisor.
Q. An effective HR policy helps an organization to grow and evolve. How are the HR policies determined when it comes to your organization?
A. When it comes to determining HR policies, I truly believe that “well begun is half done” – this basically means doing a solid due diligence both internally and externally before you roll out or revise any policy.
A policy is effective only when it enables the business objective while simultaneously promoting stakeholder interests. Hence, any HR policy must either be created or changed keeping both the business and employee impact in focus at all times. Before embarking on any such exercise, one must have a clear definition and understanding of the problem one is trying to solve, along with the knowledge of all the possible ways in which it can be solved.
The trigger for change may come from anywhere – employee forums, strategic leadership direction or the HR CoEs who scan the external market and industry. So it is important to keep your eyes and ears open to feedback and trends.
It is equally important to evaluate the ease of administration – how pragmatic it is to apply/enforce it objectively and consistently, at all times, without being subject to misinterpretation and/or poor governance.
Last but not the least, it is critical to “road-test” the policy – get a cross-section of impacted employees together and give them a sneak preview of the policy, the purpose (why is it being introduced or changed, both business and employee perspectives) and seek their opinion before it is rolled out. This will avoid any unwarranted surprises and facilitate easier adoption and implementation. Needless to mention, the team must be willing to make changes as may be appropriate basis feedback from such preview.
“When it comes to determining HR policies, I believe that well begun is half done.”
Q. We know that an efficient organizational culture can contribute a lot to the success of a firm. What are the essential drivers of organizational culture that seem indifferent but are very significant from a company’s perspective?
A. Organizational culture is the “smell of the place” as Prof Sumantra Ghoshal beautifully described it. Everything that happens or does not happen in an organization is a driver of culture and being the conscience keepers of the organisation’s culture & HR cannot afford to be indifferent to any of it.
Culture is not just the company values and acceptable employee behaviours, norms and practices, it is also the tone in our communication, the way our policies are outlined (both in spirit and letter) & leadership styles promoted by management. New employees in particular and employees, in general, take their cues from who sits where and who needs to approve what and how work/ projects are allotted – this shapes how they behave which in turn determines culture.
The conversations that happen at water coolers and in smoking bays are sometimes more important than what people say during formal meetings. Who gets marked on which emails and whether people respond to an email by email or they call instead… All of this will determine the power structures and the effectiveness of strategy implementation.
While every employee is an ambassador of these aspects of the organization, HR team members are the core evangelists and facilitators in identifying and removing the roadblocks to nurturing the ideal culture.
Q. The key to keeping talent within a company is to identify what motivates an employee and satisfy their needs. What are the challenges faced by the organizations presently, in retain- ing the top talent?
A. Employees today are more loyal to their career than to the job with a particular employer. Organizations have to be alive to this fact and truly treat employees as customers who can take their loyalty to a competitor if we do not give them the promised value while they are working with us.
Add to that the complexity of a truly diverse and multigenerational workforce where each individual has their own needs and expects to receive the best. Thinking of the entire workforce as being homogeneous is a fallacy. Also, what works in a part of the company may not work as effectively in a different part of the same company at the same time, leave alone a different time and in a different company.
The needs and motivation of employees vary both by individuals and by time. They are different for different employees across the organization and also change dynamically along the career and life stages of any given employee. The ‘career anchors’ article published by Edgar Schein is relevant even today and suggests a framework that can effectively be deployed to create a buffet of choices that suit the diverse employee needs and business requirements.
It is of utmost importance to understand the context and relevance of all our people actions, to ensure the effectiveness of any value proposition that is intended to motivate employees for improved retention, morale and productivity.
Q. Once a prospect has become an employee, the challenge is to manage their talent and keep them within the organization so that they can evolve into a senior professional. What steps are being taken to ensure this?
A. Retention of high performing talent is truly the biggest HR challenge in this disruptive marketplace.
It is my belief that we need to listen to our people often and sincerely. Frequent touch points and closing the loop on issues big and small builds trust, which is the bedrock of any relationship – including that of employees with the organization.
In a culture of trust, the employees will be open to feedback so that they can also grow to meet their own aspirations. A robust Performance Management system, that helps employees set goals, provides timely and clear feedback and rewards achievement in a fair and consistent manner is a key enabler in the employee experience.
Learning and Development is the next big investment that we need to make. It is as much the responsibility of the employee to keep himself/herself updated and current with the skills and knowledge as it is of the organization.
We have moved away from classrooms that are teaching-intensive and restrictive, to a broad array of technology-enabled learning channels that are available without the constraint of time and space, offering employees the choice, convenience and freedom to learn at their own pace. HR and business can curate the available options to pick the ones that are suitable, by role, level, situation and possibly customize a few before making learning opportunities available to employees. These online learning solutions also facilitate global networking and collaboration.
Career paths must be created to keep the employees motivated and engaged to attain higher levels of performance to grow in the company. Managers must be trained and enabled to play a key role in building such excitement, employee engagement and career traction.
How the HR policies and work culture support their needs is what will determine the longevity of good talent within the organization.
Q. Due to the rise of technology, various jobs have become automated and many are on the verge of becoming automated. This would somehow redefine the purpose of HR. What are your views on this?
A. Yes, HR’s role and challenge are being reinvented and redefined with the disruption in play. The workforce going forward will include a new component of intelligent machines or bots. HR will no longer be providing the right people for the right role at the right time and cost – but it will be more about the right skills.
The list of tasks that the HR team will have to engage will include
- up-skilling the existing workforce where relevant,
- acquiring new talent that’s absolutely new both to the company and in the market,
- designing the organization and roles to keep the challenge and interest levels up,
- segmenting the work that can be done by smart machines/bots and humans,
- breaking down the work to tasks that can be accomplished by a globally distributed workforce (gig economy),
- engaging with governments and NGOs in thinking about the new curriculum,
- and redeployment of those who become redundant, etc.
Skill or resource augmentation for attributes that aren’t either core/ continually required/ rare will be a norm going forward wherein a given resource might be working for multiple employers at the same time and some of those could be competitors sharing the same resource. This requires newer ways of designing work and roles while maintaining the right culture and engagement.
HR will continue to play a critical role in transforming the workplace in this era of disruption.
“Fostering a culture of meritocracy and innovation to win in the competitive marketplace are the key for the success of the organization.”
Q. Employees don’t settle solely for compensation these days but for something of value which is offered, in terms of rewards, on top of compensation. So, how does compensation and rewards system support your organization’s growth strategy and how does it serve as a catalyst to achieve goals and objectives, as set by your organization?
A. Total Rewards systems have come a long way and are being customized to suit the needs of the workforce and business. Whilst base pay has become hygiene and is critical to attracting the right talent, “pay for performance” is key to retaining high-performers and long-term incentives are necessary to build and grow employee commitment over a long career. Employees are also looking for more commitment from the employers to their wellness and work-life balance.
While the mix of these components varies across companies to suit their own needs and challenges, the image of the company, the growth potential, career prospects, job quality, job satisfaction, culture, work environment, location, benefits, etc. also play an even more significant role along with the compensation.
Q. What are the key issues that are being faced across the HR industry which are noticeable and will play a major role in determining the success of an organization?
A. HR sits on the cusp of business strategy and talent dynamics which are themselves moulded by the social and demographic changes.
The way work gets done is changing, who walks into the door as an employee is changing, whether anyone walks into a physical space to work will also be a question soon…
Needless to say, HR has its work cut out in enabling the much required and critical transformation that lies ahead. Understanding technology trends is as important as having insights on effective talent management. Creating an environment where employees are comfortable to voice and share their concerns will continue to be key.
What does not change is that HR has to be empowered and committed to being an employee advocate while upholding the values, employer/management perspective and stakeholder interests at all times. Fostering a culture of meritocracy and innovation to win in the competitive marketplace are key to the success of the organization.
Staying in control at all times to create a steady, stable and exciting work environment in this disruptive marketplace is the quintessence of HR!